Popularly known for its exquisite culture and historical background, Nepal is a place rich with scrumptious food delicacies that leave people wanting for more. Alongside amazing food, Nepal also has to offer a variety of fun drinks that visitors would definitely like to relish during their visit to the country.
When it comes to the drinking culture in Nepal, different communities have different beliefs. There are some ethnic groups like the Newars, Rais, Tamangs, Gurungs, etc. where drinks are an integral part of the festivals and ritual celebrations whereas there are also some groups that disregard alcoholism.
Apart from liquors, Nepal also offers non-alcoholic drinks like tea, coffee, and even yogurt which is a part of the daily lives of Nepalese. Here’s a brief description of the different kinds of drinks popularly drunk in Nepal.
Tea Culture in Nepal
Drinking tea is a commonplace culture in Nepal and is a part of people’s daily lives. In Nepal, people generally greet each other by asking, “Chiya khanu vayo?” which translates to ‘Did you drink tea?’. Tea in Nepali as Chiya and pronounced as Chee-yaa like “chia” seeds. When people visit each other’s houses, offering tea is considered to be an important ritual of welcoming the guests.
Tea leaves grown in the official tea zone of Nepal, ‘Ilam’, are famous worldwide for their strong aroma and taste. Ilam is in the Hilly Eastern region and falls some 700 kilometers away from Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal.
Given the rising popularity and the culture of drinking tea in Nepal, tea spots are opening up at various junctions of Kathmandu where young people can be found chit-chatting, drinking tea, and puffing cigarettes!
Milk tea made by boiling tea leaves with milk and water is popularly drunk in Nepal. Alongside milk tea, other variations of tea like black tea, green tea, lemon tea, etc. are also widely consumed in Nepal. Apart from these regular tea variations, “Butter Salt Tea” is a unique variety of tea that is mainly consumed in the Himalayan regions of the country.
Butter Salt Tea
A household tea made in the Himalayan region of Nepal, Butter Tea is a unique hot drink made from goat or yak butter. This tea is made by churning yak/goat butter with tea leaves, water, milk, and salt. Salt is the second hero ingredient of Butter tea. Every other tea comes with sugar while this tea breaks the sugar-on-tea conviction and is prepared with salt instead. For anybody who is used to drinking the sweet version of tea, butter tea might provide a different variation!
The tea is enriched with various health benefits especially for people living in the Himalayan regions since it protects people from cold. It is also believed that this tea moisturizes lips and prevents them from chapping since butter is the main ingredient of the tea plus butter is high in calorie content as well.
In the upper Himalayas, a lack of oxygen can cause altitude sickness and it can be prevented by drinking butter tea. It is believed that drinking butter tea in such high-altitude regions helps maintain water balance in the body too.
Coffee Culture in Nepal
Alongside tea, coffee has become quite popular among young people in Nepal partly due to western influence. The trend to post aesthetic pictures on social media has lured young people into going and enjoying beautiful coffee houses. Nepalese over the years have acquired the taste of coffee from regular milk coffee to espresso.
Until a few decades back, coffee was not considered as a profitable crop in Nepal. However, today, coffee joints like Himalayan Java which sources its coffee from Ilam are becoming popular.
With the work-from-home culture building up in Nepal post COVID, coffee houses with good safety measures have become quite popular workstations. Coffee joints like Himalayan Java, Kar.Ma Coffee etc. tend to be the favorite hangout places of young people in cities like Kathmandu.
Janakpuri Lassi, (lit. Lassi from Janakpur) is a drink made from yogurt popularly drunk in the Janakpur city in Southern Nepal. This refreshing and soothing drink that originates from Janakpur is famous even in Kathmandu.
Made by blending yogurt, water, various spices, and sweeteners, Lassi is a drink that is sweet in taste. Lassi makers sometimes garnish Lassi with thickened milk (also known as khoya or khuwa) and dry fruits giving it a rich and luxurious taste.
People especially drink Lassi during summers to beat the heat.
Mohi is the liquid remnant that comes after churning dahi (curd/yogurt). It is also known as ‘whey’ or ‘skimmed milk’. A traditional Nepali vessel called ‘Madani’ is used to make Mohi. Mohi is especially drunk in the mid-hills and plains of Nepal during hot weather in that area. It is believed that drinking Mohi helps in keeping the stomach cool and is thus has health benefits when drunk during summers.
Liquors of Nepal
Nepal houses a variety of local liquors which have won the hearts of various Nepalese as well as international visitors.
