We’ve eaten 20 pizzas in the last week. Since ending our trek in Upper Mustang about 10 days ago, and hanging out in Kathmandu waiting for our Indian visas to be delivered, we have eaten a pizza every single day. No shame.
Despite our preference for eating local food (as detailed in our Travel Rules), we have been binge eating this Western favorite as a sort of reverse detox from trail food. The food on our trek in general was monotonous – rice, potatoes, lentils and eggs are some of the main staples readily available in the arid high desert. After the first few days, we noticed that every single lodge-café menu was EXACTLY the same with very minor variations in terms or spelling (such as the gruesomely misspelled “scream bleed eggs” we found at one guesthouse).
In addition to the monotony, the high altitude and often-questionable hygiene helped quell any appetite we had left. Meal times were met with apprehension and eventually apathy. By the end of the trip, tired of trying to drum up hunger for the uninspiring menu items, I had given our health-nut guide Panta carte blanche to order whatever he thought would give me the most energy and I promised to power through at least most of the dish. This led to some curious combinations and completely insipid meals, but as Panta so philosophically expressed “Tongue is 4 inches. Body is 5 feet. What is more important to feed – tongue or body?” So we sucked it up and shoveled in pure fuel day after day (easier said than done for a French-American couple who makes a sport of wining and dining wherever we travel).
I already mentioned some food-related intestinal woes in my trekker’s journal – most notably tabulating the increased quantity of flatulence we endured. However, the food we experienced along our two-week stint in the desert wilderness of the Himalayas deserves further study. Here is, for better or worse, a detailed look at what its like to eat in the Last Forbidden Kingdom.
Dal Baht: lentil soup, a small portion of vegetable curry and a pile of white rice on a tin mess plate. If you’re lucky, you might get a dab of hot pickles to spice things up…or blow your head off, depending on the cook.
Momos: flavorless white pasta dumplings stuffed with a sometimes oniony mix of vegetables or potatoes and steamed. They make these to order though, so unless you want to wait 2 hours for dinner (3 if the cook is drunk as we experienced early on), better chose something else.
Tibetan bread: Our greasy breakfast staple – a large round of white bread deep fried and served with honey.
Masala tea: hot milk infused with mixed spices – cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, black pepper. This was the only thing I didn’t get sick of on the trail.
Rösti: an adopted German name for a thick pancake of fried mashed potatoes, available with vegetables, eggs or distinctly strong dried yak cheese. This is the best way to guarantee that your potatoes won’t arrive half-cooked and crunchy.
Mint tea: sometimes nicely infused herbal tea, sometimes just a few wilted peppermint leaves served in hot water – an effective way of warming up and hydrating during breaks.
Pancakes: a tasteless carb-heavy slab of white dough available with honey or lemon. Also available in its bitter buckwheat incarnation – not for the faint of heart, its great for energy but tastes like rotten dirt. Panta loves them.
Garlic soup: according to Panta, garlic is good way to stave off high altitude sickness and its annoying (or debilitating) symptoms such as head ache, exhaustion, chills, and lack of appetite. This soup – fried garlic cloves in a salty broth – is a relatively palatable way of downing a ton and waking up with the most foul-smelling breath imaginable. Or you can crunch down on them raw as Seb did – thereby warding off any wandering vampires or amorous attempts at evening kisses.
Fried potatoes: yet another version of potatoes, sometimes flavored with garlic or curry. Often undercooked. I previously have claimed that I love potatoes so much that I could live with that sole carbohydrate for the rest of my life. I’ve changed my mind.
Snacks on the trail: cashews, almonds, walnuts, Digestive biscuits, Snickers, Bounty bars, popcorn and lentil flour crisps called pappadum gave us something to munch on and an extra power boost for some of the more challenging climbs.
Himalayan spring water: Despite the dry high desert climate, there were plenty of mountain glacial streams running through the villages we passed. Shocking as it may be to some, we drank unfiltered water from streams and hotel faucets – LOTS of it – with no stomach issues whatsoever.
Dhindo: Panta affectionately called this mass of buckwheat flour and water, “pudding” and scooped it up with lentils in lieu of low quality rice available on the trail. It looked like an unappetizing pile of brown playdough and tasted of…nothing.
Sata: Perhaps our little Nepali friend’s secret to his incredible health and endurance, he happily dug into this concoction every morning before setting off – a brown flour looking mixture of ground wheat, soy, gram, peanuts and cinnamon. Good for what ails you.
The food isn’t bad, but everything starts tasting the same after a few days – even the Snickers seemed to have a carry a hint of curry. We can’t thank Panta enough for keeping us in good health and spirits by patiently encouraging us to eat enough of the right kinds of food to continue along the trail…and banning stuff that would make us feel like crap – beer, meat (for sanitary reasons), or tons of sugar in our tea. We had an amazing time and honestly did enjoy quite a few of our mealtimes. But if I never see another plate of dal baht again, it will be too soon.