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What is the Difference Between Indian and Nepalese Food?

I have loved Indian food for decades. More recently, I’ve begun hearing about Nepalese food and have started to wonder what is the difference between Indian and Nepalese food?

Because Nepal borders India, Tibet & China, you see culinary influences from all of those countries. India & Nepal share a love of spicy curry, turmeric, flatbreads, and rice. But unlike Indian food, Nepalese food does not use cream and rarely uses sugar and is generally considered healthier than Indian food.

But there’s a lot more to know about the cuisines of both these amazing places.

So today, we’re getting cultural and looked at the foods in both of these places. We’ll examine some of the key differences. But we’ll also explore the similarities and if one is healthier than the other.

Ultimately, we’re answering the question of what is the difference between Indian and Nepalese food?

Let’s get going!

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What is traditional Nepalese food and how does it differ from Indian food?

Nepal is a true melting pot of cuisines, taking culinary cues from Tibetan, Indian, Chinese, and other parts of Asia.

Like Indian food, Nepalese food shares the following herbs, and spices in many of their dishes:

  • Turmeric
  • Chile peppers
  • Garlic & ginger
  • Cilantro

And their famed Momo Masala spice blend contains the following spices, many of which are also popular in Indian cuisine:

Cardamom, Cumin, Cloves, Cinnamon, Onion, Garlic, Dry Ginger, Turmeric, Red Chillies, Fenugreek, Mustard, Coriander.

Like most Asian countries, Nepal is also big on rice with pulao (fried rice) being a staple. Like how rice dishes are often served in India, pulao is often accompanied by yogurt and papadums.

Lentils, potatoes, and tomatoes too are quite popular in Nepal, as with India, and like Indians, Nepali also love chutneys as an accompaniment to their dishes. Both countries are also widely known for cooking with ghee (clarified butter).

One key way that the 2 cuisines differ is in soups as the Nepali love Thukpa, a variation on chicken noodle soup (which can also be made with other meats or vegetarian).

Another area where they differ is with a dish called Dhido, or Dheedo which has the consistency of oatmeal or grits and is made with buckwheat flour (which is naturally gluten-free despite the name).

Of course, being in such close proximity to India, you will naturally see traditional Indian food in Nepal too.

Are Nepal and India the same?

No. Nepal is a country that borders India. So while in close proximity, they are 2 different countries. While the majority of Nepalis are Hindu, most are not vegetarian as you more commonly find in India.

It’s also home to the famed Mount Everest. Kathmandu is the capital.

Contrary to popular belief, Hinduism does not require practitioners to be vegetarian. But since Hinduism makes a big effort to not hurt any other life forms, vegetarianism has become common.

So, unlike many parts of India, eating chicken and bison is common in Nepal.

In fact, 80% of Nepalis are Hindus, which is almost exactly the same in India. Where the 2 countries differ, religiously, is that Nepal has only about 2.5% of the population is Muslim, compared to 14% in India. Nepal has over 8.5% of the population practicing Buddhism, compared to very few in India.

Nepal is, generally speaking, a very poor, mountainous country, prone to poor roads and frequent power outages. The power outages are less true in Kathmandu or Pokhara.

Culturally speaking, Nepal tends to be more similar to other Asian countries to their east and less prone to angry outbursts than is sometimes seen in India.

What is the most famous food in Nepal?

The most popular foods in Nepal include Daal bhat tarkari, a type of lentil soup, Momo, a type of soup dumpling that can be steamed or fried, Dhido, or Dheedo which is a kind of oatmeal made from buckwheat, and Chatamari, a type of pizza-like flatbread made from rice flour.

Like Indian food, you’re looking a lot of rice dishes, curries, and a few surprising twists.

Daal bhat tarkari is the “comida tipica” of Nepal. Daal, as it does in India, refers to lentils, split peas, or sometimes beans. However, lentil is most common. Daal bhat tarkari is a soup made of lentils and spices. It is typically served with a boiled grain called Bhat.

The lentils get cooked with different vegetables, spices, and curry powder. It’s not uncommon for Nepali to eat this twice a day.

I mentioned the Momo Masala spice blend above, and that is part of the next most famous dish called, simply, Momo.

This is a dumpling, bearing a striking resemblance to the soup dumplings you might see while eating dim sum.

The dough is filled with a combination of minced buffalo, chicken, and/or pork, but also vegetables too. Like Chinese potstickers, you can find them steamed or fried. This dish can be seen in every eatery across Nepal, most often served as an appetizer.

Aside from the Dheedo I mentioned above, the next most famous Nepali dish would definitely be Chatamari.

This comes specifically from the Newari people, who are sort of the aboriginal people of the Kathmandu Valley. I won’t lie. This looks a whole lot like a pizza. Like Momo, it too is usually served as an appetizer.

It’s a flatbread, made with rice flour (much, but not all Nepalese cuisine would be naturally gluten-free). But instead of being topped with mozzarella and tomato sauce, it’s most commonly topped with finely chopped meat, eggs, and more familiar toppings like tomato, onions, and chili peppers.

