In search of Nepal's culinary identity
October 14th, 2011
02:30 PM ET
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Fragrant spices, savory vegetables and delectable presentation make Nepalese cuisine just as intriguing as the culturally infused country from which it originates. But many people might have trouble defining what exactly constitutes food from Nepal.

Neerakar Uprety went back to Nepal for a three-week visit in July 2011 after living in the United States for eight years. The Washington resident's goal was to see his home country's meals in a new light. He tried several different foods and shot gorgeous photographs of their presentation.

Uprety maintains a blog called Nick's Palate about his love of exotic foods, and he shared several of his pictures with CNN iReport as part of the Destination Adventure ongoing travel project.

On his blog, Uprety expresses a bit of frustration - and a lot of pride - regarding Nepal's culinary identity.

"Sometimes when a nation is surrounded by two gigantic masses of land rich in culture and food, it is very easy to forget that a small being even exists, let alone to actually see it as a place where food in its primitive form can be sublime," Uprety writes. "That is the sad story of Nepal. Surrounded by India and China, who mind you have been two giants of the culinary of world, it has always been really hard for Nepal to shine in the world of food."

Through his writing and photography, he hopes to show people the kinds of foods that Nepalese people really eat, and bring awareness of this style of cooking.

One of Uprety's breakfasts consisted of Nepali tea and pakodas, which are vegetables that have been battered and fried. Roti, an unleavened fried bread, is a typical breakfast item as well. Nepalis drink milk tea and may eat a soup made from potatoes, vegetables or legumes.

During the day, Nepalis often consume the staple meal of Dal bhat - a pairing of lentil soup and rice. The meal may also be referred to as Dal bhat tarkari when a spicy vegetable curry known as a tarkari is added. Tomato achar is a popular condiment that may be served with foods, and papad is a kind of cracker-like bread that often garnishes meals.

Uprety shared a photo of his Nepali thali, which is a platter of small amounts of foods. On his plate was a cauliflower tarkari, tomato achar, chicken kabob, rice, lentils and mustard greens. Ordering a thali is a good way to quickly get a feel for Nepali cuisine if you are a first-timer in a restaurant.

One of the most recognizable Nepali foods is the momo, a dumpling filled with minced meat from buffalo, chicken or other animals. Their iconic pursed-pouch shape is instantly recognizable, and they are similar to other kinds of dumplings served in Asia.

Fish curry and chatamari are other popular traditional dishes from Nepal. Chatamari consists of a pancake-like flatbread with toppings - similar to a pizza.

Simply thumbing through all of Uprety's photos is a good way to see the variety of foods that can be made using a few simple styles.

He said that while Nepal does take influences from its neighbors, the taste is all its own. Simple ingredients are prepared specially. He describes a well-made meal as a "miracle on a plate" dating back to his ancestors.

"We combine all the charismatic yet simple ingredients and create a wonder in a plate. It takes a lot of practice and a lot of creativity to make food taste like a Nepali food. Needless to say, my trip to Nepal after eight years showed me how magical and delicious food in Nepal really is."

Have you ever been to Nepal, or are you a fan of the country's cuisine? We'd love to hear from you. We're curious what you would recommend and what you've enjoyed. Share what you think a traveler should eat, and any food-related adventures you've had in the comments area below.

CNN's Destination Adventure series takes a look at great places for eager explorers. Each week, we'll feature favorite regional foods, secrets from the locals and the best photos and stories from readers. Have you been to Nepal? Share your story with CNN iReport. And for our final week of Destination Adventure fun, we'll take a look at the Galapagos Islands. Yes, they do have a foodie scene there.

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Filed under: Buzz • Destination Adventure • iReport

soundoff (48 Responses)
  1. Amit Shrestha

    Wow this is amazing .. Thank you Neerakar for putting Nepali Food out there... You rock .. i also follow your BLOG :) keep the recipes coming man

    June 4, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
  2. fnm

    The momo's are the most delicious food the chicken version is just awesome. Thanks for the Recipe. After eating this in the some store i was wondering how will be prepared what is the Recipe and all here i got the Recipe. Here i wanted to share one place i gone through. For further assistance. Clickfoodsnearme

    March 14, 2013 at 8:40 am |
  3. rlshrestha

    Tea and pakoda, and Roti in breakfast???? Where did she go? May be in Terai region (close to India) which constitute less than 20percent of Nepal in terms of land area. In my entire life I have never eaten pakora or Roti even in lunch time ,let alone in breakfast.

