Tiger Balm Tales Vol 16
Whoever said carbs aren’t good for you never hiked in Nepal. When hiking for 2 weeks, carbs become your ally. This is probably the one time when you can get away with eating carbs at every meal, so my best advice is – enjoy the hell out of it.
I can’t say the food was spectacular on the Annapurna Circuit, in fact I actually lost weight on the 21 day hike! However, the variety of food produced out of a kitchen with a log flame for a stove was amazing. Given the inherent challenges with getting food supplies to high altitude villages via donkey, the guesthouses did a good job of putting together a western friendly menu. I recently heard from a reader, Jay, about his experiences on the Annapurna Circuit in 1983 – when western type menus didn’t exist on the circuit! It was dhal bhat every day for Jay!
The western food choices were everywhere; Yak steak in Manang, apple pie in Marpha, pizza in Dharapani, and pancakes in Pisang. However these familiar names didn’t always have a familiar look. It was the Nepalese take on these western staples. They did they best they could given the ingredients they had to work with. I quickly learned to not set my expectations very high and accept anything that was put in front of me! I was thankful I had some western options. Granted, those options were the exact same everywhere with subtle differences. At any guesthouse you could expect the choices to fall into one of these menu categories:
Dhal Bhat Dishes
Egg /Porridge Dishes
Dhal Bhat Power 24 Hour:
The local dish of Dhal Bhat (beans, rice, & vegetable curry) was one of my favorite things to order. It always tasted good – but more importantly you received free refills of any food item in the Dhal Bhat platter. Dhal Bhat is served on little metal trays that look like frozen TV dinner trays. Each item had it’s own little compartmentalized area on the plate. Apparently Nepalese aren’t fond of their food touching.
Once given the plate full of rice and a soupy bean mixture you poured the soupy beans over the rice, and scooped up the hot mixture with your hands. Traditionally the Nepalese don’t use utensils. They have a whole process of holding their fingers in such a way that they could shovel large amounts of food into their mouth with one hand. I was always in awe of this ability. My Dad even gave it a go without utensils once. He did pretty well in my standards, but he was basically entertainment for the locals who tried to stifle laughter.
When you ran low on rice or beans, someone would come over to the table with a big bowl and ladle and give you more. It was as if the all you can eat buffet came to you; you didn’t even have to go to the effort to get up and walk over to a buffet. However, in Kathmandu you were treated to a ‘fancier’ version of Dhal Bhat which included many more little bowls of veggies and beans including a homemade yogurt to ease the spiciness of the curry.
Dhal Bhat was the perfect food for trekking – the guides and porters ate Dhal Bhat 2 times a day every day; providing them energy for the day to carry heavy loads and deal with foreigners!
Pasta Nepalese Style:
Every time I sat down to eat at a guest house, it was as if I had sauntered up to the blackjack table at Caesars Palace; it was a gamble. You try the spaghetti at one place and it’s good, but then you try it again a couple of guest houses later and it’s completely different. You learn to look at food not as an experience, but as nutrition. This can be a hard transition to make sometimes for tourists who treat eating as a overall experience of presentation, smell, and taste. Many times the spaghetti on the menu was simply noodles with ketchup. Or the cheese macaroni was really just macaroni noodles with a ‘sheet’ of hard melted cheese over the top that didn’t really stick to the macaroni at all because the guesthouses were so cold!
We quickly came to learn that Nepalese lasagna was not at all like our version of lasagna made of layered pasta, sauce, and cheese. On the Annapurna circuit lasagna meant fettuccine noodles served on a hot skillet with meat, veggies and cheese stir fried in. All the same ingredients in a way – but a different presentation.
Hot Beer and Cold Showers – Drinks:
Inevitably the beer was always hot and the showers always cold – but at least it was predictable…and the beer ALWAYS tasted good after hiking all day! Some guesthouses would even serve popcorn as appetizers! The usual beer of choice was the local beer – Everest. However the cheaper version of alcohol came in the form of moonshine called Roxy. It was cheap and potent, but it worked faster than Advil when it came to taking away my hiking aches and pains.
The main non-alcholic drink was tea. Milk tea, masala tea, and lemon tea seemed to be the favorites. We’d get a extra large thermos of tea at night and keep it in our room to have a hot drink in the morning when we got up and started packing . I also tried the infamous seabuckthorn juice along the trail. Neon orange in color, seabuckthorn juice is made from small berries and was similar to orange juice.
