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Dal bhat is the national food of Nepal, fueling hungry trekkers and local people in the lowlands and high in the Himalayas. It is a simple dish, dal refers to lentils, cooked in a thin soup or stew, bhat is rice, but various accompaniments are served along with dal bhat, making it a delicious and filling dish. Dal bhat is not spicy, so it’s a good dish for most people and is usually vegetarian. You really must try dal bhat in Nepal!
This post is about dal bhat, it gives you a recipe for dal bhat, created and adapted by my executive Chef husband, and explains, what is dal bhat.
You’ll see the slogan “Dal bhat power, 24 hour!” on T shirts in the shops of Thamel Kathmandu and wherever tourists and trekkers congregate in Nepal. Dal Bhat is synonymous with Nepal and it’s great fuel, as well as being a delicious Nepali dish.
We’ve spent a lot of weeks trekking in Nepal including the Everest Base Camp trek (twice, with kids) and making dal bhat at home brings back fond memories. We hope our dal bhat recipe and description is useful.
This is a family-friendly, economical recipe to make at home, you can switch out the vegetables with whatever you have on hand, feel free to adapt and change it to your taste.
What is Dal Bhat?
Dal bhat is the traditional Nepali food of locals and trekkers in the Himalayas. On both of our Himalayan treks, Annapurna Base Camp and Everest Region, we ate dal bhat most days, either for lunch or dinner.
You can also eat dal bhat for breakfast. This meal can be served at any time of day.
The Dal bhat recipe consists of lentil soup (the dal), and boiled or steamed rice (the bhat), with varied side dishes which may include steamed or sauteed vegetables, vegetable curry, popadoms, pickles, and curd (yoghurt, Ju Ju Dow if you have it.).
No two cooks seem to make dal bhat the same way and we’ve seen huge variation in ingredients and the dishes served together to make the complete dal bhat.
The two constants are rice and a soupy dal dish. Our recipe is the closest we’ve come to making a dal that tastes as it did on our treks.
Dal Bhat for Trekkers
The dish is great for trekkers as it is always vegetarian, often vegan (depending on what oil or fat is used and the presence/ absence of curd) and contains plenty of carbs, protein, fluid, vitamins and minerals.
The best dal bhat is filling and delicious and, if you’re particularly hungry, dal baht almost always comes with free second helpings.
Sadly this doesn’t happen so much these days on the popular trekking routes. The free top-ups of dal bhat can still be found if you get off the beaten-track a little.
Prices will also be lower if you’re away from tourist crowds.
Cooking Dal Bhat
Dal isn’t quick to cook, but the Sherpa and Tibetan people of the mountains normally have pressure cookers to speed up cooking.
Different types of lentils can be used, but we found that mixed green, red and black lentils gave the best flavour and texture.
We make our dal bhat without a pressure cooker.
The dal soup, when cooked, is a thin soup, not a thick curry.
The recipe below is a rough one and open to your own interpretation. Recipes are never exact in my kitchen and we ring the changes according to seasonality of vegetables and how we feel on the day.
We tried several recipes and the one below gave us our favourite result.
We used mixed lentils as in the photo and found that grinding most of the spices in a blender gave a better flavour and colour.
Dal Bhat Recipe
As I said above, this is a rough guide recipe, just to give you an idea of what goes into a Nepali Dal Bhat. For 4 people you will need roughly the amounts below, don’t be afraid to substitute and make the dish your own.
Preparation time will be around 45 minutes depending on the type of lentils you prefer.
Ingredients in a Typical Dal Bhat
- red lentils (masoor dal), mixed lentils, green or brown lentils. We use mixed here.
- flavourless oil such as rapeseed or grapeseed
- onion, finely chopped
- crushed garlic
- fresh ginger, minced
- black mustard seeds, popped in oil
- cardamom powder
- turmeric powder, or fresh if you have it.
- cumin seeds
- coriander seed
- whole peppercorns
- finely chopped tomatoes
- butter or ghee ( optional, omit for vegan)
- coriander leaf and/or green onion or chives, chopped, for garnish
- sea salt ( Himalayan pink salt would be extra authentic)
- pepper to taste
- basmati, or other, rice
- Indian chutney, curd, a green vegetable or pickle to serve.
How to Make Dal Bhat
Lentils are the key ingredient in dal which is the centrepiece of dal bhat.
There are numerous types of lentils you can use and it often comes down to personal choice and what lentils you can buy.
I prefer mixed lentils when I make this at home.
Another equally important aspect of making the dal is to grind up your spices.
Some you’ll buy already ground but others will be whole. I prefer buying the whole variety and grinding them fresh myself.
That is just me though and ground spices will work just fine.
Don’t forget to really cook everything out properly. That includes the fresh ingredients at the start, onions, ginger, and garlic but also the spices afterwards.
If you don’t cook it all out you’ll end up with a bland dish that tastes like raw spices. A good tip is to lower the heat and take just a little bit longer cooking.
Does Dal Bhat Contain Chili?
As you can see, there are no chilies included in our recipe. Dal bhat isn’t normally a very hot dish when served in Nepal but you could add to taste.
Either add during cooking or serve with chopped fresh chillies. You could also serve with a separate chilli sauce.
A full (printable) version of this recipe is available here. (opens in new tab)
What is Dal Bhat Tarkari?
Tarkari is usually a spicy vegetable curry with origins in the Indian subcontinent. The word tarkari meaning fresh vegetables. A dal bhat tarkari will be dal bhat, (dal and rice) plus tarkari.
If I’m wrong about this please let me know, this is what we’ve been served in Nepal, but every time you order a dish you get a variation on it, depending on the cook and seasonality.
Other Nepali Dishes
There are plenty of other delicious and interesting dishes to try in Nepal other than dal bhat. Here, you will find our full guide to Nepali food.
Look out for dishes such as mo mo, thukpa, and dhindo. In Nepal, particularly in Kathmandu and Pokhara, you will find all the flavours of the world, other cuisines came to Nepal a long time ago along the hippie trail and from neighbouring countries.
Where is Nepal? It’s sandwiched between India and Tibet (China) and not too far from Bhutan, high in the Himalayas, you’ll find similar dishes throughout the Himalayas but dal bhat remains a favourite.
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My kids always enjoyed their dal bhat after a day trekking in that stunning Nepali landscape, it was great fuel for them. Our best dal bhat recipe always comes with a side order of delicious local greens, we’ve not yet discovered a leafy green that tastes as good as those in Nepal. Enjoy!