Tag Archives: Food

Dal Bhat: Fuel of the Nepali People

Compared to many other Asian countries like Singapore, Thailand and India, Nepal doesn’t stand much of a chance to claim the most diverse cuisine in the region. For example, when attempting to pin down a “national dish” for Singapore, there are many possibilities. It could be chicken rice, or maybe it’s chili crab. Some might claim it’s rojak, and others may say it’s mee goreng. The debate could go on forever, but when aiming to isolate the “national dish” of Nepal, it’s easy. Without question the national dish of Nepal, the meal that is eaten hundreds of thousands of times per day all over the country is dal bhat.

I often wonder about the lack of major variety in Nepali cuisine and have concluded that since Nepal is such a poor country, the first priority for most (especially those outside the Kathmandu Valley in more rural areas) is to get enough food to eat, rather than to develop the flavors of the food to create a breadth of culinary options. This is not to say that dal bhat is not delicious. It is tasty, simple and substantial, which is what the majority of the population is looking for: enough food to fill up to fuel a day’s work, which is often tough manual labor. Dal bhat is to Nepali people what gasoline is to vehicles.

Dal bhat consists of various sized portions of different food groups. The meal centers around white rice (the “bhat”), which is often served in mountainous proportions. The second cornerstone part of the meal is the “dal” which is like a lentil soup, often served in a bowl and then poured on the rice to add flavor and moisture. Dal comes in several varieties, including yellow dal and black dal, both of which are often cooked in a pressure cooker with spices, garlic and sometimes ginger.

In addition to the dal and the bhat the meal, which is usually served on an enormous aluminum plate with small dividers to keep each portion separate, also comes with small heaps of vegetables (tarkari), sometimes meat (chicken, mutton or buffalo) and a dab of achar (pickle) for spice.

The small side of tarkari, or curried vegetables, adds extra flavor and spice to the meal. Usually the tarkari vegetables include cauliflower and potatoes, often with bits of carrots. Especially for an elaborate meal, the dal bhat will be served with a small mound of dark green saag, which is sauteed spinach. On one of the small sections of the metal plate is a helping of achar, or pickle, which is used as a condiment to add spice and flavor to the rest of the meal. Achar comes in all different varieties, but I find the most common achar is made with tomatoes, lapsi (a unique, sour Nepali fruit) and chillies. The achar ingredients are ground into a paste with a mortar and pestle.

Whenever I sit down to a dal bhat meal, the restaurant proprietor or home owner will usually give me a spoon to eat the meal, but Nepalis traditionally eat dal bhat with their right hand. I’ve tried using my hand to eat dal bhat as well, and it usually turns out disastrous as I have not mastered the fine art of mixing each of the parts of the meal into one mound, scooping it up and shoveling it into my mouth with my fingers. When I try, the rice usually ends up all over the place and other diners laugh at my inability to properly do a “finger scoop.” Watching Nepalis eat dal bhat with their hand (always the right hand, as the left is used for the toilet) is truly an amazing site. A hungry Nepali person can put down a massive plate of dal bhat in minutes, mixing eat bite with the perfect ratio of rice, dal, tarkari and achar. Additionally, the owner of the restaurant or tea stall selling dal bhat will often make rounds to each table with an enormous bowl full of rice to refill customers’ plates. A dal bhat meal really is an all-you-can-eat feast that acts as the fuel for the Nepali people.

Above: A traditional dal bhat meal.  Clockwise, starting from the green vegetable: 1) saag – sauteed spinach with garlic and ginger, 2) wild boar cooked with tomato, 3) tarkari – curried cauliflower, potato and carrot, 4) fried fish, 5) curried chicken, 6) achar.  There is black dal in the small bowl accompanying the plate.

Above: Another traditional dal bhat meal.  Take note of the MASSIVE portion of rice.  Second helpings are always available, too.  Photo by: gregw66

Above: More dal bhat, this time with a slice of raw onion for flavor.  Photo by: magical-world

Above: A close-up of tarkari, curried vegetables that always go along with the rice and dal.  Photo by: LilyinNepal

PHOTOS: A Walk Through Seoul’s Noryangjin Fish Market

After riding for an hour through Seoul’s labyrinthian subway system, my travel partner Jane and I finally emerged from the web of underground, air-conditioned tunnels into the pressing South Korean summer heat. Our mission was to find Seoul’s Noryangjin fish market. Wandering through the markets, especially markets that supply meat and vegetables to the local populace, is one of my favorite activities in Asian cities, towns and villages, so I knew that a visit to Noryangjin was definitely something I had to check off my list of to dos in Seoul. From the subway stop, finding the market was easy. Jane and I meandered through some side alleys that were scattered with vegetable peddlers selling chillis, bean sprouts and fresh tofu. As we got closer to the fish market, we began to see stalls stocked with buckets of writhing eels for sale.

