Food in Nepal: Traditional Nepali Food You Must Try

I think the most difficult part about eating is that it’s impossible to try everything in a short period of time. Everyday you only have a finite amount of space in your tummy and a finite number of meals to fit that space, whereas there is an infinite number of Nepalese dishes that you absolutely need to try!

From national speciality to the finest seasonal delicacies, honestly, you would need numerous lifetimes to taste all the best Nepalese food. But hey, I’ve come up with a little bucket list of Nepalese traditional food that you need to try before you head back home. This isn’t an exhaustive list but these are some of the best dishes that everyone should try at least once when you are traveling in Nepal.

Traditional Food You Must Try in Nepal

Each delicacy sums up the heart and soul of various cooking traditions that exist around the country and will tantalize your taste buds.

1. Dal Bhat Set

Nepali food, dal bhat, dal bhat khana set, khana set

As the saying goes, “Dal bhat power 24 hour!” is the staple food of the country. It is a dish made of rice, lentils, various types of curry and pickles. Dal bhat is a comforting food with a combination of heat and many flavors and is a perfect dish to enjoy any day!

Dal bhat is very healthy, tasty and nourishing. The meal is prepared with basic ingredients and cooked in exquisite spices that gives you a taste of the countries locally produced products. The blend of dal, bhat, tarkari (curry) and pickle really come together to create something remarkable and an unforgettable dish of Nepal.

Best places to eat dal bhat in the city: 

2. Local Momos

local jhol momo, local momo, nepal
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Let’s talk about the real momos here. Nah.. not the ones that are plated pretty and look aesthetic but those that are presented on steel or leaf plates. Momos are the second most popular dish in Nepal.

It is definitely a favorite of tourists but to experience the real deal you must try local momos. Momos are small envelopes of flour stuffed with minced meat (except cows) or vegetables served with a peanut jhol achaar (peanut soup pickle).

For me, places that provide local momos are the best to go to if you are looking to get an authentic taste, and an enhanced experience as you’re not sitting in a typical fancy restaurant. Having to see the momos made, cooked and served in a basic plate is just on a whole other level. However, this doesn’t mean you go out and eat momos in just another small place. Make sure that the place is clean and the food is served on clean plates.

Some best places to try local momos are (I promise you they are clean!):

3. Bara or Wo

bara. newari dish, nepal
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Popularly known as Newari pancakes, Bara is a traditional dish made with ground black lentil, green lentil or any other type of lentil. The Newars are one of the indigenous group in the Kathmandu valley and have tantalizing dishes for your taste buds! Today, Bara can be found in every corner of Newari town you visit in Nepal but back in the day, it was made especially during the Newari festival, “Sithi Nakha”. It is an important festival and celebrated every year on the sixth day of the bright fortnight in the month of June. The festival also marks the start of monsoon season.

These lentil patties are light and make the perfect snack. They are high in protein, iron and carbohydrates. You can eat plain bara that is cooked with a cracked egg into one side or try the non-veg with the additional mince meat topping. They are served with a fresh tomato pickle or buffalo meat soup. Nice crisps on the outside and fluffy in the middle, bara is best during winters and hot!

Best places to try Baras are:

4. Yomari 

yomari, newari dish, food nepal
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Yomari (yo-ma-ri) are steamed sweet rice dumplings made by the Newari ethnic community, associated with the festival Yomari Pun:hi, celebrated in December. The festival marks the end of the harvest season and families make fluffy dumplings that look like the shape of a fish.

These sweet dish is made from homemade rice flour stuffed with sesame-jaggery paste, coconut fillings or khuwa fillings (whole milk or milk thickened by heating in a pan) and steamed. Special attention is paid to shaping the “tail”, as it is believed that longer the tail, the shorter the winter season.

Nepali cuisine is filled with loads of savory snacks and meals but Yomari are a rarer sweet treat and definitely worth trying out while in Kathmandu!

Best place to eat Yomari:

5. Dhindo or Dhido

dhido set, food nepal
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Dhido is also Nepal’s staple food and made of millet or buckwheat flour. However, any flour can be used to make dhindo, as it is simply made by mixing hot water and any type of flour. It looks like a pudding and is eaten with different curries and pickles (achar).

Due to the lack of extra spices in Dhindo, it is thought to be tasteless but actually it is an experience to taste in its natural state. You can find Dhido Thali in any corner of Kathmandu and especially around Thamel, you can find a number of restaurants that offer the meal.

Just like the Nepali thali, the Dhido thali is served with a variety of vegetable or meat curries, pickles, buttermilk and yoghurt, and the rice is replaced by the Dhido.