    November 13, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • R.J

      I have eaten tea and pakoda.. infact every other day i do.. so keep your condescending comments to yourselves

      November 15, 2011 at 8:17 am |
  4. Kaji Kyapchaki

    Try thakali kitchen for some authentic nepali food. Dhindo tarkari is the real nepalese food. sel roti, bara, chukauni, so much more ..

    October 26, 2011 at 6:55 am |
  5. E.M. Dyer II

    I've been living in Nepal for the past year and I've a lot to say! Nepal, though defined by the Thali and the Momo, is not bereft of other excellent international cuisines. Kathmandu is home to over 100 restaurants of many cultures. Just check out my food/things blog at for reviews (not sponsored or anything, just my bit to help out visitors and expats). Also, to the photographer, a little color correction and tilt-shift never hurt anyone. And don't include photos of food you just remembered to shoot at the end of the meal, bad form. Do your payroll some justice!

    October 18, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  6. xavi

    A lot of jingoists prefer to insult rather than to offer constructive criticism. Lighten up. This article may not be perfect, but there isn't much food writing out there about Nepal, is there?

    October 16, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  7. Bikash

    nice article.. i specially love the part where the author says "We combine all the charismatic yet simple ingredients and create a wonder in a plate. It takes a lot of practice and a lot of creativity to make food taste like a Nepali food."

    October 16, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  8. R.J

    for all who are complaining about picture quality and how it is not traditional nepalese food, you guys need to shut the F*** up.. article is trying to create an awareness about nepalese one has ever done this before.. sure it might not be traditional food but it is a part of nepalese cuisine.. and no take takes a DSLR whenever they go out and eat.. when you come across the food you like you try to capture it whatever means you can.. if u think u can do better than do it and stop compaining.. An excellent article ... and thank you for trying to put our name out there...

    October 16, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • Nepali

      listen you moron, this article in no way promotes Nepali culture or tradition or any culinary arts. all this sorry excuse of an article does is promote misconception about my country

      October 16, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
      • R.J

        Listen you moron.. i have been to nepal and i have eaten food there... I know what you guys have there.. dont make smart remarks cause your hurting your own status... the article writes about what can be found there and how nepali food is amazing yet hasnt been recognized by the world... Instead of being happy that someone atleast bought it up, you are complaining... Go ahead complain or insult more ... I dont have to tell you how much of a moron you are...

        October 17, 2011 at 7:40 am |
  9. Craig

    Love Momo-cha, though the closest Nepalese restaurant is 1400 km away, so we make our own. They are especially good using kangaroo meat for the filling.

    October 16, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  10. Geet

    yummmy..article! I'm hungry now and I want Momooooooo :)

    October 16, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  11. Sayami

    This article does bring Nepali food into global picture, but it only portrays part of Nepali cuisine (yes, be it in an inexpensive restaurant it is still Nepali food), along with some non-Nepali food. I believe culinary articles are better with freshly served food; tempting the readers, half eaten plates take good places in food blogs.

    October 16, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  12. Laurel Vaidya

    Having recently spent a month with my husbands family in Kathmandu, I grew to love Nepali food! At first the cuisine seemed to lack variation. We ate the same thing two times daily. After a few weeks I found myself escaping to local supermarket for cheese, toast, and other American comfort foods. The Newari foods that we ate were my favorite. I loved chatamari, and though usually cooked with buffalo meat, the chicken choyila his mother prepared for me was always delicious. (Choyila is a meat dish seasoned with cilantro, tomato, peppers, cumin, lemon, etc, a great combo of salty, spicy, and zesty). As an american who is used to so much variety, it was difficult to adjust to. Still though, I find myself missing the daily meals that were served at 11 am and then again at 8 or 9pm. I miss the hearty dal bhat, the achar, the tarkari, and especially the chia (milk tea). Great diet food too, I lost 7 lbs during our trip! Thanks for the interesting article!

