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Revealing the Secrets of Dal Bhat

My Scholarship entry - Understanding a Culture through Food

NEPAL | Wednesday, 4 April 2012 | Views [1414] | Scholarship Entry

"Revealing the Secrets of Dal Bhat" begins at this teashouse in Tarky Gyang. To view more photos from my time in Nepal, please visit: LouisHebert.Aminus3.com/tag/nepal/

“Momos, fries and a Coke,” was the only English spoken as the Yolmo innkeeper shuffled around collecting dinner orders in this dark and smoky teahouse. I surveyed the other groups clad in patchwork and Gortex as they squinted at guidebooks and maps near the fire, and I decided to demonstrate how a veteran soloist of these mountains orders dinner. When my turn came, I spoke just loud enough to grab the attention of the small room full of trekkers; “I’ll have Dal Bhat and Tatoponi.” To which the innkeeper responded, “No.”

Cultures around the world are defined by native foods full of enchanting flavors open to the adventurous visitor, but the Himalayan Nepali people’s culture of survival is expressed through the simple dish local villagers normally eat twice a day: Dal Bhat. Though this staple is ever present on the menus of trekker destinations, it is usually hidden among the selection of enticing comfort-food options that shield visitors from the opportunity to eat like a local. It’s true that fries cooked in ghee do create a buttery memory of Nepalese mountain food, but eating Dal Bhat is an opportunity to experience the authentic taste of what food is like when you can only eat what you can grow.

The name’s direct translation means legumes and rice, but that only describes the dish’s foundation ingredients. Vegetable curry (Tarkari) and pickled chutney (Achar) are also included on the plate. This dish’s name disguises the complexity of the flavor palette locals are manipulating through their subtle changes that are determined by availability rather than preference. After eating Dal Bhat every day at Meme’s home in the neighboring Sherpa village, I could taste the daily victories and hardships of an isolated people struggling to survive. It was a private conversation that I was allowed to join because I was a guest there, but here as a customer in a teahouse I was expected to eat like a stranger. The momos, fries and a Coke were a delicious second choice.

Tags: dal bhat, helambu, helambu, hyolmo, lou hebert, nepal, sherpa, tarky gyang, teahouse, travel writing scholarship 2012

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