Nepali Food: Dhal Bhat and Beyond

I had this same conversation with Nepali friends about 17 times.

“What are some good Nepali foods I should try?

“Dhal bhat.”

“Ok, and what else?”

“Just dhal bhat.”

“You only eat dhal bhat?”

“Mmmm yeah.”

My investigations, however, revealed this to not be entirely true. There’s more than just dhal bhat to the food in Nepal.

First things first, what is dhal bhat?

Dhal bhat is a platter of food centered around a heaping helping of rice (the bhat). The platter includes a vegetable, such as spinach, usually some curried potatoes and a pickled item. Oh yeah, and there’s dhal (lentil soup) which often comes in a bowl on the side. Once you have your platter, stick your hand in there, mix it all up and start shoveling it in you mouth. Trust me, you’re weird if you don’t do this.

Sometimes the sides do change. Somethimes there’s bitter cucumber instead of spinach or chicken instead of potatoes. Extra sides, such as an egg or some buffalo (yes buffalo), can usually be ordered as well.

Ok, so the dhal bhat changes up sometimes, but do people ever eat something other than dhal bhat?

Yes.

Dhal bhat is commonly eaten around 9 in the morning and around 9 at night. This leaves plenty of time for some snacking. Breakfast is not a major meal. Why would it be, when lunch is at 9 AM? If my Nepali friends did eat breakfast, which many did, it was usually a cup of milk tea or milk coffee with some bread or cookies.

There’s also some snacking that goes on during that long stretch between lunch and dinner. Really, who doesn’t want to eat between 9AM and 9PM? While we were trekking, PZ and I passed a school when the children were on snack break. They left the school grounds to fill up on snacks from the local shops. These snacks were the sorts of things you’d expect kids to pick out. Some candies, chips and ice cream.

Some of my Nepali friends liked to snack on momos and thukpa. These are Tibetian dishes that are readily availible throughout the cities in Nepal. Momos are dumplings filled with veggies and meat, like buffalo. Tuk pah is a noodle soup with a sort of sweet and sour taste to it. Can’t decide which to eat? Try a mixed tuk pah. It comes with noodles and momos in the soup.

Two More Foods to Try in Nepal

Roxi, a millet wine that tastes like hard liquor but is real nice on cold nights when it’s heated up.

Yak cheese. Actually, it’s nak cheese since yaks are male, but it’s stilled called yak cheese because who know’s what the heck a nak is? Side note: I googled the word for female yak and came up with nak, dri and nuk. Could someone please agree on a word for a female yak and get back to me on that? Thanks. Anywho, the cheese isn’t much to write home about (even though I am). It’s not terrible, a little on the salty and oily side, but jazzes up a piece of plain bread. Mostly, it’s something you eat so that you can go home and tell everyone you ate yak cheese, I mean nak cheese.

5 Reasons I Love Pokhara, Nepal

I went to Pokhara with the intention of staying a few days and stayed 19. It happens. Why did I stay so long? I loved it. Here’s why:

I Can See Nature!

I love cities. I love the hustle and bustle and feeling like I’m in the midst of something so much greater than me. I enjoy walking around to discover new restaurants and shops. But I love nature too. I love nature with the equal force I love cities. I love walking around in nature and feeling like I’m in the midst of something greater than myself.

Pokhara contains a fun balance of city and nature. The city lies in a basin of giant hills with a large lake at the edge. In Pokhara I am in a city where I can see nature surrounding me. Perfect.

Jumping Off Point for Adventure

Nepal is a natural playground and Pokhara is a great jumping off point for adventure. There’s rafting, trekking, mountain biking, paragliding, enough to keep me busy for a long, long time. I found myself signing up for one adventure trip, coming back, and signing up for another and another. After one trekking trip and two rafting trips I still felt like I’d only scratched the surface here.

Stayed Long Enough to Make a Few Friends

I love Pokhara because I stayed long enough to make some connections. I made friends with a hotel manager, some rafting guides and a few forever drifters. I visited a home in the village and found out where the locals eat their dhal bhat (meals). These connections in a city I was already fond of made me not want to leave.

The Food

There’s plenty of dhal bhat and Tibetian food to go around here. These dishes are definitely worth trying and were staples of my diet in Nepal. But there’s not just dhal bhat and Tibetian food in Pokhara, there’s yummy foreign food too. Just in case you’re one of those travelers who likes to mix things up a bit. The options for foreign food ranged from cheap and easy to pretty and a bit more spendy. There were also plenty of baked goods to go around. Plus, there’s a lot of healthy foods available, like organic coffee and muesli. And another thing: the grocery stores are a snack food paradise. So many people come in to stock up on snack foods before trekking, that the stores are stocked with goods like granola bars, crackers, cookies and chocolate. Lots of chococlate.

