Culinary Delights of the Khumbu


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You'll notice a couple of things when you look at a painting of Napoleon. He liked to wear his hat sideways and he constantly had his hand inside his jacket rubbing his tummy. I have no answer for the hat thing other than Paris was the fashion capitol of the world in the late 1700's when aristocrats wore powdered wigs, frilly shirts and stick on moles. Seen in that context, it's not a stretch to imagine the little Emperor setting off for world domination sporting a kite on his head.

The rubbing of the belly thing is easier to explain. Napoleon liked his food! He's famous after all for saying 'An army marches on its stomach' which is a seamless segue into the subject of this blog.

I'm going to give you a taster on what the local Sherpa people eat in the Khumbu valley and how our soldier's stomachs will be catered for throughout our expedition.

The first thing you need to know is that the Sherpa diet is dominated by starchy foods with potatoes and rice being the base. From there they add seasonal vegetables, spices and occasionally meat. Being Buddhist, Sherpas will not kill animals, so they rely on other indigenous lowland people to literally walk buffalo up to Namche Bazaar's infamous Saturday market, where they are butchered and sold. Very little food can be grown locally so importing food stuffs especially higher up in the valley is a must.

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You often see Yak Steaks advertised all over in Nepal. The Khumbu valley happens to be filled with the shaggy beasts but the irony is that Sherpa's will rarely eat them. The reason isn't epicurean, yak is actually pretty tasty, but more for commercial reasons. Yaks provide milk for butter and cheese, their wool is warm and can be woven into textiles. They act as great cargo trucks moving goods between villages making them far too valuable an animal to kill.

So what are some of the local dishes our intrepid team will have the opportunity to try? Sherpa stew made made with potatoes, vegetables, small dumplings and a little meat. Another fav is a simple dish of boiled new potatoes usually picked same day served with a dipping sauce of mayonnaise mixed with hot chillies. Yum! I like to think of this recipe as a sweater for my innards because the heat from the chillies warms my heart and my stomach as I walk in the cold mountain air. The most popular dish in Nepal by far though, is Dal Bhat. It's the fuel of the country.

It consists of a mountain of white rice with a lentil soup and some mix of curried vegetables. It is great trekking food that most people love. Well, I say, most... Nepalis eat dal bhat twice a day, usually mid morning and in the evening which is a bit much even for me and I love it!

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For those with less ambitious tastes, rest assured, our team will have a nutritious and tasty diet similar to what is available at home. Breakfast may consist of porridge or eggs; lunch could be spaghetti, fried noodles or soup; and dinner, steak or pizza. OK, the pizza may not be like what you get delivered and the steak won't be Alberta AAA, but it'll all be part and parcel of the unique culinary aspect of our expedition.

Tea and coffee are also widely available; although between you and me, I think we'll all probably be desperate for a decent cup of Timmies by the end of our trip.

So...how DO they get all this food into the mountains?

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Namche has small shops which stock everything from granola to gorp - Smarties included. Its coffee shops even sell decent apple pie. All these essentials are flown to Lukla and then transported either by pack animal or porter. In an area with few job opportunities, portering is an integral part of the local culture and economy. Our March to the Top expedition will be employing over a hundred porters, providing crucial wages that are vital to the survival of families living in such remote areas.

I have to tell you, all this talk of food has made me hungry. I think I'll put my hand in my jacket, give my belly a rub as I head out for something to eat.

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