Nepali dumplings called momos

9 tasty, traditional dishes to try when travelling in Nepal

Jun 7, 2024
Reading time: 7 minutes

The food in Nepal is diverse, nutritious and delicious! Here's our pick of the nine tastiest dishes to try in Nepal, with a special focus on the foods popular in the Himalayas. We also discuss why you should eat like a vegetarian when trekking in Nepal.

1. Dal bhat, the national dish

Dal bhat (or daal bhat) is the quintessential Nepali meal and forms the backbone of the country's cuisine. It consists of steamed rice (bhat) served with a lentil soup (dal) and is accompanied by an array of side dishes.

Top view over Dal bhat plate

Dal bhat can be simple or fancy depending on where you are

While dal may appear simple at first, it's packed with flavour as it uses various spices like turmeric, cumin and coriander. And you're always given sides of vegetables, as well as sometimes achar (spicy pickles), dahi (curd or yoghurt), papad (poppadam) or chapati (unleavened bread). You can also often opt for a side of fish, chicken, goat or water buffalo.

What makes dal bhat truly special is the harmony of flavours on the plate, along with the nutritional value it offers, which makes it a satisfying and wholesome meal.

Ours. Nepali dal bhat with poppadam served in metal plate and sitting on a floral naplkin

Dal bhat is generally served in various vessels and you mix it together

2. Momos, Nepal's best-loved street food

Momos are delicious dumplings found on almost every street corner of Nepal. You can also enjoy upmarket versions in restaurants. In fact, momos are now so widespread that they've become a recognisable staple of the national cuisine.

Ours. Fried Momos with Schezwan Sauce in Nepal, takeaway

Fried momos with schezwan sauce

Momos consist of a thin, doughy shell stuffed with a variety of fillings, including minced meat (usually buffalo or chicken), vegetables or cheese. They're typically served steamed or fried and come with a tangy dipping sauce.

The dough used in momos is often hand-rolled to perfection, resulting in delicate, mouthwatering parcels of flavour.

Tibetan momos with potato curry and yak jerky sukuti, Upper Mustang dish, Nepal

Tibetan momos with potato curry and yak jerky sukuti

Be sure to try both the classic steamed momos as well as the crispy fried ones for a proper introduction to the momo way of life!

3. Thukpa, the perfect trekking meal

Thukpa is a warming Tibetan noodle soup that has made its way into Nepali cuisine, especially in the northern regions bordering Tibet.

Thukpa, Tibetan noodle soup, Nepal

Thukpa is a common option in Himalayan teahouses (lodge)

This hearty soup features hand-pulled wheat noodles, tender pieces of meat (often yak or chicken), and a flavourful broth made with herbs and spices.

Thukpa is perfect for warming up in the chilly Himalayan weather after a long day of trekking as it offers a thoroughly comforting and nourishing meal.

Egg thukpa, Nepal cuisine dish

Filling and tasty egg thukpa

4. Kwati, a veggies stew with a nutritional kick

Kwati is a wholesome and nutritious soup made from a mix of nine different types of sprouted beans and lentils!

Kwati, Nepali vegetable soup with sprouted beans and lentils

Kwati is a mixed soup, but sprouted beans are the hero of the dish

The beans and lentils used to make kwati are soaked and allowed to sprout, enhancing their nutritional value. The sprouts are then slow-cooked with a variety of spices to create a thick, flavoursome soup that's both hearty and healthy.

Kwati (or nakpi kwati) is commonly prepared during the Hindu festival of Janai Purnima, which is all about the bond of purity and security.

Kathmandu devotees celebrating Janai Purnima in 2018

Kathmandu devotees celebrating Janai Purnima

This festival (also known as Raksha Bandhan or Sacred Thread Festival) usually falls on the day of the full moon in the Nepali month of Shrawan (July or August).

5. Sekuwa, the perfect barbecue dish

Sekuwa is a mouthwatering Nepali barbecue dish that features marinated and skewered pieces of meat (usually buffalo, chicken or pork).

Chicken sekuwa over grill, Nepal cuisine dish food

Chicken sekuwa being grilled

The meat used to make sekuwa is marinated in garlic, ginger and mustard oil, among other spices. It's then grilled over an open flame, giving it a delightfully charred and smoky taste.

Sekuwa is often served with beaten rice, pickles and a side of mint and coriander (cilantro) chutney.

Delicious CHicken Snacks in Nepal barbeque sekuwa Fried Chicken

A delicious plate of fried chicken sekuwa

6. Chatamari, or 'Nepali Pizza'

Chatamari is a traditional Newari dish that's a must-try for anyone visiting Nepal. It consists of a thin rice flour crรชpe topped with a variety of ingredients, such as minced meat, vegetables, eggs and spices. The end story is a savoury and flavourful pizza-like dish with a unique texture.

