adventures in Nepali cuisine

a sabbatical rest, day 131

One of the things you have to figure out in a new culture is when to eat. You can, of course, eat whenever you want, but food is social, and it helps to figure out when everyone else is eating too. What they are eating is also important. So here is a brief and inadequate food tour from our experience in Nepal.

Let’s start with breakfast. A cup of tea, anyone? Comes with milk, pepper and cinnamon, unless you ask for it black. That’s breakfast, although sel roti or some flatbread might be included. So by late morning, before we’re even thinking about it, Nepalis are ready their first main meal, which is almost always rice served with a lentil stew. Dal bhat.

Lots of rice. Lots of lentils. In most homes, they circle back to dal bhat again late afternoon or mid-evening. Sometime in the afternoon, there is a “snack,” if you can afford it. This doesn’t seem to refer to the size of the meal; it’s just not dal bhat. Soups? Pizza? Sandwiches? Spicy fried meats? Sandeko? (The peanut sandeko is great.) And don’t forget momos, the go-to filled dumplings.

Even though most of them are Hindu, the Nepalese (there than some tribal or caste exceptions) eat more meat than their Indian neighbors. You can usually find pork, fish, water buffalo, or mutton (goat), as long as you like it with chili peppers. And if you can afford it, which many can’t. But if you are vegetarian, you will do fine. Indian tourists are well cared for here.

Back to the dal bhat, which is of course vegetarian. The spices and beans vary, based on local foodways, but if you are a guest, or eating out, it is served as a “set. ” This is a scoop of rice (bhat) on a plate, with the dal served on the side in a small bowl. The rice is surrounded by a scoop of tarkari (a dry cauliflower, chickpea, or potato curry), pickles (basically a condiment of peppers and some other fruit or vegetable), some greens, and another meat (always with bones) or vegetable curry.

Do you want chilis with that?

Mix these side dishes in with the rice and enjoy. They will keep bringing it as long as you keep eating it, even in a restaurant, although there may be limits on the meat curry. I may have mentioned that it is spicy. It also involves lots of onion and garlic. But dal bhat and its extensions are inexpensive. And everywhere.

My colleagues here at the university found us an apartment with a kitchen, so we’ve stuffed our cabinet with spices that make Midwestern US food bland. We’ll leave a lot of it for friends, since it’s sold in giant quantities. We are also near a couple of main vegetable markets, although we’ve mostly bought frozen, packaged meat.

Katie has been working on a few Nepali dishes, including chicken curry and a goat stew that our friends say borders on authentic. Much of this has to do with how you prepare the spices and when you put them in. I expect these will be on the menu for some of our more adventurous friends when we return. If we can find goat meat, although lamb will work.

Fortunately, with our kitchen and a location near the tourist district in Thamel, we have been able to cook or find western food whenever we want it. About the only thing we have not found in the market is fresh basil—and who wants a Caprese salad with dried basil? (I ordered one once, and it came with capers, which are one of the few things on my do-not-eat list.)

We have loved the French Creperie where Katie can get gluten-free buckwheat galettes. And we found great omelets and hash browns at the Blueberry Kitchen or Coffee Escape. We even found good sushi. The bacon here is fantastic, by the way. We fixed some with fried potatoes and eggs this morning.

But in some ways, we will never revert to simply eating the foods we have known and loved before, because we have known and loved some new ones.

Our tastes have been expanding, one chili at a time.

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