For being a massive fish market, Noryangjin smells remarkably unfishy. The market is housed inside a large warehouse-like building with high ceilings and large open sides that allows for adequate ventilation. The complex was also kept remarkably clean. Vendors wearing rubber rain boots sat in plastic chairs in front of their fish tanks and aquariums. Noryangjin was generally divided into sections: in one area there were the live fish, in another sting rays and in yet another there was raw fish bits mixed with red spicy sauce in large vats. Around each turn vendors called out to us, offering fresh fish and sashimi of all varieties. Jane and I decided to take up a few of the vendors on their offer and we tasted the freshest sashimi possible: killed, deboned and sliced right in front of our eyes. The first vendor we went to retrieved a small fish from the aquarium, knocked it out, sliced and gutted it, flayed it for sashimi and served it to us with a side of daikon radish and red spicy sauce for dipping. Of course, it tasted as fresh as can be: it was light, slightly chewy and perfectly satisfying. After our first fish sashimi we decided to go for a fresh squid sashimi to add some texture variation to our sea food taste testing adventures.

We finished up our squid, waved goodbye to the vendors and continued on, winding up and down the lanes, admiring shell fish, massive sting rays, pyramids of larger fish and live crabs. Tucked near the back of the market was a section where already chopped sashimi mixed with the ubiquitous red Korean spicy sauce was for sale in large tubs. With toothpicks we tasted tiny morsels of different spiced fish varieties.

Here is a collection of photos from our walk through Noryangjin:

Above: A bucket brimming with dried shrimp.
Above: The entrance to Noryangjin Fish Market.  The vendors sit in front of their aquariums, plying visitors with offers of fresh-out-of-the-water sashimi.
Above: A woman wraps up a piece of tentacle for a customer.
Above: Fresh octopus laid out on display.
Above: We bought some fresh sashimi from the vendor.  He plucked the fish from the water, killed it and sliced it right in front of our eyes.
Above: A vendors shows a customer the small octopi for sale at her station.
Above: I get ready to dig into our fresh sashimi.
Above: After the delicious first try of fish sashimi, we decided to try some chewy, fresh squid too.
Above: Fish choices at the market.

Above: Sting rays on display.
Above: A woman organizes her piles of fish at the market.


Above: A bucket full of tiny shrimp.

PHOTOS: Seoul by Night

Long after the sun sets in Seoul, the city pulses frenetically. From the hulls of small restaurants comes the raucous sounds of friends and colleagues enjoying a round or two or three of soju, the country’s favorite distilled alcohol. Plumes of smoke waft onto the street from fiery Korean barbeques, covered with slabs of sizzling pork and beef. The petite women of Seoul, dressed to impress, parade up and down the streets, perfectly made-up and wearing impossibly high stilletos. Street vendors serve trays of spicy toppoki and bowls of steaming oysters. Seoul by night is an energetic, frenzied, eurphoric, non-stop spectacle.

Korea’s capital, like nowhere else I’ve ever seen, truly is the city that never sleeps. The nightlife thrives late into the night and into the early (and not so early) hours of the morning. (Yes, I had one night/morning in Seoul that lasted until 11 a.m.). A big part of understanding Seoul is to partake in the nightlife, but be warned: when enjoying Seoul by night it is necessary to pace oneself because young Koreans can easily stay up drinking, eating and enjoying themselves until the sun rises.

Above: Crowds flow through the neon-lit streets.
Above: The sun has just set in Seoul, which means the night is very, very young.
Above: Couples and friends stroll through the streets, many looking for a delectable restaurant to stop at.
Above: A couple decides what they want for dinner.  Many restaurants have displays of plastic food in front so potential customers can easily chose what they want.
Above: A plastic food display in Seoul.
Above: A couple sits at a street food vendor’s stall who is serving steamed shell fish.  The man pours fresh glasses of soju, the Korean distilled alcohol.
Above: Traffic flows smoothly as people return from work.
Above: A woman decides what she wants for dinner from a street vendor.
Above: One of the best things about Seoul by night are the neon lights.
Above: Bright lights, big city.
Above: The night is young and the revelry is just getting started.