A Newari dish (Chatamari) also known as Nepali Pizza served on a brass plate

Chatamari can look like many different things depending on who is making it

The Newars are an indigenous community of the Kathmandu Valley who have their own unique cuisine that's a must-try for any food enthusiast visiting Nepal.

Newari cuisine is renowned for its rich flavours and intricate dishes.

Chatamari is usually enjoyed as a light meal, so it's a great one to pick up in a market during a day of exploring when you discover your energy is waning.

7. Sha phaley, a Sherpa speciality

Sha phaley (or shakpa or shapta) is a popular dish in the Mt Everest region of eastern Nepal. If you go trekking to Everest Base Camp, then this is a great local dish to try!

Sha phaley served with cucumber slices, Nepali dish or cuisine

Sha phaley is basically a Tibetan dish of bread stuffed with seasoned red meat

Sha phaley consists of thinly sliced red meat, often beef, that's been stir-fried with aromatic spices, which include chilli and Sichuan pepper. It's served with steamed rice or Tibetan bread, such as tingmo, and chilli sauce.

Sha phaley is a locally beloved dish for its bold and complex flavours; it combines the heat of chillies with the unique tingling sensation of Sichuan pepper.

Sometimes sha phaley includes a variety of vegetables, which add lots of colour and nutrients to the dish.

8. Tsampa, an energy-packed food

If you go trekking in the Himalayas near the border of China, you'll find people who are ethnically and culturally linked to Tibet, and hence favour traditional Tibetan dishes like tsampa.

Tsampa balls with yogurt and radish sprouts in bowl

Tsampa balls served with yoghurt and radish sprouts

Tsampa is a simple but highly nutritious and energy-rich dish made from roasted barley flour. You find it served up in many forms: dough balls, soup, toppings, and even as a butter tea.

We highly recommend that those trekking in the Tibetan-influenced regions of the Nepali Himalayas try some tsampa, as it's a fantastic source of energy!

A tsampa treat along with tsampa butter tea

A tsampa treat along with tsampa butter tea

Tsampa holds great cultural and dietary significance in Tibetan cuisine and is often referred to as the Tibetan national food.

9. Sel roti, a quintessential Nepali treat

Sel roti is a traditional Nepali, especially Newar, rice-based doughnut or ring-shaped bread. It's the perfect on-the-go treat when out and about in Kathmandu!

Sel roti on white plate

Some sel roti in all their crispy, tasty perfection

You make sel roti by mixing rice flour with sugar, milk and spices to create a thick batter. This batter is then deep-fried to perfection, resulting in a crispy outer layer and a soft, chewy inside.

If you want to really feel like a local, have your sel roti with a cup of tea. But be warned: its sweet and slightly savoury taste makes it a bit addictive!

A note on vegetarianism in Nepal

Many Nepali are vegetarians, either because meat is too expensive or they don't want to eat it for religious reasons.

Momos in chilli achar, view from top, spoon and choptsticks, Nepali food cuisine

Momo jhol achar in spicy tomato chutney

The prevalence of vegetarianism in Nepal makes travelling there an exciting culinary experience for vegetarians and vegans as well as meat eaters! Note that you won't see cow meat on menus in many regions, as cows are sacred in Hinduism, which is one of the country's main religions.

Why trekkers should eat vegetarian meals in Nepal

When you trek deep into the Himalayas of Nepal, you enter a world far away from airports and tarred roads โ€“ or even dirt roads, for that matter. Often, the only way for food to get into the area is by foot, donkey or yak.

What this means is that any fish or meat you're served in your teahouse (lodge) during your Himalayan trek has likely been transported there overland on the back of a horse, donkey or cow-yak hybrid.

The freshness of the meat served up in remote mountain regions can't be assured, and the very last thing you want on a trek is an upset stomach!

Thukpa and hot drinks in teahouse on Nepal trek

A typical vegetarian thukpa in a Himalayan trekking teahouse

Many tasty and nutritious Nepali staple dishes like those we've described above can be enjoyed as vegetarian or even vegan options. Why not opt to be a vegetarian just while on your trek?

That said, if you're really keen to try a popular meat-based dish, we suggest you do this right at the beginning, or at the very end, of your trek. In other words, eat meat-based dishes only when you're in a town or village that still has good access to the road network as well as reliable electricity (because this means reliable refrigeration).

Nepal dal bhat with meat with fork and spook served in metal bowl-plate

Kathmandu is the perfect place to try meaty or fishy dishes while in Nepal!

The good news is that no matter where you travel in Nepal, whether it's a city holiday or you head into remote regions on a trek, there will be plenty of tasty and flavourful Nepali and regional dishes to try. And we suggest you make the most of the opportunity to sample as many of them as possible!