If you ever got to google “Are Nepali dishes healthy?”. The first answer google furnishes you with is “Nepalese dishes are generally healthier than most other South Asian cuisines, relying less on using fats and more on chunky vegetables, lean meats, pickled ingredients, and salads’’. This is precisely what google presented but not what I illustrated.
Be it Newari cuisine, thakali dish, or Brahman bhojan, Nepali dishes are always rich in nutrients, flavours and, are vibrant with a gleam of tradition, culture, uniting people from different walks of life. Food is not only a basic need here in Nepal, but it is also a great source of celebrating, socializing, and connecting people.
Nepal has culinary influence and Nepali dishes are mostly a blend of Chinese and Indian cuisine. But blissfully, we have foods less spicy and sweet than India, more fibrous and less salty than china. Ecstatic thing, Right? Now, let us take a look at what we eat and how we do.
For the main course, we have Dal Bhat Tarkari. Dal is a spiced lentil soup, bhat is the regular rice (sometimes dhido, a buckwheat pudding in place of rice) and tarkari is the vegetable curry (or meat sometimes). We mostly have cucumbers, radish, and carrots as a salad. In addition to that, tomato or radish pickle (Spiced with Sichuan pepper, coriander, or mint) and yogurt is the side plating, a honeypot of flavors and nutrients.
Snacks are mostly Bhatmas sadeko (spiced soybean), Dahi cheura (yogurt and beaten rice), Dudh cheura (milk and beaten rice), Makai bhatmas (roasted corn and soybean), roti(Tortillas), Pancakes, sattu ( roasted and ground whole grains), Chickpeas, chatpate (chat made of puffed rice, greens, onions, tomatoes, spices ), aalu sadheko ( spiced boiled potatoes).
Nepali drinks are so much refreshing and chock-full nutrients at the same time. We have buttermilk, lassi (fruit-flavored buttermilk), curd, fresh lemonade, organic green tea. Buttermilk and tea are the sought-after drink here in Nepal.
A balanced healthy diet
What I love about Nepali cuisine is that it is freshly prepared and eaten, not preserved with hazardous preservatives, and also contain a lot of fibers, essential for gut health.
Nepali foods have a burst of rich savors along with the most essential nutrients. In a regular Nepali meal, all the vital nutrients like amino acids, protein, and even micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, prebiotics, probiotics, are abundantly present, which is a great thing. Moreover, Spices and condiments used here are full of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial agents. What else do we need?
Fermented foods like gundruk (fermented greens), sinki(fermented radish), kinema(fermented soybean), tama (bamboo shoot), mesu(salted bamboo shoot), curd(yogurt), tofu, jaand, tongba (local beer), khalpi(salted and spiced cucumber), kimchi are quite a lot famous here in Nepal. These fermented foods are a fountain of micronutrients like B-vitamins (B1, B2), folic acid, vitamins C, E, K, minerals like iron, calcium, selenium, antioxidants, flavonoids, polyphenol.
But, like anything in the world, Nepali dishes also are not ideal and served perfectly. We have our boon and banes.
Some of our culinary goofs pre-existing in typical Nepali kitchens are:
- Milk tea (even with sel roti, sometimes) in an empty stomach early in the morning,
- Regular usage of some legumes in daal,
- Fried rice as breakfast in an empty stomach,
- Use of saturated fat (ghee) in almost every meal,
- Consumption of meat from an entire buffalo, goat by a family mostly during festivals.
There are more if we look over. But, these points are ample for knowing that the problem is not with our resources or our food but with our eating pattern. So yes, we can make it, right.
Are we eating right?
Let us take an example. You are about to prepare a cup of coffee. You have milk, coffee powder, and sugar, all required to make a cup of coffee. If you add 50 grams of coffee powder, 100 grams of sugar, and 20 ml of milk together, will it make a good coffee? Will that taste appealing?
The same goes for our health. A tiny portion of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals) and a whopping amount of carb is not appealing for our health too. It is the portion of food and nutrients that matters rather than what we consume.
Eating a plate full of rice, a small spatula of veggies crammed in the side of the plate, a spoon of curd and pickle is not going to make any wonder to our health. We should consider a handsome amount of veggies, curd, and pickles in our diet to make it a balanced diet. It is not only about food. Eating right is what makes a balanced diet.
We used to have such tempting healthy foods, and we do not have them anymore. Even though we have such delectable and equally healthy meals, appetizers, snacks, drinks, and many more, there is a declining health status of Nepalese people. What gaffe we made is responsible for our degrading health? Swapping, Yes, it is swapping.
Why are we so fond of swapping food habits?
I do not understand why Nepalese substitute our organic, flavoursome, nutrient-dense foods or ingredients with synthetic and nutrient-less foods or ingredients. For example, Lemon with synthetic vinegar, turmeric with food colour, herbal spices with MSG, buttermilk, and tea with sodas, cow milk with the synthetic milk powder, lemonade with instant juices, locally compressed seed oils with packaged refined oils, fresh vegetable soup with packaged soup, fresh fruits with canned fruits ( same with the meat and fish), homemade pickled with canned one and whatnot.
These may be due to the problem of availability and taste preferences. But it is not always the case. Mostly the reason behind these swaps is that we have been so much obsessed with modernization that we find our authentic, healthy dishes subservient to the western kitchen dos.
Do not trade modernization and taste with health
We are so much into imitating the western world that we benightedly choose detrimental meals like pizzas and burgers over healthy snacks. It is okay to crave those foods sometimes but, as mentioned earlier, we are into swapping and never looking back.
Not only that, we feel like ignorance is bliss when it comes to knowing about the hazard with the fast foods these days. If any recipe goes wrong, it can be fixed. It can be refried, remade. Ingredients can be changed as per our taste. But, once our health declines, everything goes out of our hands. We will have nothing to do but only regret.
So, let us look for the burst of flavour and aromas in our authentic dishes. We already have so much of organic herbs, spices, snacks, from different cultures to substitute our regular foods and to choose a healthier and tastier one. We have abundant healthy dishes from different cultures, which will suffice for a few months even if we like to change our foods daily. When we have plenty of healthy bona fide options, why run after chunks of unhealthy food?
Why Nepali cuisines over fast food?
You can google Why should you not eat fast food? The answer Google provides you with is ‘’ Eating a poor quality diet high in junk food is linked to a higher risk of obesity, depression, digestive issues, heart disease, and stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and early death. And as you might expect, frequency matters when it comes to the impact of junk food on your health’’. And again, this is what accurately google presented but not what I interpreted.
Anjana Neupane is a second-year undergraduate student of Nutrition and Dietetics at Central Campus of Technology, Dharan.