Discovering Ethnic Diversity in Singapore

Singapore may not offer the same sense of rugged adventure and unknown exploration as other countries in the region, but a visit to the thriving metropolis can be equally as satisfying a trip to Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia. One of the most fascinating aspects of Singapore society to observe is the multicultural, multifaceted diversity of the country. For a quick and easy peek at the diaspora living in Singapore, simply hop on the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) train at any stop. Grab a seat, sit back and spend an hour just people watching. You’ll see Singapore residents from all over Asia, and the world, who add to the spectacular diversity of the country.

The majority, around 74%, of the estimated 4,839,400 residents of Singapore are ethnic Chinese. 13.5% are ethnic Malays, 9% are from India 3% are from elsewhere. Although the majority of people living in Singapore are from China, Chinese is not the one official language. In fact, there are four official languages in Singapore including English, Mandarin Chinese, Malay and Tamil. Instead of singling out one language as the national language, the always diplomatic Singapore chose all four so as to include each of the three majority groups. English was kept as an official language after Singapore gained independence from the British in 1965 and Lee Kuan Yew decided it would be beneficial both economically and politically to continue using English for business and administration.

A walk through one of Singapore’s ubiquitous hawker center’s (street food markets) reveals the multilayered, multilingual aspect of the country’s diversity. In one stall a vendor might be mixing vats of black Hokkien Chinese coffee and speaking in a Chinese dialect. Across the food complex, in the halal section of the hawker center where Muslim men wearing taqiyah hats are making dough for roti, the melodic rhythm of Arabic or Malay can be heard. Down the lane in a stall selling fiery curries, the owner might hail from Kerala, India, and would be speaking in Tamil.

On a visit to Singapore you’re not going to find deep jungles or crumbling ruins, but you’ll find an incredible diversity of people, languages, foods and cultures. Observing the diaspora is a thrill in itself and visiting the many ethnic enclaves of the city is a great pleasure. Spend some time walking through hawker centers, cultural neighborhoods (like Chinatown, Little India and Arab Street), listen to the languages and you’ll understand an important and unique side of Singapore.

Singapore Tips and Ideas:
Here are some tips and ideas on things to do in Singapore to understand their multicultural society. Through a mix of street walks, gastronomic exploration, museums and ethnic neighborhood tours, you’ll leave Singapore with a more thorough understanding of the culture and the diversity.

*Visit Little India
Little India is perhaps my favorite area in Singapore. The Tekka wet market there is fantastic (although when I was there last summer it was closed for reconstruction). Spend some time walking through the lanes, the market and the main streets. Try a few Indian sweets and wash it down with a glass of milk tea.


Above: Men in Little India, Singapore. Photo by: William Cho

*Visit Chinatown
In certain parts, Singapore’s Chinatown is very touristy and can get a bit overwhelmed with people snapping photos of everything. Go a bit off the main drag and explore some of the Chinese medicine shops that are full of interesting herbs.

Above: A street scene in Chinatown, Singapore. Photo by: Khalzuri

*Ride the MRT
As I mentioned, riding the MRT around town is a great way to get a sneak-peek at the diversity of Singapore’s population.

Above: The Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (MRT).  Photo by: Charles Haynes

*Asian Civilizations Museum
This excellent museum is located in Boat Quay, across from the grandiose Fullerton Hotel. This museum doesn’t specifically focus on Singapore, but it is bursting with information on the whole region. It’s a good place to go to enrich your understanding of Singaporean culture, and Asian culture in general.

Above: Asian Civilizations Museum by night. Photo by: Keng Susumpow

*Eat at the Hawker Centers
This one’s obvious. How could you go to Singapore and not eat at the hawker centers? I say it’s a good idea to eat at least one meal a day (if not all three) at hawker centers to get a true flavor and understanding of the regional cuisines. Singapore’s food scene is influenced by all the countries in the area, so it will be a bit like you’re exploring all of Asia through your meals.

Above: Chicken rice from a Singapore hawker center. Photo by: Charles Haynes

*Look at the Signs
The street signs directly reflect the diversity of language in the country. Take a look at them and you’ll see that many are written in all four of the official languages. You’ll also notice that signs and warnings on the public transportation buses and MRT are written in four languages as well.

Above: A sign in Singapore written in English, Chinese, Tamil and Malay.