It’s Chill, Dude

I went on so many trips that based out of Pokhara, that when I returned I craved some R & R. While in town, I could lounge on my hotel balcony, sip some tea and look at the view of the lake and hills. Or stroll around with some friends to find a chilled out restaurant or place for drinks. I could come back from a 5 day trek or 3 day rafting trip and feel at ease, like I had found a home away from home.

Nepal: Village Visiting and Bus Top Surfing

The manager at the guesthouse PZ and I stayed at in Pokhara offered to take us to visit his family in a village outside the city. This was a no brainer for us. Blame it on being recent Peace Corps graduates, we love a chance to get out of town and see village life.

This trip was one of those situations where we didn’t really know what was going on, but just went with it anyway. We weren’t sure exactly how much walking time was involved and how far away the village was, we would just be following our friend throughout the excursion.

We found our bus and Bekash asked us, “Wanna ride on top?” I felt like a teenager being offered a beer. “No, yes, I mean no, I mean YES!” So we rode on the top of the bus and it was awesome! The view is some much better up there and the air flow is a real nice perk.

After the bus dropped us off we walked about 45 minutes through the village and found Bakash’s mom washing dishes. He introduced us and we hung out around the house smiling warmly and trying to communicate that we loved the property and the dhal bhat.

We spent about half an hour hanging out before Bakash said it was time to start the walk back. It was a long one and we needed to give ourselves plenty of time. Turns out it’s about a 30 minute walk there and a 3+ hour walk back.

After walking about 3 hours we stopped at a view point other tourist were visiting. Here we learned that a bus would come in the next 10 minutes and we chose to take that instead of walking the rest of the way to Pokhara (another 3 hours).

Once again we rode on the top of the bus, where we were joined be a very drunk man with a horn who kept standing on the front of the bus yelling out “Bus surfing!” The curvy bus ride down the hill was nerve racking enough from the where we were sitting and watching this man made us legitimately concerned that we would witness a human death. We were actually thankful when the bus stopped before a check point and made everyone on the roof come inside. The rest of the ride to Pokhara was crowded and far less eventful, but that was fine by me.

Nepal: Rafting the Seti River

Shortly after returning from our trekking trip PZ grew restless and suggested we go rafting. At this point every part of my legs and feet hurt and the idea of a rafting trip made me wimper a little. I wished her bon voyage and said I would be staying behind.

She signed up for her trip and I started to waver in my decision to stay behind. I love rafting and camping and worried I would feel like I had missed out. Oh, but my aching feet wanted to stay behind! In the end I told my feet to suck it up. We’re going rafting!

We chose a trip on the Seti River with Holiday Adventure rafting company. Our intended two day trip turned into a three due to a strike. More time camping was ok with me.

We caught our bus in the late afternoon and rode down to the river. We set up camp at the starting point and prepared ourselves to leaving in the morning to raft down the river. This was the first time this company had ever set up camp at the starting point, but when there’s a strike, you’ve gotta get creative.

Setting up camp was easy enough, especially when there are cute French kids in your group who are eager to set up your tent for you. Bless those children.

Our guides made us a dinner of dhal bhat and we sat around an improvised sand and tarp table introducing ourselves and asking our guide about Nepali culture.

We woke up bright and early the next morning to pack up camp and start down the river. The guides packed up the raft with our supplies, gave us some Rafting 101 tips and we pushed out onto the river.

We quickly learned that this would be no high speed, high adrenaline rafting trip. The French family referred to it as “rafting for grandmothers.” I have no complaints there. I was apprihensive about being thrown out of the boat into class 5 rappids and I appriciated the opportunity to take in the beautiful scenery.

After a day of paddling and swimming we pulled ashore to set up camp. There we swam a bit, played some cards and read our books.

The last day was about 2 hours of rafting. We hit a few class 2 and class 3 rapids before pulling into our exit point. After unpacking the raft we ate some lunch and caught a local bus back to Pokhara.

For someone who was reluctant about going on a rafting trip in the first place, I turned into quite the rafting fan. So much so that I went on this same trip again two days later.

Nepal: Trekking the Poon Hill Circuit on Annapurna Mountain

First order of business in our trip to Nepal: trekking. Well, our first order of business was to recover from our illnesses, but after that we started trekking.

We were based out of Pokhara and chose the Poon Hill trek on Annapurna mountain because it’s a popular option for beginning hikers. We chose a five day circuit, which could have been done in four, but we weren’t really in the mood to strain ourselves. Leave that for the more rugged travelers. We just wanted to see some nature and Himalaya peaks.

