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What is Nepalese cuisine? Nepalese cuisine has similarities with the cuisines of nearby countries. Nepal has borders with Tibet (China) and India, making Nepalese cuisine a blend of Indian and Chinese influences, Bhutan isn’t far away from Nepal and some foods can be found throughout the cuisines of the Himalayan region. I find Nepalese cuisine and the dishes we’ve enjoyed in Nepal to be very tasty, a little spicy, often vegetarian, and with a big focus on grains, breads and rice. Dal Baht is the national dish of Nepal and it’s very good indeed, but there are also many curries, thalis, momos, noodle soups, and some very interesting dishes to be found in Nepalese food. You should also be able to find most Western dishes in Nepal, particularly in Kathmandu and Pokhara, major tourist destinations for trekkers and travellers.
In this post, we explain some of the best dishes to try from Nepalese cuisine and give you some Nepalese recipes to make at home.
We’ll start with a list of Nepalese dishes that you’ll likely find when exploring Nepalese cuisine.
- Dal bhat (rice with dal soup and other accompaniments)
- Thukpa (soup with noodles)
- Momos (dumplings)
- Tibetan bread
- Dhindo (a thick buckwheat or millet paste, served instead of rice)
- Sel roti
- Gorkhali lamb
- Tarkaari (curry)
Nepalese Dal Bhat
Dal bhat is the dish of choice in Nepal. With roots in Bengal, this meal consists of lentil soup with rice and a seasonal vegetable or curry. The taste varies depending on which region you are visiting and some offer meat as an accompaniment while others have pickles or curd alongside the rice and lentil soup.
The flavors of India, Tibet, and more can be found in the dal bhat dishes that accompany it. Dal Bhat is similar to an Indian thali dish like those we had in Malaysia as well as of course, India. It’s always a good idea if you’re hungry when visiting Nepal to go for the Dahl Bhaat because top-ups are traditionally offered but they vanish quickly at touristy restaurants.
Nepalese Cuisine, Dal Recipes
I have my own recipe for dal bhat here, this is how I make dal bhat at home. In Nepalese cuisine, there are many dal recipes. Try making dal fry, dal jhaneko, or dal makhani. Dal makhani is traditionally Indian, but we’ve eaten it often in Kathmandu and in Nepal.
Nepalese dumplings, momo are usually filled with steamed vegetables or meat and encased in a flour-based dough that is then steamed or fried. Commonly eaten as snacks, they often come served with a delicious dip or spicy sauce. These are great Nepali treats and can be found as Nepali street food.
Making momo is extremely difficult. I’ve taken a 2-day momo-making class and I’m a professional chef, I still can’t do it nearly as well as the people of the Himalayas. We’ve been told by Nepalese friends that the shape of the momo, be it round or crescent-shaped, shows its country of origin. Momos can also be found in Bhutan, Tibet, and India.
Rice is the foundation of many a meal in Nepalese cuisine, and there are plenty of ways to enjoy it. A common dish here in Nepal called pulao can be made by frying rice with turmeric and cumin for an authentic taste while you’re on vacation abroad or at home. Pair your fried eggplant curry from India – another staple food item during any visit-with this popular side dish that will surely leave you feeling full after suppertime!
Accompaniments to pulao can include yoghurt and poppadoms.
Nepalese pulao recipe
Nepalese Sel Roti
Sel roti is a deep-fried, bagel-like rice bread from Nepal.
Sel roti is a dish that resembles something of a cross between donuts and deep-fried French toast. This puffy sweet soft doughy treat can be enjoyed as breakfast or a snack on the go.
The Hindu festivals of Tihar and Dashain are good times to eat hot, freshly-made sel roti. You’ll find street vendors cooking this dish sometimes in Nepal.
Sel roti in Nepalese cuisine is similar to Tibetan bread in Tibetan cuisine.
Nepalese sel roti recipe
In Nepalese cuisine, thukpas are thick hearty sops containing noodles and a variety of other ingredients.
Thukpa is a hearty noodle soup from the mountains of Nepal and it can include meat, egg or just vegetables. It’s often served with an accompanying dish of momo, which are tasty dumplings filled with ground beef, buffalo, cheese, and/or veggies wrapped in dough before being steamed to perfection.
This traditional Nepalese soup dish is a perfect winter treat if you’re looking for something warm and substantial.