    October 16, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  13. Snow Lion

    It was painful to read that Nepal is between India and China. It is actually between India and Tibet. China out of Tibet!

    October 16, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
    • prava

      we nepalis respect ur sentiment, but don't consider Tibet as a country ! so we r btwn India n China .

      November 18, 2011 at 4:09 am |
  14. Nepali

    This article is a disgrace and insult to the Nepali cuisine. 95% of the food mentioned are Indian or Tibetan. Unfortunately, the author seems to have forgotten what Nepali food actually is. The pictures are disgusting.

    October 16, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • Sid

      Read the article first then comment !! It says that "Nepal does take influences from its neighbors, the taste is all its own". Instead of praising someone who actually did this for our Country's cuisine you are only criticizing it. This article isn't a disgrace you are.

      October 16, 2011 at 9:40 am |
      • Babuchanda

        This article is not representative of Nepali cuisine. Mr.Upretty seems to believe that foods from cheap restaurant is Nepali cuisine. Makes me wonder if he has ever been to a decent restaurant. The pictures are definitely horrible. Some ignorant people here have mentioned that it should not matter, however they don't know presentation is equally important as the taste.

        October 16, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
      • Nepali

        @Babuchanda: exactly. but some morons here differ. this article is an absolute insult.

        October 16, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • jaer

      it didnt even say what the picturesw were of. badly done piece

      October 16, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Babuchanda

      Totally embarrassing. The writer has no understanding of what Nepali cuisine is.

      October 16, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  15. Tenpa Dhargyal

    I love nepali food, especially dal bhat but Momo is Tibetan food. And you were not surrounded by China and India, you were once between Tibet and India. You can't change history to suit the present. But it could be that author simply was ignorant of this fact although there are probably 20,000 Tibetan refugees living in nepal at the moment.

    October 16, 2011 at 9:08 am |
  16. ToadInAustin

    Trekking around in the Himalayas with my wife, our impression of Nepali food was...dahl baht three times a day. Of course it's probably different elsewhere, as it was down around Royal Chitwan national park–more variety, but basically still dahl baht with some more veggies.

    My wife and I once sat down to a restaurant in Kathmandu and saw an item on the English-language, strictly-for-tourists menu–Nepali Mixed Platter. I said to my wife, oh good, maybe we can sample something else from Nepali cuisine. The mixed platter turned out to be three kinds–slightly different hues, though pretty much the same flavor–of dahl baht.

    Some places, what they eat and what tourists are ever going to find are not necessarily the same thing, I guess. To this day, the lack of variety in the Nepali food that we were able to gain access to is a standing joke with us - the Nepali Mixed Platter is like a symbol for us of the difference between the expectation and the actual reality of something–"Mmm, Nepali Mixed Platter, I'm excited, this is going to be interesti....oh....I see. Dahl baht again."

    October 16, 2011 at 6:48 am |
    • James

      think it as.. Americans eat mash potatoes in every meal. Nepalese don't just eat 'dhal bhat' cos they don't have anything else to eat but rather its a daily cuisine. I found most Nepalese love traditional and own 'gundruk, goat meat and dhido' than dhal bhat... still its a culture, tradition and necessity while you are being served if you are having Nepalese dhal bhat.. or else you can always pack your mash potatoes from your country while you are heading to Nepal for trekking... No hard feelings....

      October 16, 2011 at 10:57 am |
      • Lorenzo

        I am afraid the poster you replied to has a point: American cuisine is an incredibly varied melting pot of things from everywhere. As a typical American, I don't eat the same dish or side dish twice in a week. I can't remember the last time I had mashed potatoes ... or a hamburger.

