Sunday, August 7, 2011

Today's Special is Dal Baht

Picture your favorite meal.  Now imagine eating it twice a day, every day.  It wouldn’t be your favorite for so long, would it?
Dave: "Actually, yes. I could eat this every day and it would still be my favorite."
That’s the crazy thing about dal baht.  Consisting of soupy lentils ladled over a heaping portion of steaming rice, dal baht is the Nepali national dish – a dish that most Nepalis eat twice a day.   And it seems that the Nepali people genuinely love their dal baht.  Of course, many people don’t have the luxury of deciding what they want to eat each day.  Dal baht is inexpensive, nutritious and easy to make, and certainly just having enough to eat is more important than what you eat.  But many of the Nepalis we met (Shiba, we’re looking at you) eagerly ordered dal baht even when there were lots of other options.
A dal baht server in Kathmandu

Shiba's dal baht in Manang, Nepal
Shiba is just a blur as he enjoys his dal baht at great speed
Dal baht, especially when done well, is pretty tasty.  We ate it many times in our month in Nepal.  
Chowing down on a delicious home-cooked dal baht
But you have to be careful. Too much dal baht and you might run into some problems.
I have submitted this photo to the editor in hopes of becoming the cover model for the next edition of the book.
Since we’re not Nepali, dal baht isn’t all we ate.  We also sampled the traditional food of the Newari people, a tribal group.  It was okay.  Vaguely like Indian food, but not as good.
A Newari sampler platter:
Clockwise from left: chickpeas, bitter greens, no idea, lentils, squash.  Some sort of soup is to the right.
Oops, how'd this get in here?
Truth is, the pizza from Pokhara Pizza was some of the best we've had in our entire trip,
and at around $2 for a pie, it was definitely a great deal.
With its large Tibetan refugee population, Tibetan food, such as momos (steamed or fried dumplings), thukpa (noodle soup) and Tibetan bread (fried puffy bread) were readily available.  On one ultimately nauseating night in Pokhara, Dave, Ted, Sarah and I kicked off MomoFest 2011 with a restaurant-hopping momo-tasting extravaganza.  It turns out that you can have to mo'much of a good thing.
We also got a taste (literally) of a controlled economy can affect food choices.  Up in the Annapurna region where we trekked, the Maoists have decreed that all of the teahouses in each village offer trekkers identical food menus.  Literally – it’s as if each village selected the food they would serve and agreed on prices, and then each teahouse slapped its own cover on top.  Once we were out of the mountains, though, the menus were a little different... and a lot more creative.

Fat Americans
Prawn fried water.  I can't even conceptualize what this might look like.
That wanton soup is so slutty
Ultimately, during our time in Nepal we ate the least amount of “local food” than in any other country we visited.  There just wasn’t enough variety and deliciousness to hold our attention for a month.  But now, having put a few weeks between me and Nepal, I’m able to look back on all that dal baht and momos with something approaching affection.  Sort of the way I look back on our time in Nepal.  I loved the trekking, but have mixed feelings about the rest of it.  We met some wonderful people and saw some amazing ancient temples, but I think I would rank Nepal as among the most difficult countries we've visited on our trip.

I leave you with a few of our favorite photos that never made it into our other Nepal posts.

Stairway to nowhere
These painted rocks were placed alongside the trail in the Annapurnas

Vibrantly colored riverside gossip session
This first aid kit on our bus was not exactly reassuring
Adorable, but sad-eyed little girl in the Annapurnas
Scenes from Newari balconies

Himalayan Post front-page news
Maybe they should have strung the electrical wires a bit higher?
Dave and Sarah pick up some extra cash as bicycle taxi drivers

Sounds like something out of a Dickens novel
Police officers out for a jog in Pokhara
Mt Everest, from the window of our plane!

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