Dahl-bhaat: the Understated Comfort Food

Food Issue 195 Jan, 2018

I have been away from home for almost half a year, already. When I look back at myself, starry-eyed and overjoyed to be studying abroad, the idea of missing food from home was the least of my worries. When it did occur, I’d brush the thought of food away, I had more important things to worry about, like if I’d fit in, if I’d do well in my academics, maintain my scholarship, what my new roommate would be like, the idea of making of new friends, and just the idea of meeting new people. “I have relatives abroad,” I would tell myself, “if I really miss Nepalese food, I’ll just go and visit them.” The thought never once occurred to me that I would miss my mom’s cooking as much as I do now. Before I began writing this article, I was telling her on the phone about how much I missed her cooking lately, since it was the semester holidays, and I was wasting away at my relatives’ home. So, if I had to say which food item I missed the most, I’d say I miss the dahl-bhaat I used to have back at home.

Of course, the more expected answer to a question like this would be momos. Now, don’t get me wrong, I will, and have traveled, from my college all the way to Queens, just to get some yummy authentic momos, but there’s something about dahl-bhaat that, for me, cannot be replicated by anyone but my mom and her cooking. I have my roots connected with her dahl-bhaat; having eaten it regularly for the first nineteen years of my life, it will always hold a special place in my heart (and my stomach). Dahl-bhaat reminds me of home, of my family back in Nepal. It isn’t that I can’t find dhal-bhaat here, and it isn’t a super complex meal to prepare, either. The reason why I miss dahl-bhaat is simple, like the dish itself. I miss this dish simply because I miss my family dinners. I miss my mom calling all of us for dinner, her complaints about her daily activities, my sister’s loud laughter filling the kitchen while she teases my mom, followed by my father’s laughter. I miss talking about out days at the dining table, teasing my sister and bickering with her. I miss my father’s awful puns and my mother’s eye rolls. I miss the feeling of home.

Dahl-bhaat reminds me of warm hugs during chilly winter nights where the cold breezes of January were actually bearable, compared to the stormy weather here, miles away from home. It reminds me of an important part of who I am and where I came from. I can grow accustomed to all the varieties of foods out here, but I will always yearn to go home to have a simple dish of rice and lentils with a side of vegetables and chicken, and of course, achaar.