Bhat (steamed rice) cannot solely define Nepali food in a country where indigenous grains like wheat, corn, buckwheat, millet, barley and others are grown abundantly, and roasted and steamed into bread, boiled into porridge, or ground for storage. Any one of these can be taken as a staple food. Beyond that, lentils form an essential part of our diet, though their cooking varies according to geography and ethnicity.
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Vegetables are eaten Nepalwide, mostly fried, and sometimes boiled. Oil to fry them in, and turmeric for its colour and medicinal property, are essential to Nepali cuisine. Green leafy vegetables saag differentiate the Nepali thali from North Indian ones. Gundruk, sinki, tama, kinema, and other foods made by fermenting leaves, bamboo shoots, or beans are common across Nepali kitchens. So are dairy products like milk, yoghurt and buttermilk, and it is a tradition to flavour rice with a bit of ghiu.
As for meat, there is no uniformity. Some like pork and others buffalo, both forbidden by other communities. Nepali cuisine is lacking when it comes to dessert, and many communities do not even have the tradition of eating sweets.
Nepal’s most exotic dishes are not found in restaurants but eaten only at home. While this preserves their taste, it also limits the dish to a small family group.
Read also: Could Nepali cuisine go global, Thomas Heaton
In this age of easily available packaged food, we are losing slow-cooked foods that once used to enhance the taste, smell and nutritional value of foods. Not just our recipes and cooking techniques, but our entire agriculture system has fallen prey to commercial agriculture, and many indigenous foods are not grown any more.
After our culinary journey across Nepal, our conclusion is that there is no standard ‘Nepali food’. It is our duty to define, and refine, our ethnic dishes and preserve their originality. We need to get these dishes to restaurant tables around the world by cooking, eating and propagating them ourselves. Nepali food deserves to go worldwide.