The principal staple meal of most Nepalis, from the plains to the mountains, is the combination of daal, bhaat, and tarkari (lentil soup, boiled rice, and vegetable curry). There are quite a few restaurants in the capital, as elsewhere, that have daal, bhaat, and tarkari, as one of the attraction in their menus. Some restaurants, in fact, have made it their specialty and a selling point for tourists desirous of tasting the same (in which case, there’s less of spices and chillies used to accommodate their palates). Along with daal, bhat, and tarkari, are also served saag (spinach), tamatar ko achar (tomato pickle), and khasi ko masu (mutton curry). The last actually costs as much as the rest of the meal put together, mutton being quite an expensive item.
Today, no tourist worth his salt goes back home without having at least one such meal, and some day, probably, some experts will no doubt tout the simple daal, bhaat, and tarkari as one of the most well balanced meals ever, and one that provides not only enough calories to see you through the day, but a whole lot of nutrients as well. One other thing to be mentioned here is that many of the restaurants catering to tourists especially make it a point to offer aila (local Newari liquor) along with the meal, which doubtless, must go a long way in sharpening the foods’ flavor. Now, this aila, it’s something else; in fact, it literally burns its way down your throat and through your digestive system, aiding digestion, and at the end, resulting in a pleasant euphoric feeling. Look out especially for restaurants with the name ‘Thakali’ attached to it. These are restaurants that only serve typical Nepali meals as mentioned above, but with a generous dollop of pure ghee (clarified butter) over the steamed rice as well.
Kathmandu Valley’s Newari Cuisine
The buffalo is perhaps the most important animal for Kathmandu’s Newars as far as the creation of tasty morsels are concerned, and no part of the big animal goes to waste because the Newars produce a delicacy from almost all of its parts. Here are a few examples of their gastronomic ingenuity: kachilaa (marinated minced meat, raw), takhaa (soup, jellied), hakuchoila (broiled and spiced meat, grounded), bhuttan (intestine and other stomach parts, deep fried), cho-hi (blood with marrow and spices, steamed), mainh (pieces of tongue, fried), senla mu (liver, steamed and sautéed), swanpuka (lungs, filled and fried), etc. etc. And how can momochas (small dumplings filled with minced buff meat) not be mentioned? The Newars also take pride in distilling some fiery stuff, the aila, which like mentioned before, is a most suitable accompaniment to any meal, especially the typically heavy ones with lots of meat dishes. They also make a rice beer called thwon which has a sweet taste and is ideal for sipping through a day of leisure.
However, meat and drinks are not all that the valley inhabitants excel in making; there are also a number of excellent non-meat dishes. Here are some examples of the same: bara (doughnut-like snacks, lentil based), wo (another lentil based snack), chatamari (rice pancakes), sel- roti (a kind of round shaped bread), kwanti (soup of nine different beans) and yo mari (steamed rice-flour dough filled with brown cane sugar and sesame seeds). It should be noted that most of these dishes are cooked especially during festive and religious occasions, and sel-roti is in the limelight during Dashain and Tihar. In fact, sel-roti is the highlight of these festivals in the valley, and housewives go one up on each other trying to make the perfect sel-rotis. It’s almost a matter of pride for any household to come up with nice, round, and puffed up sel-rotis. So, if you are in Kathmandu during Dashain and Tihar, try and find some way to get yourself invited to a Newari home. You’ll have a gastronomic experience you’ll never forget.