What is the most popular food in India?

The most popular Indian dishes include:

  • Chaat – Essentially the Indian version of street food, this Indian snack is a staple item across the country, but with many regional variations. It usually starts with a fried, crispy bread or cracker topped with chutney and then topped with a variety of ingredients from fried potatoes to diced onion or tomato
  • Matar Paneer – Paneer, of course, is that delicious Indian cheese that bears a striking textural similarity with cubes of tofu. Paneer refers to peas, and the two are combined in a rich tomato gravy. More common in Northern India
  • Dosa – Essentially an Indian crepe made of a fermented rice & lentil flour batter, this Southern Indian staple is often a breakfast item in India, but it’s not uncommon to find it filled with yummy turmeric potatoes and served with chutneys
  • Biryani – A kind of fried rice dish, made in a variety of ways, that is often the cornerstone of the meal in many parts of India, or the meal itself. Basmati rice gets combined with spiced yogurt, whole spices, chicken or goat (or vegetarian).
  • Rogan Josh – Lamb (or mutton) chunks get cooked in a rich gravy made from ginger, garlic, onion, yogurt, and spices. Red chiles give it that distinctive red color, but the seeds get taken out for a milder flavor.
  • Butter Chicken – This Northern Indian staple bears a striking resemblance to chicken tikka masala which most of us in the US are familiar with. Chunks of chicken get marinated with spices and yogurt and then cooked in a rich tomato gravy, heavy on the cream

India, of course, is significantly larger than Nepal, and with that wide expanse brings a lot of different styles, cultures, and cuisines.

Here in the US, it’s not uncommon to think of Northern and Southern Indian food, but even that is an oversimplification.

I’m far from an expert, but I have been a fan for decades and my brother has lived in India on two different occasions. I’ve also been cooking Indian food for more than 20 years too, so I’m not exactly a novice either.

It’s also worth mentioning that different parts of India use different words and different spellings for some of the same things. For example, in the North, they would call spinach “palak” whereas, in the south, it’s much more common for it to be called saag.

That being said, if we generalize a little, and meld some of the different cultural influences from across the country, there are a few standout dishes.

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Do Nepalese eat beef?

Generally no. Nepalese people do not usually eat beef. As in many parts of India, cows are considered sacred in much of Nepal.

In fact, the cow is the national animal of Nepal.

Hinduism, the dominant religion in both Nepal and India, does forbid people from slaughtering cows. But it does not, in fact, forbid them from eating them. And the country is technically secular although the do prohibit changing religions.

So it’s sort of a gray area.

That might sound like a slimy lawyer defense, but Hinduism promotes people finding and following their own path. So, however, rare, you may find some Nepalese do eat beef. I also routinely see 1 or 2 beef dishes at the Indian restaurant I frequent here in Austin, TX.

The most popular meats in Nepal, as in India, however, are lamb and chicken.

Some groups of people in Nepal, the Newars, Magars, and Tamangs, do eat buffalo. But, Chetris and Gurungs do not eat buffalo meat.

So all that is to say most Nepali do not eat beef, and no one slaughters it.

But you can find imported beef on the shelves in grocery stores in the bigger cities as well as in some restaurants and hotels. Being so close to China, Nepalese food, while having some similarities, is strikingly different too.

In a recent article, I take a look at how Chinese food differs from some of the surrounding Asian countries, Vietnam in particular.

What really surprised me was how much healthier Vietnamese food is than Chinese. Just click the link to read it on my site.

Is Nepalese food healthier than Indian food?

Generally speaking, yes. Nepalese food is considered lighter and healthier than Indian food.

In fact, Nepalese meals are typically healthier than most other South Asian types of food. Often the Nepali rely less on cooking fats and more on fresh veggies, leaner meats, and leafy greens.

Here are some of the key differences that make Nepalese food healthier than Indian:

  • Nepalese food does not use cream
  • The Nepali eat much less bread like naan or chapati
  • Nepalese cuisine almost never calls for sugar or other sweeteners

It’s also worth noting that most typically, vegetables are cooked only with fresh herbs and dried spices and not pastes which can be common in parts of India (and other Asian countries).

Like Indian food, rice is quite commonly served with meals, at least twice a day.

Final thoughts

In this article, I took a look at the world of Indian and Nepalese food.

We explored some of the similarities and some of the key differences. But we also looked at which one is healthier and even if Nepalese food sometimes uses beef.

In the end, we answered the question what is the difference between Indian and Nepalese food?

Which one is your favorite?

If you’re confused about why so many different Asian countries have something called “curry”, never fear! In a recent article, I demystify and explain all the key differences between Indian and Thai curry especially.

But I also get into other curries too. I even explain why the leaves of the actual curry plant rarely get used in curry pastes and sauces.

Just click the link to read it on my site!

Jeff Campbell