First of all, a disclaimer. What follows next is totally based on my own taste buds.
As one person who loves to eat, I wouldn’t rank Nepal as a foodie destination. It sits alongside Myanmar. By that, I mean I would be hard-pressed to be excited with the food as much as with the destination. When I’m heading to Thailand, for example, I can’t wait to get my taste buds going with its curries, sticky rice, and barbecued pork. China? Then its Peking Duck. Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and so forth. The Philippines? Is there something to be excited about? Are travelets excited to have some lechon and adobo? Well, whenever I fly back home from my travels, I’m excited to have sinigang and lechon kawali.
Back to Nepali cuisine What can excite me? Momo? It’s cheap and delicious but it’s not something I would dream about.
That being said, Nepali cuisine IS NOT BAD. By that I mean it’s not yucky, tasteless, nor inedible. Many of the food I’ve eaten is actually delicious and best of all, come in sizeable servings. My problem (and it’s really mine and not the cuisine’s) I’m just not excited about it.
Here’s my run down on what I’ve eaten in Kathmandu, Pokhara, and Bhakatapur where I stayed.
It’s just fitting I start with the icon of Nepali cuisine, momo which has its origins in Tibet. These dumplings encased in a thick flour wrapper come in vegetable, pork, chicken, buff, and some modern twists like potato and cheese and are served either steamed, pan fried, and deep fried.
Other restos like my favorite, Gilingche Tibetan Restaurant in Thamel, has versions such as sizzling with mushroom gravy and stir-fried in chili paste.
Though the basic momo seems to taste the same wherever you have it, what would set one stall or restaurant apart from the others would be the sauce it comes with. I like Gilingche’s sweetish curry-like sauce. Momo is cheap, filling, delicious, and widely available. Be warned, a serving consists of 10 pieces. Unless you have a big appetite like mine, consider sharing.
I think anything can be made into fritters— paneer (local cheese), potatoes, chicken, buff, eggs, and of course, vegetables. Good with chowmein or thukpa.
Nepalese noodle soup with a thick broth. Perfect for winter time. You can have it with vegetables, pork, chicken, buff, egg, or mixed. I like pairing my thukpa with some momo. The best thukpa I had was at All in One Cafe at Pokhara. This unassuming small family-run cafe has delicious hearty food.
This thin rice porridge is perfect for when you want something more filling than a thukpa. It’s like a soup with rice and toppings of your choice such as chicken, pork, buff, vegetables, and egg.
When you order fried rice it’s because: a) you’re confused with the menu, b) you want something reliable, c) you really like fried rice.
It depends on where you have it because I’ve had really uninspired ones at the pricier than usual restaurants at Bhaktapur such as Cafe de Peacock and Cafe Nyatapola whose only saving grace is the view of the squares where they’re at.
The best is Gilingche’s cruncy fried rice. Cruncy rice noodles are mixed with the rice which gives it an exciting texture. The rice is very well-flavored, almost like a biryani.
You’ll never go wrong with fried rice in Nepal no matter how ordinary it is made as the rice is very good quality–long grain and firm. I noticed that tomato catsup and chili sauce is served as a condiment. At Gilingche, the same dipping sauce for the momo is likewise served with the fried rice.
Obviously Chinese, just like fried rice, fried noodles is an old standby in any Asian country. Noodles are stir-fried with whatever you chose to put in it–vegetables, pork, chicken, egg, or mixed.
I only saw these at Pokhara. Chicken, buff, and pork are marinated and grilled in skewers. They have salty curry taste which I really really love. Pork is my favorite. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it. By Fewa Lake, grilled pork is NR 100. Along the tourist drag, it’s NR 200-300. At restos, it’s NR 300 and up.
If you’re really hungry or have a big appetite, then the set meals called khali or thali are the best value. You can choose between vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. You’re given a large round steel plate with little dishes around it and rice at the center. All of that is refillable! There are Nepalise, Indian, and Newari sets.
