Emerging new culinary delight from the Himalayas

I often get a question in our Restaurant, what is the difference between Indian and Nepalese Cuisine? I tell them in short The Nepalese foods are quick to cook and good and healthy to eat.our food is famous for its nutrition level and tempting taste with less oil and thin gravy. But we have to serve here thick gravy as many Indian and Nepalese restaurants serve somewhat similar food with just a different names. We know Nepalese cuisine is somewhat basic, A gourmet delight, which is still a hidden treasure.

But it’s getting more popular in western world but often serve as the Indian dishes. As many Nepalese restaurants are opening in various countries of theworld but they follow the same techniques as the Indian restaurants do. So still hardly authentic and traditional Nepalese foods are served in the restaurants. Nepal is a tourist destination and especially famous for mountaineering , hiking, and expeditions so travllers get in touch with the nature as well as local people, food , culture and ethnic diversity. Because of that Nepalese foods are also getting international exposure and recently Nepal is trying to standardize it’s cuisine. Recently Hotel Association of Nepal (HAN) Restaurant and Bar Association of Nepal, food technologists and chefs have started a national initiative for the globalization of Nepali cuisine with active participation of Nepal’s tourism pioneer and tourism entrepreneur Mr. Karna Shakya. they are now promoting 23 traditional Nepali food dishes in the global arena under the Nepalese Cuisine Campaign. The campaign aims to promote Nepali tourism by globalizing Nepali cuisine.
General Secretary of HAN, Binayak Shah, started the campaign on October 2017 working in close coordination with Karna Shakya, who is leading the Experience Nepal 2018 campaign.
According to Shah that the aim of the Nepalese Cuisine Campaign is to bring the food culture of Nepal to the global arena, and establishing them in the same level as foods of International cuisine . The list of 23 dishes was developed by a team of 7 top chefs of Nepal. The original list reportedly included 180 dishes of Nepali cuisine, which were reduced to 23 dishes, mainly on the view that the ingredients be available globally. Another main criteria was that the dishes had to be strongly associated with Nepal. The recipes have also been made in a way that is easy to follow so that they can be learned by anyone.The final list includes 5 varieties of traditional Nepali soups, 4 items as starters, 11 as main course, and 3 desserts. These dishes are currently under study at the Department of Food Technology and Quality Control, Babarmahal, to define their nutritional values and calories count, so that the data may be provided to health-conscious consumers.

According to HAN General Secretary Binayak Shah, after verification and approval The recipes will be available on the HAN official website, and video tutorials will be released on Youtube. They expect that the recipes will be taken up by the Non-Resident Nepalis around the globe, it is believed that soon the Nepalese cuisine will be enduring image in the global culinary arena . Even today Foods and culinary Journey of the Hidden valleys, mountains and plains of the Greater Himalayan Region are as complex and vivid as it’s flora and fauna. Nepalese foods are typically based on natural and local ingredients with it’s own gastronomic history but often considered somewhat similar cooking techniques with its neighboring countries. It is because of Nepal is a landlocked country and has similar cultural and geographical settings. But in Nepal Every culture and ethnic groups has their own native food habits which are completely different from one another or even one regions to another. Same ingredients are cooked and served in different ways. Still we can consider Nepalese food is a hidden treasure but highly influenced by Indian and Tibetan or even some part of Chinese cuisine but have own influenced and really healthy and natural and widely use organic and rare ingredients to make mouth watering dishes, some people complain that Nepalese foods are bland but it is healthy and really nourishing. It’s mainly due to lack of transportation and less influenced by outsiders in it’s rugged and complex geographical features . Nepalese people eat what they grow in the farm or easily available in their backyard focusing their daily food requirement they eat Rice or Dhido with legumes , yogurt or even buttermilk with any kind of homemade pickles or even a bite raw green chili. They also commonly eat Locally grown fruits and vegetables. Villagers grow any kind of seasonal vegetables like pumpkins, beans, greens, mushrooms, Potato, pulses, millets, buckwheat, sesame seeds, flax seeds, corns, variety of yams and other local greens, soybean, wide variety of lentils , dairy products, wildflowers, some kinds of edible leaves and and bark of some of the plants are widely eaten. Fermented and dehydrated vegetables are also commonly
prepared and stored for off seasons. In General Nepalese people eat vegan based simply cooked food with local ingredients of garlic , ginger, cumin, fennel seeds, mustard seeds and chillies. They also make variety of dairy based foods but in moderation.