Bibimbap: Food of the Gods

Stone Pot Bibimbap (Photo by avlxyz-flickr)

Throughout my Asian travels I often find a food or drink in a certain country that I absolutely cannot get enough of. In Thailand I ate enough spicy green papaya salad and young coconuts to feed the US military for a month. In Singapore I drank so much kopi (coffee sweetened with condensed milk) that I often returned home so caffeinated that I could barely read a sentence. In Cambodia I ate so many mini grilled bananas on a stick that I most likely kept the SE Asian banana business afloat while visiting. And, of course, in Vietnam I sometimes begged my travel partners to eat pho with me three times a day.

And then came Korea. Before moving to Kathmandu I toured South Korea, from Seoul to Busan. I had eaten Korea food several times before, but it was when I visited the country that I truly began to understand the glory, the textures, the freshness and the flavors that is Korean food. Within 24 hours of my arrival I re-discovered bibimbap (perhaps one of the most popular foods in Korea) and that’s when my obsessive tendencies kicked in. Over the course of the next few weeks bibimbap became my go-to food. Korea is bursting with delicious and fresh food, so of course I tried countless other dishes, but bibimbap was always there to save me when I wanted a dish that was guaranteed to be scrumptious.

Me, documenting the delicious glory of bibimbap in Seoraksan National Park. (Photo by Jane Tucker)

The word “bibimbap” means “mixed rice” in Korea. The dish consists of a bed of white rice topped with a variety of vegetables, a fried egg, sometimes meat and always the ubiquitous spicy red hot sauce found everywhere in Korea. The dish is served in a large bowl with the toppings neatly placed in separate piles on top of the rice. After being served, the diner adds hot sauce to taste and mixes the bowl’s contents with a spoon until everything is uniformly incorporated.

An alternative to regular bibimbap is “dolsot bibimbap.” Dolsot bibimbap contains the same ingredients as the normal dish, it is simply served in a hot clay pot instead of a regular bowl. I was slightly more fond of dolsot bibimbap, mostly because of the novelty factor of the sizzling hot bowl that makes everything a bit crisper during the mixing process and keeps the whole thing warm for longer.

Popular bibimbap toppings include a fried egg (with the yolk still runny), shredded carrot, shitake mushroom, cooked spinach, sesame seeds, a drizzling of sesame oil, zucchini, kosari and other pickled vegetables. The hot pepper paste is sometimes served already on the rice, but usually there is a large squeeze bottle handy with extra. Each unique flavor blends perfectly with the others, creating a spicy, satisfying and healthy bowl of sustenance. As I found true almost everywhere in Korea, along with the main dish is served a smattering of small side dishes, which include kimchi (fermented cabbage), marinated tofu, seaweed, daikon radish and other pickled delights.

For those lucky enough to have a well-stocked kitchen and a Asian market nearby, here is a recipe and instructional video I found for bibimbap.

Some bibimbap pictures for your viewing pleasure.



Above: My Korean travel partner and best friend Jane spices up her bibimbap with extra hot sauce in Seoraksan National Park.

Above: One of the pleasures of eating Korean food are the numerous little side dishes served with the main course.

Above: This is dolsot bibimbap, which is basically the same as regular bibimbap, but is served in a hot clay pot.

Above: This bibimbap is served with a side of kimchi and broth. (Photo by: avlxyz)

This Week’s Travel Favorites

I spend a lot of time reading, thinking, writing and pondering about travel.  You could say it’s a wee bit of an obsession.  Luckily, my wanderlust is very satisfactorily satiated at my jobs (I work as a magazine writer and television show producer and host here in Kathmandu, Nepal).  I’ve decided to start blogging about and paying hommage to travel “favorites” each week.  These “favorites could be anything from a travel personality, to a travel related book, or travel gear that has given me recent inspiration.

Here is this week’s round up of Travel Favorites:

Travel With Rick Steves Podcasts

When I was at home in Portland, Oregon, packing for Kathmandu, I wavered on whether or not to bring my iPhone.  I decided to throw it in my bag if for nothing else, just to use as a music player.  I am SO happy that I decided to bring it.  Once I arrived in Kathmandu, a friend swiftly “unlocked” it for $10 and now I can use a local SIM card.  I started to peruse the selection of podcasts on my iTunes and stumbled upon the Travel With Rick Steves selection.  I downloaded about 100 episodes and have been exceedingly pleased with the quality material I’ve been listening to every day.

Rick Steves is a famous travel guidebook writer who especially focuses on Europe.  I’ve never read his guidebooks, but his podcasts are excellent.  He conducts a wonderful interview that always leaves me feeling inspired to boldly continue on with my world travels.  Steves’ guests are well-chosen and eloquent.  As a traveler, I value the information and perspective I’ve found in the podcasts and as a writer, I’m always interested in his interview style and the questions he asks.  Travel With Rick Steves is the perfect show to tune in to when going on a long walk, sitting at home or on an airplane.