Best place to eat Dhido:

6. Gundruk Pickle

gundruk, fermented leaves soup, pickle, food nepal
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Often presented as a condiment or side dish in Nepali thali or Dhido thali, it is one of the most popular dishes in Nepal. Gundurk is made by fermenting leafy green vegetables like leaves of mustard, radish or cauliflower. It is valued for its unique flavor and has significantly risen from its common rural food to the delicacy of fancy restaurants in the city.

Gundruk Pickle is made by shredding the gundruk into bite size and soaked in warm water. Then coriander seeds, cumin seeds, timur, turmeric powder, dry red chilies, garlic, and ginger are grinded together by adding a small amount of water to make a smooth paste. Gundruk is taken out from the after and transferred into mortar and pestle. It is grinded gently for several times then mixed with the paste of spices. Additional chopped tomatoes, onions, green chilies and coriander leaves are also mixed in the pickle. Then it is topped with salt, roasted mustard oil, lime juice and some water from the soaked Gundruk is added to give the pickle the extra earthy, sour and fermented flavor.

Although fermented, it does not have the strong taste that many fermented foods have, so don’t be turned off that it’s fermented. It is an acquired taste for Nepalis and shares similar characteristics like the Korean Kimchi!

7. Sel Roti

sel roti, food nepal
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Called Nepali-style donuts, sel roti are rings of sweet, deep-fried dough. Unlike the usual donut, sel roti is slightly sweet, the ring is much thinner and is crispy.

They’re made from rice flour, sometimes even mixed with other flours like maize, millet or buckwheat, which gives them a more crunchy texture. Sel rotis are celebratory food served during Tihar festival in a platter of food just like the dal bhat.

Sel roti is not limited to one ethnic community and can be found frying in a deep dish of oil along many lanes in the traditional parts of the city. They are a popular snack and eaten with tea for breakfast or evening snack!

Best place to eat Sel Roti:

  • You can find small stalls or shops around Baglamukhi area
  • Many nameless stalls can be found in Patan, Asan, Kirtipur and Bhaktapur. So keep your eyes open for deep dishes of oil!

8. Samay Baji

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If you want a dish that represents festivity and celebration to the Newar community, then Samay Baji is your meal. Samay Baji is one of the traditional meals that still continue to be served at Newari festivals and celebrations.

The different components in the dish represent good luck, wealth, harmony and health. So what’s in it? Chiura (beaten rice) is the essential element in the set. The other components can vary but usually they include, soybean curry, black-eyed pea curry, batmas (fired dried soybeans), sautéed spinach, fried boiled eggs, potato curry, bamboo shot curry, bara, sel roti, a meat curry or sukuti (dried meat), and a juicy pickle of sliced garlic and ginger. I mean, isn’t this a party on a plate!!!

Samay Baji can be eaten as a starter to a larger feast or simply as lunch. It goes without saying and many of my Newari friends also suggests that the best way to enjoy an authentic Samay Baji set is to be invited to Newari home during a private celebration or festive occasions. However, you can enjoy Samay Baji at Newari restaurants throughout the city.

Best place to eat Samay Baji:

9. Aalu Bodi Tama

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Aloo tama, a potato and bamboo shoot soup, is made from bamboo shoots, potatoes and black-eyed peas. It’s cooked in onions, tomatoes, and a full complement of different spices. The natural spices used to make the dish add mouthwatering flavors and are very aromatic. It is served with plain rice, roti, or beaten rice.

The spicy and zesty delicious curry soup is famous all over the country. It is one of the popular dishes of the Newars and enjoyed all year. Aalu Tama is a common name in Nepali but is known as Chhon-kwa in Newari language. Chhon means bamboo shoot and kwa refers to hot stew or soup.

You can find aalu bodi tama in the majority of the Newari restaurants in the city. If you’re not sure about tama, you can order the soup without tama but then it wouldn’t be the same without it.

Best place to eat Aalu Bodi Tama:

10. Juju Dhau 

juju dhau, nepali yogurt, king of yogurt, food nepal
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The finest yogurt in Nepal, Juju Dhau translates to “King of Yogurt” or “King Curd” in the Newari language. If you like yogurt, then this is the dish you must try when in Nepal. Made from buffalo milk the curd is sweet and has a creamy texture to it. The yogurt is prepared in a clay pot to remove excess moisture, jute cloth and rice husks are also used in the process to give yogurt the right consistency and temperature.

Juju Dhau is a specialty of the Newari people of Bhaktapur, a city in the east of the Kathmandu Valley that once used to be an independent kingdom. Juju Dhau can be eaten as a snack on its own or as a dessert component to a larger Newari meal. And hey the best part of the yogurt is the scoop of the yummy creamy layer off the top!

Best place to eat in Juju Dhau:

  • Juju Dhau originates from Bhaktapur and I prefer enjoying the cup of yogurt while in the city itself. However, the yogurt is sent all around the city and available anywhere!

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