In these regions especially traditional foods are prepared according to season, and cultural festivals to daily life. Beside stable foods various traditional fermented foods and beverages are also prepared and consumed in various occasion, a traditional fermented drinks are must of some ethnic groups and some restrict to consume, it’s really interesting to know all about it. But in general the dietary culture of this region is mostly reflect the pattern of geographical location, pattern of food production and cultural values, and most commonly among all regional, cultural and ethnic diversity the following foods are common to all, they are Rice, maize, bajra, buckwheat, wheat, barley, seasonal and locally available fruits and vegetables specially potatoes. Meat is a rare and consume specially in the feast and festivals or for offering to their guests as luxury dishes. Meats and often sell in the local market days or on a special occasions and consume by the local people as there is less chances to store in refrigerators so excess meats are often dried as jerky and eaten for long time too though it’s a tedious process and expensive too. So mostly they eat chicken, duck , pigeons, wild birds or goat mostly raised by themselves. It’s expensive to buy from the larger cities as it has to be carried up by the porters and often cost a lot. So they rely on community or within a group of family members to provide meat even for the special occasions. When we talk about stable food of Nepal there is only one term that is “Dal bhat” which consist of steamed rice and any kind of legumes soup, that’s why most of the travellers might have seen or bought a tee shirt with a slogan “Dal Bhat Power 24 hrs”. That means most of the Nepalese people eat at least one time a day Dal Bhat if not three times. ( some people or places eat three times a day too), since it is commonly eaten. If somebody meet they often say” Bhat Khayo?” means ate Rice? In Indian family often hear to say Roti khaya? Did you eat bread? As they mostly eat bread. But Nepalese people eat mostly rice which is the must for Nepalese dish.

Rice is certainly stable food in Nepal but there are many rural and mountainous regions where Rice become a rare delicacy and eaten for special feast and festivals since they depend on millet, bajra, buckwheat and corn. So another popular diet is “Dhido” made up of millet or corn or buckwheat. In Nepalese cuisine Most of the vegetables are also eaten as fermented or dried forms which has sharp and pungent taste and flavors to sour. Sugar is least used in food of Nepal except desserts or some of the traditional breads.

Beside Dal bhat and dhido most of the common people of Nepal eat fermented vegetables or dry vegetables, dry meat , fermented dairy products or wild plants and shrubs, now noodles are also popular called Thukpa or chau chau, gundruk, yogurt based curry, cheese based curry, soybean based curry, bamboo shoots etc. Meat and fish is also widely consumed in Nepal but eating meat has some ethical and ethnic restriction, some people eat one kind of meat and other eat other kinds of meat like some people don’t eat pork but eat goat and some ethnic people even don’t touch goat but eat pork , similarly some eat water buffalo to yak but some are pure vegetarian or eat no poultry or even some ethnic groups don’t eat fish.

Our foods are highly influenced by the culture and various ethnic groups of the Himalayan Regions. Food has a very high value and sign of dignity in Nepal, we don’t eat food with left and or even don’t serve, it is considered bad manner or not acceptable for special feast and festivals. There are special customs and traditions of food handling and cooking process too, though Nepal is now a secular country but deep rooted cultural and religious values still lies in the country and people so touching food without permit and sharing leftover food from the plate is always a bad manner, Even in some customs outsiders are not allow to get into the kitchen and if they do so they clean the whole kitchen with cow dung and holy water to purify. Cows are considered holy in Nepal so don’t expect to get any beef in Hindu family but some Buddhist and other religions people eat it but so far it is not openly sold in the market.

Still in much caste of the Himalayas people pray to God, thanking him for providing delicious meal to their family and accept as God’s gift. So there are caste etiquettes relating to food preparation and serving in Nepal which western world may find it fascinating and uncommon. Most of the household of the Himalayan regions foods are prepared by the head of the family’s women supported by youngers one but not the male person allow to cook in the family, but in any special occasion only male are allow to cook food and consider acceptable by whole community, In special cultural or religious events foods are prepared by the priest family or any one consider higher ranked in the community so that all can eat the food.

Special kinds of foods are prepared according to seasons, customs, festivals and rituals, fasting period, natural body cleansing period. Every occasions has it’s significance with the food and prepared different kinds of food for different occasions like in wedding, wedding reception, other rituals, maternity time to even death rituals has different foods to serve. Even there are certain restriction to combine foods while eating, and consider bad for health point of view, may be these things are related to Ayurvedic and Yogic practice, Even for non vegetarians there are specific month when meat are not eaten and in some time Rice or some specific foods are ban to eat. Similarly foods habits are changed when someone suffer certain kinds of health problems. But now a day these traditions are rarely seen in the capital cities and other major towns but still practice in rural or villages of Nepal. Because of all these traditional barriers most of the Himalayan foods has become a hidden treasure of the mystic world.

Now it is getting popularity in the commercial as well as international arena. So it’s really interesting fact to know which ethnic group eat what kind of food. These all show how diverse culture and food habits are there in Nepal and Himalayan regions. Beside Nepal similar food habits are found in North Indian states where Nepali speaking people live . They are Sikkim, Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Assam, Mizoram and some of the North Eastern states including neighboring country like Bhutan and Burma. So it has it has own unique culinary history and most of them are still hidden and has to be explored to the modern world. Since they are mostly nutritious, healthy and based on Ayurvedic and Tibeto Burmese influence.

Now a days due to increasing number of tourist these foods or culinary has entered to
commercial market not only in this region but most of the places of the world where Nepalese origin people have migrated. The cuisine has become popular and commercially prepared in most of the Nepalese and Indian Restaurant in USA, Canada, Uk , most of the European countries to Australia. So we are not so far behind to globalize our culinary journey to those commercial places as well as ethnic food lovers of the western world. Most of the standard dishes and ingredients are easily available in the Indian, Chinese and Nepalese stores worldwide so it is not too difficult to prepare these delicious dishes and soon it will be no longer called the hidden treasure to global market.

compiled and written on Apr 14, 2018, 10:06 PM