10 things we love about Nepalese cuisine
Rajiv KC, head chef and owner of Rajiv’s Kitchen, a pop-up restaurant supper club in London, was born and raised in Nepal. He explains what makes the food of this country so special
Want to learn more about Nepalese cuisine? Looking for Nepalese dishes to try? Read Rajiv KC's guide below, then check out Rajiv's recipe for Nepalese potato and cucumber pickle salad here.
Nepal, a landlocked South Asian nation, is usually known for its Himalayan mountains, especially Mount Everest, and as the birth place of Buddha. It is also a nation of 126 ethnic groups with 123 languages, so for a country that is culturally rich and diverse, Nepalese cuisine can’t be put into one box. The unique culture of Nepal can be reflected in the food it has to offer. What it lacks in geographical size, it makes up for with its bold, big, beautiful flavours. Follow Rajiv on Instagram @rajivskitchen.
Daal-bhaat (lentils and rice) is a staple of Nepal. Nepalis eat it for lunch, dinner and sometimes for breakfast, too. It usually comes as lentils and rice with seasonal greens, tarkaari (a vegetable dish) and achaar (a pickle condiment, usually tomato-based). The dish varies region to region but using knives and forks is frowned upon, so you have to enjoy this dish with your hands.
In bhattis (small local bars) you will find chyang on the menu. An alcoholic beverage, it’s home-brewed and made of fermented rice. Traditionally served in a tall brass mug and local to Kathmandu valley and its neighbouring villages, it is also widely drunk in the mountain regions to keep oneself warm.
3. Khasi ko maasu
Arguably the most famous curry to come out of Nepal. Khasi ko maasu is a goat curry. In Nepali, there is no word for curry, so if it is a vegetable curry, it’s called ‘tarkaari’ and if it’s meat curry, it’s called ‘maasu’. In reverse translation, tarkaari means ‘any vegetable’ and maasu means ‘any meat’. Goat is one of the most expensive meats in Nepal and is sought after at festivals.
Ghongi is a snail dish and more famous in the terai (plain) part of Nepal. With Nepal being a landlocked country and hence deprived of seashores and oceans, Nepalis rely on freshwater fish and shellfish. Ghongi is popular due to how its prepared. You get snails from the fields during monsoon season and they are cooked in lots of garlic and in a broth-like curry sauce including heaps of spring onions. Make sure to dive into a deep broth of ghongi with your bare hands as cutlery is a big no.
Another home-brewed alcohol drink that locals adore because of the depth of flavour from fermented millet grain. Very popular in Kathmandu valley and in mountain regions, it’s traditionally served in a bamboo cup. It is usually drunk in the winter as you top it up with hot water.
Dhedo is another staple of Nepal. Made with millet grain with a polenta-like consistency, it’s eaten with daal or a side of achaar (pickle). It is also a great source of fibre.
7. Ju ju dhau
Ju ju dhau means ‘king of yogurt’ in Nepali. Mainly produced in Bhaktapur town (part of Kathmandu valley), ju ju dhau is very creamy in texture with a subtle sweetness, and is a must-have at festivals and gatherings. Think of rich creamy panna cotta but freshly made and sold in big clay bowls.
These dumplings are the unofficial national dish of Nepal. They say there are more momos pasal (little shops) in Kathmandu alone than all the McDonald’s combined in North America. Usually served with a spicy tomato dipping sauce, buff momos (made of water buffalo meat) are very popular.
9. Thakali thaali
Thakali is one of the ethnic groups of Nepal, known for its delicious food. Thakali cuisine has grown very popular, with many restaurants appearing in Kathmandu valley. One of my favourites is dhedo/rice, daal, thakali tarkaari, pickle condiment and greens. Thaali differs from region to region.
10. Gundruk and sinki
Gundruk and sinki are made by fermenting the green leaves of a vegetable (normally spinach). They are made by storing in a hole in the ground, covering and leaving to ferment for two to three months at the end of summer, ready for winter. They have a sour note and are used as a tarkari (vegetable curry). Both gundruk and sinki are mostly cooked with bhatmaas (soya beans) for extra flavour. They are mostly made in the mountain regions of Nepal.