I’m just back from a visit to my wife’s country, Nepal, which is halfway around the world, but a world away in terms of what people eat day to day. Whenever I am in developing countries, it strikes me how much better the food supply tastes: Virtually all fruits and vegetables are organic, and animals are raised naturally, allowed to graze and feed as nature intended.
Nepali food is a hybrid of Indian and Tibetan cooking influences, and it tends to be very spicy. Chilies and aromatic spice are used in abundance. The staple of the diet is rice, although millet and corn are eaten commonly as well. Goat meat, chicken and river fish make up the protein supply. If you’re lucky enough to have chickens yourself, then you’ll be eating a lot of eggs.
My wife, Setu, and I hiked up to her father’s village, high above Lake Phewa, Pokhara, a tourist center where her family now lives. After a four-hour walk, and a 3,000-foot ascent, we arrived and were greeted by incomparable Himalayan views and tin cups of warm, creamy milk from her cousin’s water buffalo.
A chicken was then slaughtered and smoked over a beechwood fire, after having been rubbed with spice and ghee (clarified butter). Roti (like flour tortillas) were made in a pan held over the fire. After a mountain hike, almost anything will taste good, but this meal was truly wonderful. Need I tell you the chicken did not taste like the one you bought at Albertsons last week?
On most days, I ate rice, lentils and vegetables with stewed goat meat. Mornings, I drank tea or organic coffee at stalls on Pokhara’s lakeside, and fresh eggs, pancakes with jam and Swiss muesli–trekker’s food found everywhere in this country.
On my last day in Nepal, though, I visited the restored temple city of Bhatapur outside the capital, Kathmandu. It’s a magnificent place, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the most impressive places in Central Asia. But naturally, for those of you who know I am always looking for something to eat, I found amazing street food: lentil fritters, potato pakoras and batter-fried whole chilies with a wicked bite.
The star dish, though, are the Tibetan/Nepali dumplings called momo, steamed in giant drums, and stuffed with a meat filling–here either buffalo or chicken–and doused with a deliciously subtle sesame sauce. Momo cost about 10 for 50 cents here, served hot. Eat two orders, and you won’t be able to eat again for hours.
You may not realize it, but many of our Indian restaurants have Nepalis in the kitchen, so momo are available here as well, at Mount Everest India’s Cuisine (3641 W. Sahara Ave., 892-0950) and Mint Indian Bistro (730 E. Flamingo Rd., 894-9334). You probably won’t get the sesame sauce, but you will get a spicy tomato chutney.