Liquors are commonly known as “Raksi” in Nepal. Apart from being used at celebrations, liquors are also used as a part of rituals by various ethnic groups. For instance, Newars offer their homemade liquors at many temples as servings to God.
In some indigenous groups, marriage proposals and ceremonies are not sealed until the Raksi gifts are exchanged between the families of brides and grooms.
In fact, in Dashain, the biggest annual festival for Nepalese, alcoholic drinks are opened up with great jest and all the members of the family are seen enjoying their drinks together!
Popular Nepali Drinks
Raksi is a Nepali translation for alcohol. When people think of Raksi, they think that it represents all the kinds of alcohol. However, traditionally, Raksi used to represent alcohol made by millet, the ‘Kodo ko Raksi’. This drink usually has 20 – 30% of alcohol content and is believed to slowly hit the drinkers.
Raksi is also made of fermented rice and it is mellower than the millet ones. Oftentimes, barley and wheat are also distilled to produce raksi. ‘Raksi’ has a similar and stronger taste to Whiskey, Japanese Sake, or Korean Soju.
Raksi from Nepal was enlisted among World’s Top 50 Drinks released by CNN in 2018.
Another interesting variation of Raksi is called ‘Jhaikhatte’ or sometimes ‘Jhwaikhatte’. Ghee (Melted butter) is heated on a ladle/saucepan then khatte (rice grains) are added and cooked until they go shallow brown. When the hot mixture of melted butter and rice grains is added to the room temperature Raksi, it makes a spluttering sound, ‘jhhwaaaiii’, therefore calling it ‘Jhwaikhatte’.
People with sweet-tooths add honey to the drink. This drink is best served in Winter with snacks like popcorn, sukuti (dried meat), peanuts, etc.
Ayeela also spelled as Aila is a Newar term for Raksi. Newars, the natives of Kathmandu Valley, prepare Aila by distilling a mixture of fermented rice, millet, and fruits. Aila is an offering drink at their religious activities and festivals of the Newars. In fact, when the drink is fermented and brewed during festivals, it is first offered to Gods.
Aila for Newars is not just a mere alcoholic drink but a “Shaga”, an auspicious drink, and is offered to people of all ages on their birthdays and at all special occasions.
During Indra Jatra festival, a celebratory time for the Newars of Kathmandu during Fall, a pipe is fitted into the mouth of a huge head of Lord Swet Bhairav at Kathmandu Durbar Square. Aila, as a potion is flown from the mouth of Swet Bhairav to the mouths of the festival crowds gathered at the square. It is believed that devotees who drink the potion from the pipe connected to Swet Bhairav, are blessed with good health and immortality.
Aila is often served like tequila shots at various local Newar restaurants around the Kathmandu valley. It is a tradition to pour Aila from an Aanti (a brass pitcher with a narrow stout) into small clay bowls. When it is poured, the aroma exuded often entices people sitting around to drink it.
Aila, made of a mixture of fermented rice, is smoother than the one made by fermenting millet. Aila is available in three types of distillations, single distilled, double-distilled or triple distilled, or ‘Ek paani’, ‘Dui paani’, and ‘Teen paani’ respectively, and is water clear in appearance.
This is a milky refreshing drink made by fermenting rice. Chyyang is drunk at festivals, rituals, and family celebrations. The drink is especially popular among two communities; the Newars and Sherpas.
Due to the high vitamin content, lactic acid bacteria, and yeast available in Chhyang, Newar farmers drink it during harvest seasons with the belief that it provides nutrition and strength needed at their farms. The Newars call Chhyang “Thon” in their dialect and some people call it “Jaand”.
In the Sherpa community, Chhyang is in fact considered a blessing of God. According to mythological stories, Chhyang was first used by Guru Rinpoche aka Padmasambhava. When Tibetans were building the Sammaa Monastery, many recurring problems and harassment disturbed the construction. Padmasambhava came to their rescue and sprinkled Chhyang drops on the monastery, after which the construction was successful. Since then Chhyang is regarded as a blessing of God among the Sherpas.
In the earlier days, when rice grains were boiled as an initial preparation process of Chhyang, people avoided outsiders visiting their houses. They believed that outsiders’ evil eyes could contaminate the preparation. Chilly powder or burning charcoal were kept next to drying rice to cast off any evil eyes from spreading across the grains and spoiling the drink. This orthodox culture was usually seen in Sherpas.
