Nepalese Cuisine

The Roof the the World
Chandradeva’s Pathway

“The wildest dreams of Kew are the facts of Kathmandu.” — Rudyard Kipling [1]

Vale of Kathmandu, Nepal

Vale of Kathmandu

What is Nepalese cuisine? Actually, the question should be, What Nepal? Or, what cuisine? For a relatively small country, Nepal has an astonishing variety of cuisines that can be called Nepalese.

Often thought of as a lofty, mountainous  land, home of the world’s highest mountains, Nepal actually has at least seven ecological zones, including one with jungles, tiger and rhinos!

Each region has its own cooking as do the major religious groups, making for a complex kaleidoscope of cuisine.

Durga on her lion mount, 16th c., Nepalese tangka painting

Durga on her Lion Mount, Nepal, 16th c.

Still, there is a basic national consensus of a basic meal, common to virtually the whole country — consisting of Lentil Soup, Rice and a Vegetable Curry, eaten twice a day. The  various, regional cuisines are basically variations on this theme, supplemented these days by an increasing fondness for instant  Ramen, the international fast food.

Other major elements of Nepalese cooking come from the resources of the seven natural regions,m plus the preferences and taboo restrictions of the various religious groups.  Until only a few years ago, Nepal was the world’s last remaining Hindu monarchy: Dietary rules based on religious strictures were enshrined the the country’s legal code.

Besides Hindus and Buddhists, Nepal is also home to a small Muslim minority, with their own dietary rules.

Essentially, what you eat and with whom you eat it is determined by your caste or religious community and your region.  This is especially true in respect to whether you eat meat and which kinds may be eaten.

Other main influences on food in Nepal come from the customs of neighboring peoples and important foreign ethnic groups — Chinese, Indian, and Tibetan.

Nepal is on the pathway of one of the great cross-Asian trade routes. So the Himalayan cuisine is a major one among Fusion food in the Pacific Rim.

In the seventh century, a number of exotic foreign foods reached the court of Tan gChina via Nepal.  They were not really native to Nepal but were passed on by the king of that country to his distant cousin of Tang.

Vegetables that reached China via Nepal included some kinds of Leeks or Shallots, Taro and Taro Roots and Chinese Celery.

Buddhist pilgrims sometimes traversed Tibet and Nepal on their way to China to study the Hinayana scriptures.

The monk known in Sanskrit as Chandradeva (Chinese name Shen-xx) passed through Nepal on his way back to China from India with a trove of scriptures and images.

So the country was a definite way-station on part of the old trade routes.

Main Foods: Rice is grown in parts of Nepal and is an important cereal as are: Wheat, Buckwheat, Barley, Soybeans and Millet. Lentils are a very important staple., as in Yellow Lentils.

Cooking with bamboo shoots

Bamboo Shoot Tip

Vegetables include Potatoes, and —

  • Bamboo Shoots 
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Daikon Radish
  • Pumpkin
  • Snake Gourd
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Yard-Long Beans, as in Green Bean and Sesame Salad.
Using green papayas in Thai cuisine

Green Papayas

Fruits include a kind of Mandarin Orange and Lime, Lemons and Pears, also

  • Jackfruit

    Whole Jackfruit

    Jackfruit

  • Litchi
  • Papayas

Many Nepalis eat fish and some, depending on ethnicity and religion, can eat Goat, Buffalo, Lamb, Pork, Domesticated Boar, Yak meat or meat of yak-cow hybrids. Many people are vegetarian and would tend to eat Tofu or Cottage Cheese instead of meat.

Main spices and seasonings: Red Chili Peppers, Black Pepper, Salt and a variety of local spices and herbs are used.

How to make Nepalese Green Bean and Sesame Salad

Nepalese Green Bean and Sesame Salad

Main Dishes: Meat is often prepared as Momo, a Tibetan style of meatballs. Saag and Saag Paneer are important milk products.  Rice Pudding cooked with Milk appears often. Green Beans and Sesame Salad is a typical vegetarian preparation.

Dal Bhat, a dish combining Rice with a sauce of Black or Yellow Lentils, has been called the National Dish of Nepal.  It is served daily everywhere, along with curried Vegetables and Achar, or Chutney.

Entrnace to Yak & Yeti Bar, Kathmandu, 1960sDinner in Kathmandu: The longest-standing restaurant of its quality in Kathmandu is The Chimney in the renowned Yak & Yeti Hotel. Originally established by emigre Russian ballet dancer Boris Lissanevitch.

Ramen, while a native of East Asia, has become acclimated to Nepal, with several brands competing for market share.  A local brand Wai Wai Ramen, looks like winning.  Wai Wai Ramen are marketed by one of the companies run by Mr. Chaudary, who is Nepal’s first dollar billionaire.

Boris’ famous recipes live on at The Chimney: Borsht, Smoked Salmon Tartare with Wasabi, and Smoked Bekti might be appetizers.  Main dishes could include Chicken Kiev, Rack of Lamb with Eggplant and Sesame Ragout.

Sides  include dishes like Paneer, Sag Paneer and Yellow Lentil Puree. Dessert might be Bakd Alaska Sagarmatha.  Is this Nepali?  Probably not exactly, but it is certainly Himalayan.

The recipe for Braised Snake Gourd in Nepalese style gives an idea of a very authentic local dish.

“He had never seen anything comparable to the city of Katmandu. Because it lay very close to the roof the world, it was the last urban outpost before the most formidable mountains on the globe.” — John Ball

For Further Information:

[1] Rudyard Kipling, “The Neolithic Age/” The complete quote reads: “The wildest creams of Kew are the factgs of Kathmandu/And the crimes of Clapham chaste in Martaban.”
[2] For Nepalese and Himalayan recipes: Indra Majuputria, Joys of Nepalese Cooking (Gwalior, India: Devi, 1980, 1981). Also Copeland Marks, Copeland Marks’ Indian and Chinese Cooking from the Himalayas. Also Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, Mangoes & Curry Leaves (Artisan, 2006).
[3] Edward Schafer, The Golden Peaches of Samarkand for the historical background on Nepal as a trade route between India and China and history of plant movements via  China.
(4) John Ball, The Eyes of Buddha (Boston: Little Brown & Co., 197Street market, Kathmandu, Nepal6)

 

Hanuman Doka, Kathmandu, NepalPatan, Nepal, two girls

 

 

 

 

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