Known for its simplicity in preparation using locally grown produce, Nepali cuisine is a must-try for anyone fancying a change of palate.
Ask anyone who has travelled to Nepal and they will tell you about their experience of eating dal-bhat, a traditional Nepali staple. Comprising of dal (lentils) and bhat (steamed rice), the dish is usually accompanied with meat curries, cooked or sautéed vegetables. Interestingly, owing to its diversity, Nepal boasts 200-odd varieties of meat preparations. However, not all make it to the table regularly; most are reserved for festivals. But while you are in Abu Dhabi, you can enjoy some of them.
With roughly 50,000 Nepali citizens living and working in Abu Dhabi alone, dal-bhat is among the top offerings of every Nepali restaurant along with other traditional delicacies.
We checked out three Nepali restaurants that are located almost next to each other in Electra Street. Here are some of their standout Nepali dishes we discovered.
Vansha Ghar, which means ‘Kitchen’ in Nepali, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a modest but bright and clean setting. As we enter, a smiling staff courteously guides us to our table, most tables are occupied. The aroma of slow-cooking curry is hunger-inducing. We straightaway go for chicken choila – bite-size chicken cooked in high heat and tossed with flavor-enhancing ingredients. The sharp, juicy and chewy chicken chunks served with a bowl of dry rice flakes make for a perfect appetizer. Our main order is a Thakali set – an offering from the tradition of the Thakalis, a trading populace, dal bhat in this presentation comes with side dishes of cooked and stir-fried vegetables, local chicken curry (also comes with choices of duck/mutton/buffalo meat, locally known as buff) along with gundruk (traditional fermented lettuce soup), tomato pickle, fritters, yogurt, and local butter; all served on brass utensils. Served hot, this fusion with local aromatic rice is a divine experience.
Momos or Tibetan-style dumplings are popular among the Nepalese. However, our next pick is the restaurant’s improvised version called Tandoori momos – chicken dumplings marinated in a mix of curd, spices, lemon juice, oil and baked in a tandoor – a clay oven. They come in bamboo baskets in sets of four along with thick and spicy tomato sauce. The dumplings’ crusty outside gently breaks under our bites letting the succulent minced stuffing inside take over our senses.
We are tempted to try the haluwa (semolina) but decide against it as we are quite full. However, if you’re the one whose needle sways toward sweetish, this dish is pure bliss.
For vegans, their Veg Khana Set comes with steam rice, dal, roti (flatbread), vegetables, gundruk achar (dried fermented lettuce pickle), tomato pickle, sautéed lettuce, yogurt and ghee.
At the Nepali Chulo, another name for ‘traditional kitchen’, located opposite the LifeLine Hospital, we tried a Newari Khaja Set, which comprised small portions of chicken sadeko – crunchy marinated chicken salad; jhaneko sekuwa – sautéed chicken cubes grilled in skewers and glazed with butter; buff sukuti – crispy, dry shredded buff meat mixed with chopped onions, tomatoes and finely cut green chillies drizzled with vinegar and mustard oil. Served with beaten rice flakes, this light snack is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace.
By the time we checked in The Nepal Palace Restaurant, it was already dinner time, so we went for something not-so-heavy and settled for jhol momo (wonton dumplings). These dumplings are served on a hot thick soup which is a blitz creamy blend of roasted tomatoes, spices and herbs.
Alongside traditional Nepali dishes, these restaurants also serve popular Chinese, Indian and Tibetan food along with a select choice of hot and cold beverages. Most food items in all three restaurants are reasonably priced and a group of four can easily enjoy a hearty meal for 200 dirhams tops.
Some other interesting dishes are:
Chicken timmur (Nepal pepper) – This braised chicken preparation with Sichuan pepper, celery, ginger and oyster sauce is a burst of bitter-tangy flavor.
Sel Roti – Aptly called Himalayan donut is made from rice flour battered with milk and butter and deep-fried in high heat. This ring-shaped bread is slightly sweet, crispy on the outside, nice chewy inside and can be enjoyed with both tea as well as curries.