Dal bhat—otherwise known as khana, or “food”—is more than just a national dish. It’s what most Nepalis eat twice a day, every day. At its simplest, dal bhat is just lentil curry and rice. But you’ll usually find it served with a selection of seasonal vegetable curries, a meat curry (chicken, mutton, or buffalo are most popular), pickles (such as tomato pickle, made from fresh, uncooked tomato pounded together with garlic and chili), a papad, and sometimes a curd and slightly sweet item, such as sel roti. The lentil curry served varies throughout the country; in Kathmandu, the favored type is a thick curry made from black lentils that takes on a creamy consistency when cooking, despite the lack of actual cream (unlike many Indian curries, for example). While Nepalis at home typically eat a meal of dal bhat in the mid-morning and again in the evening, you can buy it in restaurants at regular lunch and dinner hours. It’s healthy, filling, tasty, and often comes in unlimited quantities.
Good to know: If dal bhat sounds like Indian thali, the concept is quite similar—but while some tourist-geared restaurants in Kathmandu might bill this dish as Nepali thali, Nepalis themselves don’t generally use the term “thali” here.
Where: Thakkhola Thakali Cuisine is a good-quality, humble place for dal bhat on the more upmarket “Restaurant Road” in Jhamsikhel (Naya Bato, Patan 44700, map).
When: Daily, 10:30am-10pm
Order: The dish pictured is the vegetarian dal bhat set (Rs 275), a platter of steamed white rice, black lentil dal, cauliflower and pea curry, sautéed spinach, gundruk pickle, hot radish pickle, tomato chutney, plain curd, and a papad. It’s delicious, simple, satisfying Nepali cooking. Locals usually eat dal bhat with their hands, mixing small portions of rice together with the dal and curry and popping it into their mouth with their thumb. Foreigners are never expected to eat with their hands (although are generally welcome to try!) and will usually be given a spoon.
Alternatively: For a more upscale experience, try the dal bhat at the Patan Museum Café (Patan Durbar Square, Patan, 44600, map), in the relaxed outdoor dining area.