This spring we visited Nepal. Thinking of snow-capped mountains and Buddhist monks, it has long been on my travel wish list. The only thing I didn´t expect much of was the Nepalese kitchen. After reading up a bit on Nepal, it had settled in my brain that Nepalese food consists mainly of lentils and rice. For some reason, I thought that´d be not so exciting from a culinary point of view. How wrong I was!
To be fair lentils and rice do form the basis of the Nepalese kitchen. The dish is called “dal bhat”; literally “lentils rice”. The Nepalese eat it on large flat metal plates, with the right hand. We got the impression that the Nepalese love the dish, based on our trekking guide’s extreme enthusiasm when the hour of dinner approached and he yelled “it’s DB time!” with an enormous smile on his face.
His enthusiasm was contagious and soon I too didn´t want anything else for dinner than dal bhat. This was due to the fact that the dal was tastier than I´d ever had before and we, as tourists, were spoiled with an array of accompanying side dishes thali style AND, most importantly: always got a second serving!
Now I´m someone who could possibly always eat when offered. And now I was trekking in a mountainous landscape for hours a day. And the food was delicious. And I got double the food.
It was the perfect dish.
Over the course over the 2 ½ weeks we were there, I had the chance to taste many different variations. With vegetable curry, with pickled veggies, with chapatti instead of rice, with a poppadum on the side, with spicy tomato-coriander sauce, with tiny sweet potatoes fries, with leavy greens, or with raita. Sometimes the dal came as a lentil soup, sometimes as a thick stew or curry.
When in Nepal the desire to compare with India comes up quickly. To me it felt like Nepal was India-light; the same mix of smells of incense, car fumes, and burnt plastic, the same colours and overwhelming hindu vibe, but mixed with the Buddhist Zen.
In terms of food, the variation and complexity of flavours is much larger in India. But the Nepalese cook the fewer dishes they have to perfection. The food is spicy, but in the nice, boosting kind of way, not the Indian burn-your-face-off kind.
Needless to say, I bought a Nepalese cook book before leaving the country, so I can try to reproduce the dishes I loved so much. So, my quest for the perfect dal is on. To be continued, especially because DB wasn´t the only great Nepali dish I had!