A Taste of Nepal: My First Dal Bhat
Many of you know that I’ll be on a trekking tour in Nepal in October this year. I couldn’t be more excited. A couple of weeks ago I searched for restaurants that served Nepalese food on Yelp. Surprisingly, I’ve found several of them around the greater Seattle area: Himalayan Sherpa House (Wallingford), Annapurna Cafe (Capitol Hill), Kastoori Grill (Downtown Seattle), The Everest Kitchen (Lake Forest Park), Third Eye Grill (Kent) & The Himalayan Cafe (Renton).
A few days ago, I was out working. After dropping off a passenger in Capitol Hill and started towards downtown, I noticed the sign for the Annapurna Cafe. I had decided during the last trip that I was going to get something to eat for dinner. Seeing the sign, I took it as an omen to try this restaurant. So, I turned into a small parking lot behind the restaurant and occupied a space. I’m not entirely sure I was supposed to park there, but luckily for me my car was fine.
As I turned the corner, feelings of excitement ran through me. I was going to have my first taste of Nepalese food. Albeit I wanted my first taste to be from the country itself, but the culture being this close to home I had to try. I opened the door to the restaurant, greeted by a poster about helping the victims of the 2015 Nepal earthquake, and was led down a flight of narrow stairs to the host stand.
The place looked quite busy with a few people waiting in the VERY SMALL waiting area. I imagine they were waiting for a takeout order as I was greeted with a smile and taken to a table immediately. The table was tucked away behind a low wall set up with utensils and a cool-shaped metal cup. The lighting was low and the chatter was loud. I quickly opened the menu and skimmed the items; appetizers, soup + salad, entrees, bread (naan), beverages, and dal bhat.
I found out about dal bhat from a podcast I’ve been listening to. It’s called Trekking Nepal by Zero to Travel, Jason Moore. Jason and his wife Anne-Dorthe went to Nepal in October 2015. I thought it was pretty cool that I chose to go Nepal in October, too. I’ve listened to their 16-episode series 5 times over already. There is a post I plan to write more in depth about my thoughts on this series. So much amazing info!! I highly recommend listening to this series if you’re thinking of a trek in Nepal.
Back to the restaurant…As I perused the menu, I looked for dahl bat. I also looked for momos (small meat- or vegetable-filled dumplings), which were under the appetizers heading. $6.95 for 6 pieces. I looked at the price of the dal bhat and decided I’ll just get the dal. There were three choices: vegetables, chicken curry + goat curry. I asked my server what was the best one and he chose the goat curry. Now, I’m not a huge fan of goat, so I went with the chicken curry.
As I sat waiting for my meal, I looked around. The decor was excessive, but very cultural. Prayer flags were strewn across I-beams. Metal teapots lined the top of the low wall my table sat next to. Pictures of the Himalayas and people of Nepal randomly hung on the walls. You could smell the curries and garlic naan wafting through the basement restaurant. I was so hungry! I sipped on my ice water to settle my tummy momentarily.
As I sat there, I tried to take everything in. I told Anush, my server, that I was going to go to Nepal later this year and we chatted a short while, it was pretty busy in there. I learned that my server was from Nepal from a small village outside Kathmandu. He was going to visit his home for three months starting in late February. “If I’m going to go home I’m going to go for a long time. It’s expensive to go back home.” I feel you, man. It’s pretty difficult to go home to Hawaii, too. I imagine it’s a process to go back home to Nepal, though.
I sat there listening to the chatter. A lot of the conversations I overheard were between people recounting their travels either to Nepal or somewhere else. The chatter intensified my excitement for my trip. My smile widened.
A young girl in a white Annapurna Cafe t-shirt came around to refill my water cup. A minute later my dish comes. This is how it arrives to me:
I have no idea how to eat this, but I start with trying the pickled vegetables. They’re not like I expected. It’s milder than I thought it would be. It doesn’t have a strong vinegar taste. I wonder how they pickled it. I tried the chicken curry next. Yummy! It was a typical Indian curry, but the spices were not as strong. The dal was new to me. I looked it as a condiment. Kind of like what lomi salmon is to kalua pig. At this point I’ve tried each section of the dish on its own, but when Anush arrives, I say, “How do you eat this?” He proceeds to show me. He pours a little bit of the dal onto the rice, tells me to put a little curry and stewed spinach on top and take it into my hand and scoop it into my mouth.
Ok, I’m Filipino. I’m familiar with kamayan (eating with my hand). But I wasn’t going to do that in a crowded restaurant! Ha! Besides, my kamayan isn’t that great. I haven’t quite mastered that skill in my culture yet. And, so, I proceeded to use the fork and spoon to scoop food into my mouth. I’m sure it would’ve tasted better had I eaten it the traditional way. Yes, I’m sure. Ha!
When I was done, I was happily full. I ate everything. It may not look like much, but it was very filling. The price of the meal was pretty outrageous and I would rate the food to cost me 2/3 of the price, however, it was a wonderful experience! I left the establishment feeling full and energized.
In the Trekking Nepal podcast, Jason and Anne-Dorthe’s guide (a native Nepali from the Everest reigion) explained to them that dal bhat is what the majority of Nepali eat for lunch EVERY DAY! Most of the meals are vegetarian as it’s their culture to not eat meat. In Kathmandu, it’s more Westernized and meat is served more in the city. It was also explained that dal bhat is consumed for the energy it provides. Trekkers have dal bhat to power them through their treks. It’s true! As I finished up the rest of my night working, I didn’t feel weighed down or fall into a food coma as I usually do when I get stuffed. I was very impressed at how true that fact was.
I definitely would like to come back to this restaurant to try their momos. The staff was very friendly – although, it took a little while to get my server to come take my order. The dal bhat was expensive, so I might not have that again. I’m wondering if the dal bhat will be cheap in Nepal. Jason mentioned in the podcast that everything in Nepal is way cheaper!
Overall, this experience made me more excited for my trip!
What’s next? I should find more mountains to climb to prep for the trek! Where should I go?! Please comment below with your suggestions!