A Sweet Tooth
The joy of hiking 7 hours a day – you can always have dessert. Someone in Nepal learned that foreigners love sweets – specifically sweets made of bread. When you think about the Himalayas you naturally think cinnamon rolls – right? Nearly every village had a bakery; and I think we visited nearly every bakery! In fact, Dad and I had our share of cinnamon rolls with beer chasers. Don’t cringe until you’ve tried it! In addition to cinnamon rolls, there were other baked goods such as apple pie, chocolate cake, and rice pudding.
Most importantly, we never went hungry on the Annapurna Circuit. I was really surprised with the variety of food choices on the circuit; there’s really no reason why you’d have to bring your own snacks along as the guesthouses along the circuit have plenty to keep you energized. Save space in your pack, support the local guesthouses and bakeries along the way. They exist there for you, the trekkers; the locals certainly aren’t eating at these establishments! Considering how far along food has evolved since Jay trekked in 1983, I can only imagine that when I go back again, they’ll be serving coq au vin and ice cream parlors will dot the trail!
Like the Tiger Balm Tales? Then start from the beginning!
Vol. 1 – The Begining of a Nepal Trekking Plan
Vol. 2 – Preparing the Parents
Vol. 3 – Annapurna Itinerary
Vol. 4 – Travel Back in Time
Vol. 5 – Breathe Through Your Mouth
Vol. 6 – Road Work Ahead
Vol. 7 – Changing Rhythms on the Annapurna Circuit
Vol. 8 – And on the 7th Day We Rested
Vol. 9 – Paralyzed on the Annapurna Circuit
Vol. 10 – No Room at the Inns
Vol. 11 – A Mouse in My House
Vol. 12 – Beware of Falling Rocks
Vol. 13 – The Longest Day
Vol. 14 – Motorized Travel
Vol. 15 – A River Runs Thru It
Love Food? Then check out other Travel Food entries at Wanderfood Wednesdays brought to you by Wanderlust and Lipstick!
By Anil March 4, 2010 - 5:02 am
That’s the best feeling after a grueling day on your feet…the food! Don’t you wish you could eat like that all the time!?!?
By admin March 4, 2010 - 2:12 pm
I think I am still eating like that…and that’s why I’m putting on pounds in the US now! I need to get back to the mountains!
By Dad March 4, 2010 - 10:27 am
Now that I am back here in the USA, I think about going to the local watering hole and ordering a beer and a cinnamon roll. That would probably cause a question or two and maybe a story or two about Nepal and Tiger Balm.
By Ben March 4, 2010 - 1:00 pm
“a soupy bean mixture” – You mean dhal.
By admin March 4, 2010 - 2:16 pm
Yup – most Americans don’t know what dhal is…so thought I’d try to explain it!
By Andy Hayes | Sharing Travel Experiences March 6, 2010 - 11:14 pm
You had me at “donut.” :-0 Sounds GREAT, and the perfect combination of sightseeing and carbs. Excellent.
By Mark H March 8, 2010 - 10:50 pm
I had dhal baht several times in my hike though I was impressed with what the cook (who hiked with us – we slept in tents) could make with simple basic facilities. One remarkable touch was to produce cakes when it was someone’s birthday – sometime in the heights near the passes. One of the sherpas had a habit of moulding the rice ito a shape of one of the key mountains in the area and naming it proudly, building a higher mountain when he thought he needed the extra carbs!!
By Barbara at Hole in the Donut Travels March 10, 2010 - 11:12 pm
Man oh man, that is my kind of diet!
By Bali March 18, 2010 - 7:03 am
I haven’t thought that their pastries could look delicious like in your photo collection. Great share!
By Sonya March 20, 2010 - 5:55 pm
Great post on Nepal trekking food! I love eating and hearing about mountain trip food from around the world.
By Himalayan Trekking groups London February 14, 2012 - 11:50 pm
It’s necessary to keep yourself in good shape while you are on a hiking trip. So, one should prevent the fried food and go for more healthy meals. Hiking in Nepal is a lot about how physically fit your are.
By Jason January 14, 2015 - 3:17 am
Instantly I know this was written by an American. I found the who article insulting! “You try the spaghetti at one place and it’s good, but then you try it again a couple of guest houses later and it’s completely different.” Your in Nepal…what did you expect. Who eats spaghetti in Nepal! Would you rather there be Burger Kings lining the circuit? Some people should not travel let a lone blog about there so called experience!
By Nepaltrekker March 19, 2019 - 7:29 pm
The beverage is RAKSHI or RAKSI. Have you done your research? Raksi is a distilled liquor, usually made from kodo millet (kodo) or rice.