Chhyang is also popularly known as Yeti’s favorite drink because it is believed that Yeti, i.e. Himalayan Snowmen used to raid isolated villages to drink it.
There are three varieties of Chhyang; White, Red, and Brown but most people only know about the white Chhyang which is cloudy in texture and mild in taste. The Red Chhyang is also known as ‘Hyaunthon’ and given the expensive price is not preferred as much as the White even though it is milder in taste. The thick Brown Chhyang is known as ‘Karthon’ and tastes similar to cider and is also less popular compared to the white one.
Tongba is quite a different drink due to the way it’s made. It is made of fermented millet grains. The millet is cooked, cooled, and mixed with yeasts called ‘murcha’ and within a few days, the stored mixture ferments. The fermented mixture is stored dry so that it can be easily carried anywhere.
When preparing Tongba, the dry mixture is put inside a wooden or metal vessel called ‘Tongba’ and that’s how the drink got its name. Boiled water is added to it, almost filling the Tongba container, and is left to brew. Within a few minutes, the drink is ready! The fact that you can make Tongba yourself makes it a ‘brew-it-yourself’ drink.
Tongba, the combination of hot water and fermented millet is believed to heat up the body quickly and is drunk during the winter times in the mountain and hilly regions of Nepal. This drink is mostly famous among communities from mid-hills like Rais, Sherpas, Limbus, Magars, etc.
Tongba is pronounced ‘TUM-BAA’ and is drunk with the help of straw and not sipped unlike other drinks. The straw also acts as a filter since the drink is a combination of granules and water.
Taadi, also popularly known as Palm Wine or Toddy in English, is drunk mostly in the Terai, Southern Nepal. This alcoholic drink is made using the sap of various species of palm trees like palmyra, coconut palms, date palms, etc. This white liquid is sweet in taste. Taadi without fermentation acts as a juice but when Taadi is fermented for a few days, the alcoholic content of the drink comes to 5 to 10%.
This famous drink of Terai is popular in many other Asian countries too.
Branded Drinks of Nepal
Apart from these local specialties, there are also popular drinks that are made in Nepal following International standards.
Marpha is a village in the Mustang district in the Upper Mountainous region of Nepal. Marpha has high production of fruits in their orchards, especially apples. The apples from these districts are used to manufacture brandy and these varieties of brandies are sold under the name ‘Marpha’.
While a wide variety of rum can be found all over the world, the Khukuri Rum from Nepal has an authentic touch to it. Manufactured by Nepal Distilleries Pvt. Ltd, Khukuri Rum is one of the staple drinks loved both by people of Nepal and abroad.
While Khukuri Rum is normally available in regular glass bottles, the rum packaged in Khukuri-shaped bottles is mainly popular amongst rum collectors. ‘Khukuri‘ is the national knife and emblem of Nepal representing the brave Nepali Gurkha soldiers who are globally famous for their courage on battlefields. In 1974, in order to represent Nepal aptly and cherish the coronation ceremony of Nepali King, Late King Bir Bikram Birendra Shah Dev, the Khukuri brand rum was packaged in Khukri shaped bottles was launched and named the “Coronation Rum”.
These Khukuri rums are often purchased by people as valuable souvenirs from Nepal. The brand also won Gold at the prestigious London Spirits Competition 2020.
Wine & Wine Culture
As the disposable income of people from Nepal is getting better, wine is quickly gaining its popularity in Nepal. Various local wine manufacturers like the Big Master Wine, Hinwa and vineyards like Pataleban Vineyard are trying to promote Nepal-made wines across the country.
People who have explored life outside of Nepal and bring back a good knowledge of wines also consume international wines here in Nepal.
Local Nepali Beers
Beer has to be one of the most loved drinks all over the world and Nepal is one of those countries which houses a large variety of beers exclusively brewed in Nepal.
Star Beer, the first beer of Nepal was produced by Nepal Breweries Nepal Pvt. Ltd., adapting the German technology in 1972. Since then wide varieties of Made-in-Nepal beers like Gorkha, Nepal Ice, Everest, Khumbu Kolsch Sherpa Craft, Arna, Barahsinghe Nepali Beer, Mountain Ice, etc. have come into the scene.
Beer lovers visiting Nepal love drinking Nepali beers and it is fully recommended to do so.
Not just beers, but drink enthusiasts should savor Nepali (non) alcoholic drinks too to experience the unique Nepali culture and heritage fully.
Featured Photo of Tamang Women at Changunarayan Village brewing Raksi. by Nikki Thapa