Nepali Kaja Set
Similar to an Indian thali, there’s dahl, vegetables, curry of your choice, rice, and curd. The best thing about it is that everything is refillable! Yup! Just simply ask for whatever you want refilled. Actually, even before you ask for it, there’ll be someone asking you if you want more.
You can’t go wrong on this one but the best thali is that of Thamel House Kitchen. Yes, at NR 1,100 for (net) it’s more than what you pay for at other places. On the other hand, Cafe Nyatapola’s set costs NR 990 (no taxes yet) and has much less included. Thamel House comes with dahl, chickpea salad, fried potatoes, and momo as appetizers; stewed mutton, stir-fried chicken in chili, stir-fried wild boar, spinach, vegetable curry, and rice as main course; and curd as dessert. I liked it so much, I had the set both Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Newar Kali Set
The Newar are the original inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley. They have a distinct language and culture with its brick architecture most apparent to visitors. The vegetarian Newari set I had at Temple View Restaurant at the Bhaktapur Durbar Square had peanuts, chickpeas, potatoes, pickled vegetables, beaten rice (baji) and a thick pancake called bara with a crisp outer layer.
It was the beaten rice that surprised as it was the first time I had it as a rice substitute. Called pinipig back home, I’ve always had it as a topping for halo halo or as sticky rice like suman and biko.
How about breakfast?
I never booked an in-house breakfast in any of my accomodations. I figured, they’re already deriving income from my stay so I should let others earn from my meals. Spread the financial windfall of tourism to others.
Traditional Nepali breakfast is dahl bat which is lentil soup with rice. Good and filling but I prefer mine with chapati. Speaking of all those flat Indian breads, they’re part of Nepali cuisine.
Continental breakfast is everywhere especially anything that has to do with eggs. Don’t go looking for Eggs Benedict though unless you’re in an upscale place.
For something different in your omelet, try a masala omelet. It’s got some tomatoes and onions and flavored with masala spice.
There are many Western-type bakeries/cafes such as Pumpernickle in Thamel with cinnamon rolls, croissants, puffs, and other breads.
Nepalese snacks and sweets are also good and cheap. Many seem to have Indian origins such as samosas and the sweets. I didn’t try much of these as they mostly displayed along the road by street stalls and I’ve seen one too many flies on them. Some itinerant vendors, however, have small glass display cases.
Do know that, it will be handed to you wrapped in a newspaper.
Get it newly fried and it’s heavenly. Particularly good when eaten with a dahl like soup for breakfast just as I did at a tea shop at the Nagarkot viewpoint before hiking to Changu Narayan.
This fried dough with its beautiful round design is crispy and sweet. Really sweet.
Not just in India but in Myanmar and Nepal too. From street corners to restaurants, samosas are everywhere. Unlike its Indian counterpart though, it comes with a chili sauce rather than the sweetish tamarind sauce.
Meat pie fried to a crisp. I didn’t really enjoy this because it’s all air inside and the filling (I ordered pork) was pure meat, no vegetables, not even onions and carrots, which you would find in most meat pies in other cultures.
You’ll see these pies half-fried at street stalls looking flat. Order one and they’ll fry it until it puffs a bit.
There are curds and there’s king curd, a Bhaktapur specialty. Unlike ordinary curds, this one is thicker and richer and mixed with honey. When in Bhaktapur, just look for this sign in front of non-descript shops with chest freezers:
Best to buy them from the king curd stores as they’re only NR 35 compared to NR 150 at restaurants.
They’re cheap, filling, and delicious. From Western sandwhiches to shawarmas to kati rolls.
Finally, if you see these in a counter where you pay at a restaurant, do have some. According to the cashier at a restaurant in Pokhara, they’re mouth deodorants!
1. It takes 20-30 minutes for food and even drink orders to arrive; more so if the place is quite packed. So time your hunger pangs. If in a group, the same orders would get faster delivery time than if you would have different orders each.
2. Servings are plentiful.
3. In Pokhara and Bhaktapur, 10% service charge plus 13% VAT are added to your bill. In Thamel, most of the places I ate at seem to have it included it in the price.