EatingAsia Food Blog

Pho Ingredients (Photo by katclay-flickr)

I literally salivate over this fantastic Asia food and photography blog created by photographer David Hagerman and food writer Robyn Eckhardt.  The writing is concise and to the point and makes you feel as though you are sitting next to David and Robyn as they sip teas in Turkey or eat grilled fish in Luang Prabang, Laos.  EatingAsia is the perfect fusion of travel and food, two things that I think go together marvelously.  Trying new foods and local cuisines when traveling is, I think, one of the greatest pleasures of being on the road.  I’m guessing David and Robyn of EatingAsia would agree with me on this one. In addition to the excellent stories and descriptions of their travels, the photos are to die for.  The colors, the textures and the perfect composition makes me want to follow David Hagerman around and just watch him at work.  Those lucky enough to live in or travel through Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, actually can do this because David offers food photography walks through the city. (You can follow Robyn Eckhardt on Twitter: @EatingAsia)

Keen Shoes

I would like to personally thank Keen for their excellent quality and versatile shoes.  I bought a pair of Keens three years ago at REI and virtually forgot about then since I returned from my one year Asia trip.  When pairing down my clothes for my current trip,  I rediscovered my old Keens at the bottom of a cardboard box.  I brought them along with me on this trip and recommend them to everyone.  They are not the exact model pictured here (because I bought mine three years ago), but they are similar.  The shoes are black and slip-on with a velcro strap across the top.  They are versatile enough to be worn with nice clothes to work, but can also be work on hikes. The shoes stood up to the test of hiking in rural Nepal in the monsoon this past weekend.  I was on an assignment in Balthali village, which is about 30 kilometers outside of Kathmandu, just beyond the valley rim.  Part of my assignment was to investigate some of the hikes in the area.  The only shoes I brought were my Keens and they gave an A+ performance up muddy, monsoon ruined hills, down slippery rocks, through rivers and across rice paddies.  I returned to the lodge I was staying at with no blisters and perhaps most surprising, with completely dry feet.

Thai Street Food: Papaya Salad

A recent (and very unscientific) survey taken via Twitter by Epic Asia Travel asked subscribers: What is your favorite Thai street food?  A seemingly simple questions, but in actuality, this query is very, very difficult to answer.  Why?  Because there are so many kinds of street food in Thailand that you could probably eat a different dish everyday for the rest of your life and still never have tried everything.  There’s an abundance of street meats on a stick, fruits, hot and spicy soups, fried vegetables, glutinous sweets and tangy juice drinks.  One of the greatest pleasures about traveling in Thailand is the street food, which is why this questions is really not so easy to answer.

Despite the depth of possible answers to this query, the overwhelming answer to the best street food in Thailand was: Som Tam, also known as spicy green papaya salad.  Respondents to this question sure do know what they’re talking about because spicy green papaya salad is truly fresh and incredibly delicious.  Vendors usually charge anywhere between 20-40 Baht for a heaping pile of freshly shredded green papaya pounded with spices, palm sugar, chilis, lime juice, shrimp and a number of other zesty ingredients.

Som Tam can be eaten alone for a quick and healthy snack on the go, or it can accompany a larger meal.  Traditionally (especially in the Isan

A Thai street vendor crushes the ingredients together with a mortar and pestle to make Som Tam. (Photo Credit: Ans)

region), Som Tam is eaten with sticky rice, BBQ chicken and some spicy chili sauce.  When ordered from a street-side cart, the vendor whips it up fresh on the spot.  The green papaya is shredded and all the ingredients go into a large mortar.  With the pestle the vendor pounds the many flavors together until it forms one delicious mound of papaya salad.  After the dish is plated, the vendor usually sprinkles the Som Tam with a heavy dose of crushed peanuts to add extra flavor and texture.

All street vendors who sell Som Tam in Thailand have their own recipe and they all differ slightly from one another.  Despite their differences, most have several of the same key ingredients including: shredded green papaya, cut cherry tomatoes, fresh green beans, lime juice, fish sauce, palm sugar, peanuts, dried

Some of the indredients for spicy papaya salad. (Photo Credit: WordRidden).

shrimp, whole chilis, shrimp paste and garlic.  Some papaya salad vendors add dried shrimp and some add whole crabs (shells and all) to add flavor and texture to the mix.

Check out this video below to see a Som Tam vendor in action: