In November we went to Nepal on a trekking holiday with Lost Earth Adventures. As we all know an army marches on its stomach and Richard Goody the MD of LEA and our trek leader worked very hard to ensure that we were well fed. In a former life Rich was a chef so we all benefited from his high expectations.
Throughout the 14 days we were trekking in the Himalayas we stayed in tea houses. These are the Nepalese equivalent of Alpine huts which provide food and lodging. In Nepal the huts have developed, so usually there are private rooms and a wide choice of food.
Walking for six or so hours a day means that food takes on special importance! At the same time, the Annapurna region’s relative isolation makes getting supplies to the teahouses quite a challenge. Almost everything you see on trek has to be hauled up by animal or human power. All the food has also got to be carried up to the teahouses or grown there.
Teahouses have a variety of Western, Nepali, Tibetan and Chinese cuisine. And Pizza!
The staple Nepali meal is Dal Bhat. Dal is a lentil soup, and is served over bhat (boiled rice), with tarkari (curried vegetables) together with achar (pickles) or chutni (spicy condiment made from fresh ingredients). It consists of non-vegetarian as well as vegetarian items. Mustard oil is a common cooking medium and a host of spices, including cumin, coriander, black pepper, sesame seeds, turmeric, garlic, ginger, methi (fenugreek), bay leaves, cloves, cinnamon, chillies and mustard seeds are used in cooking.
The Nepali porters who carried our bags ate nothing else. Dal Bhat for breakfast, lunch and supper. This is their staple food. Sometimes there was a portion of green stuff called ghuindruk which is fermented leafy vegetables, Pak Choi or spinach.
The food was always freshly cooked to order. In some of the less remote tea houses there was some gas available (despite the fuel crisis) but more often the kitchen was quite primitive by Western standards with an earth floor, no running water and cooking over a wood fueled open fire.
This area along the Modi Khola is also home to the honey hunters of Nepal. Intrepid hunting parties head out from the villages along the vertiginous cliffs twice a year. They risk their lives, lighting fires to smoke out the bees then dropping down to the giant honeycombs on bamboo ladders – breaking off oozing clumps and sending the highly prized booty down in baskets.
Breakfast was all important. Porridge was available and could be served with fresh apple.
Alternatively and much more tasty there were always really good omelettes.
An Annapurna trail breakfast special is Gurung bread with fried eggs. This became my breakfast of choice.
Gurung bread is essentially a large disc of dough fried in oil until it puffs up – like a giant, flat doughnut. Served with a couple of fresh free range fried eggs. Very tasty. Much nicer than that apple porridge!
Above 3500m my gut reacted adversely to the altitude. My appetite suffered but it was necessary to eat enough food to keep going! Egg and chips was just right for this. I can eat egg and chips anytime, anywhere. The Nepalese call them finger chips.
There was also Chinese food available…
Every tea house offers its own version of apple pie. They usually looked a bit like pasties but the pastry had been fried. The accompaniment of lurid custard made this pudding less desirable.
At lower altitudes we were able to enjoy a beer in the evenings.
When we were above 3000m we found we didn’t really fancy beer (remarkably) and stuck to water and hot lemon or lemon tea. We drank gallons of lemon tea. The health benefits apparently include more energy, a boost to metabolism, clearer skin, relief from nausea. We loved it in Nepal but have reverted to PG Tips now we are back home again.
Throughout our trek 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 teahouses did a good job of putting together a western friendly menu. We were never hungry and there was always a choice of nutritious, freshly prepared food to keep us fuelled.