Thursday, May 2, 2013

Dal bhat twice a day every day for ever

Lentils and Rice Dominate the Nepali Diet

Dal Bhat, although delicious, healthy and varied, is way too overserved and overeaten!

What is it?

Dal Bhat is the national Nepali dish. It always has rice and lentils accompanied by a few side dishes of various vegetables and sometimes a little bit of meat. It is a fairly healthy dish: you get steamed rice, the lentils are in a stew that is borderline soup, usually there are potatoes, the rest of the vegetables are lightly fried, you also get a fried papad (aka papadum) which is a very thin and crispy flour 'cracker' (sometimes you can also get a prawn cracker instead) and then a few pieces of meat (if you order non-veg) are served in a curry. Dal Bhat is usually served on a large metal dish and the lentils are served separately in a small bowl.

Difference in taste? At this point we thought this was the best Dal Bhat we'd ever had. Our guide later confessed it was the absolute worst Dal Bhat he'd ever had in his life. Looking back, he was probably right! (Annapurna Circuit Trek)
Endless refills
The first time we ordered Dal Bhat in Thamel, Kathmandu, we felt very bad because we shared one order and we got unlimited refills; all for one, fixed price. We figured out that free second, third, fourth and more servings are just simply included in the price so you can get as many servings as you can handle. Two is the absolute maximum I ever did but I definitely saw some locals eat twice as much as I could.
Dhal Bhat served on the traditional metal plate - this particular one was slim pickins. There were no fresh vegetables available and the spinach was previously dried due to the harsh winter (Chusang, Upper Mustang)

Dal Bhat Power!
Dal Bhat gives you strength without making you feel overstuffed and heavy. We enjoyed eating it and it is definitely a healthy food choice. There are enough carbs in Dal Bhat to fill you up, allowing your body to convert them to sugars to power up your day. Since we trekked for 33 days straight and also went on a 10-day rafting trip, Dal Bhat definitely came in handy plus our guides all swore by it -- Energy Bars would face stiff competition in Nepal!

A slight variation on Dal Bhat (on the right): both the curry and lentils were served separately and they gave us plastic instead of metal plates (Manang, Nepal during our trek)
33-days and counting
The main problem I personally have with Dal Bhat is that it is eaten every single day for lunch (served at 10 am) and for dinner (served around 7pm). Nepalis seem to be perfectly content eating Dal Bhat twice a day, every day for eternity. For example, when we started our trek, our guide told us that he and our porter were looking forward to having Dal Bhat twice a day, every day for the entire length of the 33-day trek even though there were many other options. They actually did this! Our whitewater rafting guides would cook us really good meals when we camped: fried fresh caught fish, lasagna and curries but sometimes they would cook Dal Bhat separately and eat that instead.
Moderation is key, even for Dal Bhat!
I love food but I also love variety in the food I eat. Dal Bhat is a nice dish but there is no way I could have it every single day. Nepali cuisine could really benefit from more variety but innovation in the kitchen could be a pretty big challenge. For now, I'm pretty sure that I've had enough Dal Bhat for the rest of the trip, potentially for the rest of my life...

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