Nepalese Soup Recipes
Nepalese soups and thukpas come in many varieties. Garlic soup is very common in the tea houses on the Himalayan treks in Nepal. I’ve been unable to find a Nepalese garlic soup recipe, but this creamy Indian version looks to be similar. I need to make my own Nepalese garlic soup recipe!
Here is a recipe for chicken Thukpa soup.
Sherpa stew is another classic Nepali soup served to trekkers in Nepal. Also known as syakpa or shukpa, ingredients vary, but the Sherpa stew tends to contain thich flat noodles, roughly torn into large pieces. Find a recipe for Sherpa stew here.
Gorkhali lamb is a dish that embodies all the flavors and textures of Nepal. The curry features hearty ingredients like garlic, turmeric, ginger root, cumin seed powder, and coriander seeds with black pepper. These spices give Gorkhalis’ intense flavour profile.
The lamb is first slow-cooked in the curry with onions and potatoes before it’s removed, grilled, and sealed with a spicy chili mix. It is then transferred back to the curry where it cooks for just an extra few minutes more.
The lamb is served over rice or roti – this dish will quickly become your new favorite comfort food whether you’re visiting Nepal during winter’s chill or not.
Dhido or Dhindo
Dhido is one of those dishes that has been passed down from generation to generation in the Himalayas. This food became more famous after being featured in the movie “Sherpa” where the Sherpas enjoy Dhido just before they head out onto the mountain.
We’ve eaten this in the “Tibetan Kitchen” restaurant in the Thamel area of Kathmandu and really enjoyed it.
Native to the mountain regions of India, Dhido is a hot dish made from buckwheat flour, water and butter. It’s traditionally eaten with your hands along with soups, curries, and other accompaniments. It’s a replacement for rice in a Nepali thali, basically
Other Dishes You Will Find in Nepalese Cuisine
I had the opportunity to try many different kinds of food while exploring Nepalese cuisine, and most dishes I found to be really good.
One of my favourite experiences was tasting dishes like dal fry which is a kind of lentil curry soup with garlic, ginger, onions, tomatoes, chili peppers, coriander, cumin, turmeric, pepper, cardamom, and cloves. It’s spicy but really good!
I also liked that there were so many vegetarian options available as well such as channa (chickpeas) aloo mutter (potatoes and peas, the same as the Indian food we’ve eaten further south), palak paneer (fried spinach blended with cheese and spices).
Chicken curries can be great, but maybe it’s better to be safe and stay vegetarian when you are eating high in the mountains of Nepal.
Snacks & Street Food in Nepalese Cuisine
Nepalese cuisine has any number of snacks and street food dishes. The streets come to life around sunset when street food carts arrive Expect to see deep-fried sel roti (like a donut), puris with salads and pulses, meat on a stick, pancakes or fritters fried in oil or on hot plate (like roti) as well as popcorn and samosas.
We recommend the freshly made doughnuts for sale from tiny shops around Durbar Square at night time.
You’re really experiencing your destination if you get off the beaten path and find these old-fashioned vendors on carts or barrows at night selling snacks. There are also more modern street food outlets selling momos, Egyptian falafel, and burgers.
When most tourists hear about Nepalese street food they tend not have much interest because they don’t feel safe getting street food in Nepal. Be careful, street food isn’t always safe to eat and we’ve occasionally been very sick in Nepal.
Side Dishes in Nepalese Cuisine
Nepalese sides include crispy popadums, buffalo curd (yoghurt, the king of Nepali curds is called ju ju dhao), sliced raw carrots, cucumbers or tomatoes, cooked green veg, pickles, and chutneys like achaar, or a selection of vegetable curry side dishes (tarkari curry) as you would find in a thali.
Is Indian food and Nepalese food the same?
There is a lot of overlap between Nepalese and Indian cuisines and both feature curries. But Nepal also has plenty of non-spicy staples like thukpa or momos that have more of a Tibetan or Chinese influence. If you like Indian food you should enjoy Nepali food. North Indian cuisine tends to use cream, this isn’t as common in Nepali food.
You probably won’t eat much meat in the mountains. It’s expensive and not always fresh as it has to be carried up there on porter’s backs. So when your stomach starts rumbling on one of these long treks, remember that there are plenty of good dishes in Nepalese cuisine like dal baht or fried potatoes waiting for you at the end. And who knows – maybe this will even inspire some creativity among future mountain chefs with their own local twists on Nepalese cuisine. You can see our homemade version of Nepalese daal for daal bhat in our recipe above.