The manager at our guesthouse set us up with a guide for our trek, which cost us about $50 a day. There were fees for a permit to enter the mountain grounds and a tourist pass as well. We met with our guide before the trek and learned that he had been a guiding for 10 years and passed a course and examination to become a certified guide. This made us feel like we were in good hands.

Day 1

Our guide met us at the guesthouse and we drove to the entry point for the trek, which started at 950 meters of elevation. And we started walking. And walking and walking. We walked a total of 15 kilometers in 6 hours on this day.

The walk was all fine and dandy until we reached the steps. Oh god, the steps. 3285 sequential steps in total. At this point I realized that if slow trekking were a sport I would be an Olympic gold medalist. Every single upward movement took a concerted effort. At one point the guide thought I looked so pitiful trying to climb all the stairs that he took my backpack away from me and made me use his walking sticks. If ever there was I time that I felt like wimp, this was it.

During the day we talked to our guide about the treks he’s done and learned that he has summited Mt. Everest. PZ asked if he thought we were wimps for taking this trek so slowly and he just giggled. He was actually really good about keeping us encouraged.

At the end of all those stairs we found our guesthouse in Ullari village. Sweet relief that was. It had started raining during our ascent and I was beyond ready to get to our guesthouse.

We were too tired to do much at the guesthouse besides look at the view from the roof and lay in bed with our books. For dinner however, I tried yak cheese and buffalo for the first time and they weren’t so bad.

Day 2

Walked 14.5 kilometers in 5 hours rising to 2874 meters in elevation. This trek was so much easier than the first day and made me feel like I could redeem myself somewhat after my poor performance the day before. There were some hard spots, but nothing like the stairway to heaven we’d climbed the day before.

The day ended at Ghorepani village where we had a fun view of village life and were able to hang out with some friends we’d made along the way. Once again, we were exhausted after the day of trekking and went to sleep right after dinner.

Day 3

We woke up bright and early to catch the sunrise at Poon Hill. This put us at the highest point of elevation we would reach: 3210 meters. At the top of the hill there is a view of several Himalaya peaks, including Dhaulagiri (8,167m) and Annapurna (8,091m). It was cloudy when we got there and we hung around for a bit hoping the skies would clear.

I was absolutely freezing and convinced everyone to start descending. Of course, the clouds moved away not too long after we started our decent. Luckily there was a view point halfway down the hill. It was nowhere near as incredible as the view at the top of the hill, but it wasn’t too shabby either.

The day of trekking after the hill was the easiest so far. There was a lot of down hill which at first I appreciated and then started to dread because of the pain it caused my joints. I’m officially a fan of level ground.

At our stopping point we met up with some of our friends. I drank my first glass of hot millet wine (called “roxi” in Nepali) and played card games with the guides and other trekkers.

Day 4

This day was a beautiful walk through the forest and ended with an endless number of stone steps to be descended. This put me in full grandmother mode. I started lamenting about my aching hip and calling out things like “You kids go ahead.” and “Praise the Lord Jesus” when we reached the guesthouse.

Now may or may not be an appropriate time to fill you in on the gory state of my blisters. One gnarly blister on each foot creeped up on day one and grew and grew throughout the trek. Lesson learned: do not borrow my hotel manager’s shoes to go on a five day trek. I’ll spare you the trauma of looking at an after the trek picture. I’ll just say that I lost one toe nail and developed 4 purple toe nails. Oh yeah, it’s gross.

In other news: PZ discovered her future calling as a porter.

Day 5

Easiest day ever. Just 2 hours of walking to reach the taxi waiting for us at the end of the circuit. Let me tell you, that car did not smell like a bouquet of flowers with the three of us in there. Shortly after this is the point where I noticed my toenail had ripped off, but enough about that.

After the Trek

Sleeping at our hotel and eating at the restaurants in Pokhara after the trek was a treat, but part of me missed being out in the woods. Why do bother with the pain of trekking? Because I love the nature. I love being immersed in the beauty of it. Maybe one day I’ll take my ruggedness up a notch and do a longer trek like the Annapurna base camp or dare I say, the Mt. Everest base camp.

Crossing from India to Nepal

  • 1 train ride from Varanasi to Gorakhpur (7 hours)
  • 1 bus ride from Gorakhpur to Sunauli (2.5 hours)
  • 1 overnight stay in Sunauli (9 hours)
  • 2 currency exchanges at the border one for $25 to get our 15 day visa and one for Nepali rupies (20 minutes)
  • 1 exit signature from Indian officials (5 minutes)
  • 1 Nepali visa and entry stamp from Nepali officials (20 minutes)
  • 4 enthusiastic welcomes to Nepal
  • 1 bus from from the border to Pokhara (8 hours)
  • 1 check in at the the nicest guesthouse we’ve stayed in yet
  • and then paradise.

We’ve made it to Pokhara people. It’s good to be here!