        October 16, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • prava

      three times a day ! were u that hungry ? it depends how many times u wud like to eat ,, but the tradition is two times a day,, in the morning we drink milk tea with some snacks (but nt compulsory) n lunch around 10 or 11 we eat dal bhat .....n again around 3 or 4 pm we take a light lunch. n around 8 9 pm we have our dinner n that is dal bhat again... we love to eat like this .. n often feel ..anything else than dal bhat doent fill our stomach properly .. lol

      November 18, 2011 at 4:28 am |
    • D Adhikari

      You have a point but don't judge all Nepali food by what you eat on a trek – especially if you are trekking in areas where there are no roads(like the Ghorepani-Poon Hill trek which I took 2 years ago) everything has to be brought in on someone's back in a dhoko(basket) or by horse/mule – you can't expect the wide variety of foods you can find in Kathmandu or Pokhara where everything is trucked or flown in. If you are sick of DBT then try Newari food – I recommend the Cafe de Patan – the 'piro aloo' is to die for if you love spicy food.

      December 22, 2012 at 9:58 am |
  17. Natalie

    I've always wondered about "traditional" and/or "ancestral" foods, especially how far back we trace tradition. One of my biggest questions is about tomatoes, which were actually mentioned in this article. We think of them as staples in both Italian and Indian cuisine. But tomatoes originated in the New World and have been available to the rest of the world for 500 years. That may be a long time for people who study food but for those who study people it's not so. What was traditional Indian or Italian cuisine before that? Same with corn, squash, etc. That being said I love both and now need to find a source of Nepalese cuisine nearby.

    October 15, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
  18. daya Shakya

    Similar to Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese we should recognize it as the "Nepalese Culinary" an inclusive term for all people of Nepal not just Nepali.

    October 15, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  19. Sk

    The vegetarian items mentioned are all from Indian cusine. Good article!

    October 15, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • prava

      yes only the vegetables r same but the taste is totally different ... the major difference is nepali foods are prepared with less oil or spices .. in indian curries one can find less vegetables n more oil and spices .. lol

      November 18, 2011 at 4:35 am |
  20. Kate

    LOL...apparently the Nepalese are pissy about presentation.

    October 15, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  21. sandeep khatri

    Thanks for making Nepalese cuisine on the world map secne

    October 15, 2011 at 6:27 am |
  22. Sid

    This is such an inspirational article... this has really put nepalese cusine on the map.. Idiots worried about the quality of the pictures.. This is how it is supposed to be..natural and authentic...

    October 15, 2011 at 2:08 am |
  23. Bishal Dhakal

    Thanks for putting us in global picture of exotic culinary art... LOVED THAT ALL YUMMY !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 15, 2011 at 1:38 am |
  24. Rose

    Indeed Nepali food is delicious and more people need to try it to know it. Excellent article and authentic pictures.there are a handful of Nepali restaurants in NYC, i reccomend Yak.

    October 14, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
  25. Neesha

    Love the article and your natural pictures. Thanks for sharing.

    October 14, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
  26. C.B.

    Its reality, food is meant to be eaten, so half eaten plate is just fine. And bhattis have some of the finest food!!! And if you have a weak stomach, keep it to yourself, all of us dont need to know :).
    Great job who ever took the pics, and made some effort at getting Nepali food recognized. I'm dying to have MOMO..OH how I miss it!!!!

    October 14, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • Naresh

      "Its reality, food is meant to be eaten, so half eaten plate is just fine."

      Why not take a picture of an empty plate then? More real. Bat garcha yaar!

      October 15, 2011 at 11:41 am |
      • Prakash

        hopefully this article will somewhat put others attention towards nepali food.. i am soooo hungry now..

        October 16, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  27. Naresh

    Oh my god! These pictures must be taken at a crappy Nepalese Restuarant. "Miracle on a plate?" more like "Diarrhea on a plate."

    October 14, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  28. Bhaire

    I agree. Such horrendous pictures. Who takes pictures of half eaten food? The "thal" looks straight out of a cheap bhatti. Whoever this cook is really needs to learn about presenting food in an appetizing manner.

    October 14, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  29. no way

    Those pictures are horrible. Who would want to try Nepalese food after seeing such unappetizing pictures. Such a shame because Nepalese food is excellent.

    October 14, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • Trenton

      We must not be looking at the same photos cuz they look pretty darn amazing to me!

      October 17, 2011 at 8:10 am |


    October 14, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  31. Neerakar Uprety

    Thank you !!!

    October 14, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
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