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Eating In Nepal

Nepali food is practical rather than gourmet fare--which is not to say it isn't tasty. The national dish is daal bhaat, boiled rice (bhaat) with a thin lentil sauce (daal), accompanied by curried vegetables (tarkaari) and possibly a dab of pungent pickle (achaar). In rice-growing areas daal bhaat is eaten twice a day, the first meal at around 10:30 a.m. and the second shortly after sunset. Sweet, milky tea and snacks like beaten or popped rice, flat bread, or curried potatoes tide the hungry over until mealtime. Beyond this there isn't a tremendous variety of dishes. Ethnic groups have their own specialties, but basically it's all subsistence food. Nepalis know the value of food as fuel: trek for just a few days and you'll learn it too.

Most Nepalis eat with the right hand, though urban diners have adopted silverware. Metal spoons are said to ruin the flavor of food and to make you thinner--not a good thing in Nepal. Food may be served in a thaali, a metal plate divided into separate compartments. The method is to attack the mountain of daal bhaat quickly, while it's still hot. If the daal came in a separate bowl, pour it over the rice, breaking up chunks with your fingers as you do. Add a bit of tarkaari and/or achaar, squeeze it all together, and pop it into your mouth. The hand remains in constant motion until the food vanishes.

Daal bhaat is an all-you-can-eat affair. Servers make the rounds with bowls of daal and vegetables. A one-plate daal bhaat is rarely enough for a Nepali. On the trail, porters fill up on three plates before heading up a hill. The distance to a mountain pass can be measured by the amount of rice it takes a porter to reach the top, as in the famous "five-maanaa" climb into the Kathmandu Valley.

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