Dal bhat, same as rice and lentils… this is maybe the most famous and eaten Nepali dish, being the staple food of most of the population. The dal bhat, in Nepal also called “khana” is a meal that includes a dal (lentils soup), a vegetable curry (tarkari), saag (stir fry green leaf vegetable). Radish pickle, gundruk, yogurt and hot tomato sauce are added to this dish that is always eaten with steamed rice… a lot of rice!!
Is basically a vegetarian meal but it can also be served with meat, mostly chicken… and at Nepal the consumption of meat is quite common.
It can be eaten as breakfast or as also lunch, and in restaurants is served along all day… but most have home made dal bhat! Usually, you can find dal bhat in restaurants just after 10 am.
Being Nepal a country with so many different cultures, topography, climates, traditions, also the dal baht reflect this diversity. The rice dominates most of the country cuisine, but very high in the mountains the rice is replaced by corn or maize, buckwheat, barley or millet.
Thakali is an ethnic group as also a region located in the farthest northeast of Nepal, close to the Tibetan border, at the high Himalaya. From this remote area comes the most popular version of dal bhat. The restaurants in Kathmandu from this kind of cuisine – thakali bhanchha – serve usually the dal bhat with rice and not with another kind of grains, as usual in the high mountain areas, but are a good option to try this speciality.
In Nepal, the dal bhat is served in a heavy brass plate, with the rice at the center with the curry, saag, salad and seasonings arranged around and with the dal in a small bowl, sometimes also in brass metal. In the non-vegetarian option, the meat is served also in a small bowl, and never in big portions.
One of my favourites restaurantes in Kathmandu to eat dal bhat is the Muktinath Thakali Kitchen right in the heart of Thamel, but not so visible and easy to find. Is famous between tourists but also very popular among Nepali people that assure the quality of the food!
Here the dal bhat is served with rice, which is not traditional in the Thakali region, but undoubtedly the rice is the most popular cereal in Nepal, and the Nepali can eat a lot of it at each meal 🙂
The dal bhat at Muktinath Restaurant is very rich, served according to the tradition: rice, curry, dal, saag, pickle, salad (just cucumber), spicy sauce… and a with a papad (crispy chips, made from dal and fry in oil). The curry is very tasty, usually not spicy, the dal has the touch of the ghee, and a good quality of rice, with a long grain… and this all cost 200 rupees (vegetarian option) and the staff is super friendly.
This dal bhat is served also yogurt and the gundruk, that for me is one of the main reasons to visit this place, as the gundruk, being a typical homemade season, but not so easy to find in restaurants.
For a more local-underground-cheap version of dal bhat I strongly recommend the Om Restaurant also called as Om Bhava, located in s hidden backstreet of Thamel. The Dal Bhat at Om Bahava is not so rich as the one from Muktinath Kitchen as it comes without the papad and gundruk, but it worth to go there to taste the yummy taste of a homemade dal bhat that makes us forget that we are at a restaurant!
The place is simple and humble, the owner is super friendly smiley Nepali, never saying no to another refill of this amazing food! The price is also good: 130 rupees for the vegetarian option and 200 rupees for the one with chicken.
After rice, this is the core of a Nepali meal! The dal is basically a soup made with lentils, any kind of lentils seasoned with coriander, cumin and turmeric…. and a bit of fresh ginger that give a special flavor Sometimes, as the dal in Nepal is expensive, potatoes are added to this soup, make it thicker.
A spoon of ghee (clarified butter), if added, gives a special touch to this simple dish.
From the big variety of dal, my favorite one in the black dal, in Nepal called “maas ko dal”, from where results a thick and textured soup, where this small beans almost disappear due to the overcooking in a pressure pan. A bit of ginger always give a twist to this soup, bringing a sharpness to the taste.
This is a classic side dish that is served with the dal bhat… unfortunately many places forget this detail that is fundamental for me!!!
The Gundruk is prepared with fermented leafs of spinach, radish or mustard, that are later dried and storage. For serving the dry leafs are soaked in water and fry in a pan with onion, tomato, turmeric, salt and chili, resulting in a mix of acid and spicy flavor.
Due to the fermentation process gundruk is an important font of minerals.
Difficult or almost impossible to find in the market or shops as this is a homemade treat, but at least the dry leafs could be found in the street markets of Kathmandu.
The tarkari is a stew made from different types of vegetables, changing according to the season, but where the potato is almost always present. Coriander, cumin and turmeric are used to season, where is common the presence of onion and garlic.
There’s a huge variety of vegetables available in the market at Kathmandu, some of them totally unknown from the western eyes, but other, like carrot, cauliflower, potato, pumpkin, aubergine, zucchini are quite frequent. Mushrooms coming from the mountains are also used but is a treat reserved for a specific season. Despite all this variety in the tarkari doesn’t have more than two kinds of it, and potato is often one of them.
Changing according to season and from place to place, the tarkari could be a bit spicy, but is never oily or heavy.
Saag, stir fry spinach leafs, mustard leafs, radish leafs or another kind of green leaf vegetables
Radish pickle, chopped into small pieces, and seasoned with mustard oil and chili; this side dish is strongly spicy and give a boost to the dal bhat combination of tastes.
Salad… usually not much more that a slice of radish, tomato, carrot or a piece of cucumber.
Yogurt… usually a bit sweet but not always present in some dal bhats; is a good combination with the salt and spicy taste of the rest of the dish.
Red sauce, not really my favorite and always skip it, but is made from tomato, chili and Sichuan pepper, having a sour and acid taste.
… and last but no the least: Rice, plain and unsalted steamed rice… couldn’t be simpler.
Muktinath Thakali Kitchen
In the center of Thamel… difficult to give a proper address but try to look for Funky Buddha Bar, and passing the entrance gate you’ll see a red brick building on you left where is located the Muktinath Restaurant. Inside, passing the kitchen you have a kind of open-air area more pleasant called “garden”.
The Om Restaurant is hidden in the end of a back street of Thamel. Try to find first the Roots Bar, and from there is less than 100 meters. The place is dark and far from be attractive, but has a kind of character and the dal bhat is delicious… and maybe the cheapest meal in Thamel!
Note that in all restaurants the dal bhat is served in the refill system, which means that the plate is served with a not so big portion of food, but after someone will pass by bringing more food, and you can refill you plate as many times you want!
Another version of the dal bhat, hard to find in restaurants, is made with barley, cereal that grows at high levels as the rice, typical from lowlands, is hard to grow above 2000 meters high.
I can’t finish this post without mention a homemade dal bhat, cooked at mountain style, that despite the presence of the rice as also served with corn, cooked and beaten, resulting in a yellow thick paste. Very delicious, with the sweetness of the corn balancing the spiciness of the curry.