What are the basic things in life? Food, clothes, and shelter! Food provides nutrients necessary for survival, but we cannot ignore how the norm of food has changed with the passage of time, and where food stands today, aside from it being merely fuel for the human body. Now and again, when my grandmother sees me clicking photos of my food for social media, she shakes her head in condemnation and tells me how the principle of "eating" has worsened since her days. Our views conflict when it comes to deciding whether we should eat to live or live to eat, but we quickly end our disagreement, as I make a cheese sandwich for her. I believe life is too short to just eat to live! There are countless cuisines around the world, and they exist because they are to be eaten. So, to me, those who stand by this norm are true foodies!
Nepal, an ethnically and culturally diverse country, is the best place if you have a discerning palate for an impressive array of ethnic cuisines, or if you are a true foodie, or simply, an explorer of local culture. If you are a foodie, and luckily in Nepal, there are a few selected foods that you need to taste. Taking you from breakfast to dinner, the all-Nepali way, this food journey is sure to keep you asking for more.
Chiya and Gwaramari
If you have been through the alleys of the valley, especially those dominantly resided in by the Newars, finding a chiya pasal (tea shop) that serves tea and gwaramari will not be a problem. Mostly, middle-aged and old men can be seen enjoying tea and gwaramari early mornings in these shops. Gwaramari is one of the most loved Newari breakfast items, a doughnut like food that comes low-priced for a plate. The setting of these shops adds to the taste of the breakfast, as they are set in traditional local places that reflect early morning Nepal vibes. You can walk around Patan Durbar Square early morning and stop for a plate of the best gwaramari and tea in the valley. Also, you will encounter locals who will definitely have a lot of stories to share about the place with you, if asked. This pocket-friendly and fulfilling breakfast holds a special cultural and traditional value in local communities, and is one early morning food indulgence you need to engage yourself in when in Nepal.
The Thakali khana has its roots in one of Nepal's geographically mesmerizing landscapes, Thak Khola. The Thakali people living near the Thak River specialize in Thakali food, which is very popular today in restaurants ranging from local outlets to five star hotels, and comprises of a platter of rice and varieties of vegetables, as well as meat. It is an improvised version of daal - bhaat, the staple food Nepalis eat for lunch and dinner. The set may include rice or dhindo, as per choice. Dhindo, made of buckwheat, is ideal for diabetics, it is also something very hard to find in other countries. Gundruk, a part of this dish, is spicy dried spinach that is also exclusively made in Nepal. The set looks very appealing, like a rainbow served on your plate. You can choose either vegetarian or non-vegetarian, both serving equally authentic Nepali tastes. Thakali khana is one dish whose presentation is so good that you have to think twice before spoiling the texture to eat.
You can see signboards reading “Thakali Khana” at every other house in the busy parts of the city. Prices start from Rs.300 at the lower end outlets, and go up to Rs.2500 at upper end restaurants. Thakali khana takes you closer to Nepali food culture, and is one of the musts to try for an unforgettable experience.
Samay Baji and Bhoye
Samay Baji is an indispensable Newari set of food items that holds both religious and cultural significance. It includes beaten rice, buffalo meat, fish, soybeans, woh, (a patty made of lentils), and alcohol. To Hindu Newars, every item has a symbolic religious meaning. Apart from this, the other good thing about samay baji is that it tastes too good. I, myself being a Newar, am a big fan of samay baji. It is prepared as an offering to the gods on every festival, and the same is given to the family members as prasad. Samay baji, nowadays, can be easily found in Newari restaurants, and people from all communities enjoy this dish.
Similarly, the other food tendency that describes Newari culture is the bhoye, which refers to a feast. Newars love to have feasts. Attending one is a must on the list if you are a foodie exploring the country's culture through food. At a bhoye, you sit down in rows on the floor and are served an array of dishes that include beaten rice, buffalo meat, varieties of pickles, vegetables, etc. A bhoye is not merely a food affair, but an experience of a rich culture you would definitely not want to miss out on. Also, you should not wait for festivals to arrive to attend one; there are many Newari restaurants that give you the bhoye culinary experience. Some of the best are around Kirtipur and major areas of Newari settlements in Kathmandu, Lalitpur, and Bhaktapur. The easier way around, be friends with a local Newar!
Momo—who does not love momos? The food that knows no religion, no community, and no season, momos reign supreme when it comes to ordering lunch in Nepal. After scrolling through the menu thrice, the one food that we tend to order most is momo. There are momo shops located at every other corner in the valley, literally! People here are so fond of the delectable dumplings that they can be found everywhere, from street-side stalls to five star hotels. Momos at local shops are the most loved by the people here. The size of the dumplings vary, depending on the price. The achaar (pickle) accompanying the steamed momos has a lip smacking taste that lingers.
Recently, momos have undergone several modifications—open momo, c-momo, tea momo, rainbow momo, etc.—but the love for momos remains the same. Eating a plate or two in a local restaurant will certainly leave you asking for more.
Ah…yomari, the creamy, soft, confectionary that you can never have enough of. Yomari translates to “most loved bread” in Newari. It is made from rice flour with fillings of molasses and sesame paste or dried condensed milk, and is one of the favorites among Newari confectioneries. Sometimes, meat is also stuffed in yomari, which is symbolic of the god Ganesh, while yomari stuffed with black lentil is regarded as the god Kumar. Yomari is believed torelieves cold, and it is also believed that the length of the yomari’s tail-end part is indicative of the length of the winter season.
A festival commemorating yomari, called Yomari Punhi, is observed post-harvest in December. On this full moon day, people of Kathmandu Valley worship Annapurna, the goddess of grains. Everyone loves yomari, maybe more so because it is prepared only once a year in most Newari households. There a few places in and around the valley that serve yomari throughout the year, mostly Newari restaurants. This is one local dessert food that everyone loves, so will you if you have not tried one yet.
The king of curds it is! Many companies throughout the world sell curd in amazing looking packages, but none taste like Juju Dhau, rightfully known as King Curd. If you are in Nepal and have not tasted the thick, creamy, sweet, and soft Juju Dhau of Bhaktapur, your sweet tooth is lacking a treat. It is inexpensive, easily available, and amazingly delicious. You can never have enough of this delightful curd. You can walk into Bhaktapur, the city of gods, any day of the year and find people crowded in shops that sell Juju Dhau in clay pots, and enjoy this heavenly dessert.
Nepali, the land of diverse culture, has an amazing diversity in its food as well. When you’re visiting Kathmandu, this food tour is highly recommended, as it’s a great way to try some of the best in local dishes from the most popular vendors, most of which you can find in YouTube as well, while also learning about the city and its people. Some other popular and notable foods to try when in Nepal are bara, a lentil patty that you can find in most Newari restaurants, laphing, a pasta-like spicy dish popularly found in the Boudhanath area, lassi, at Indra Chowk, flavored soda at Ranjana Galli of New Road, and duck meat choila at Jhamshikhel. What more pleasurable way can we think of to learn about local culture than through its food?