Nepal

Eating in Nepal

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.

Momo 

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.  

Momo at The Kathmandu Kitchen

Momo at a restaurant in Pokhara

Momo at Gilingche Tibetan Restaurant

Momo from a street stall in Pokhara and placed in a bowl made of dried leaves used as take-away container

A street stall with a steamer is a sign that there”s momo

Other restos like my favorite, Gilingche Tibetan Restaurant in Thamel, has versions such as sizzling with mushroom gravy and stir-fried in chili paste. 

Sizzling momo at Gilingche Tibetan Restaurant

Chili momo at Gilingche Tibetan Restaurant

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.

Pakora

I think anything can be made into fritters— paneer (local cheese), potatoes, chicken, buff, eggs,  and of course, vegetables.  Good with chowmein or thukpa.

Egg pakora at Gilingche Tibetan Restaurant

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.

A hearty thukpa at All in One Cafe

Dethuk

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.

Dethuk at Gilingche Nepali Kitchen

Fried Rice

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.  

Buff fried rice at Cafe Nyatapola

 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.  

Crunchy vegetable fried rice at Gilingche Tibetan Restaurant. You can have it with chicken, pork, or buff.

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.

My first meal in Nepal was buff fried rice at Gilingche paired with buff momo

Chowmien

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.

Egg chowmien at The Kathmandu Kitchen

Grilled Meats

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.

Barbecue in Pokhara

Barbecued buff in a take-away container

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.  

Newari set at Temple View Restaurant

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.

Breakfast at Gravity Cafe facing Fewa Lake in Pokhara

For something different in your omelet, try a masala omelet.  It’s got some tomatoes and onions and flavored with masala spice.

Masala omelet and chapati at Serengi Vegetarian Restaurant in Thamel

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.

Various fried doughs such as “sel-roti” and the orange-colored “jeri.”

Why not buy at the market where Annapurna temple is and fry your own?

Do know that, it will be handed to you wrapped in a newspaper.

Bought this from a vendor at Pokhara. It’s rolled dough dipped in syrup.

This is like rolled chapati fried with egg and spread with a sweet salty jam. Tastes delicious. The one underneath is a “sel-roti.”

Sel-roti

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.

Sel-roti, samosa, and pakora at a tea shop at Nagarkot viewpoint

Jeri

This fried dough with its beautiful round design is crispy and sweet.  Really sweet.

Samosas

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.

Samosas for breakfast at Serengi Vegetarian Restaurant in Thamel

Shabaley

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.  

Shabaley at Gilingche Tibetan Restaurant

You’ll see these pies half-fried at street stalls looking flat.  Order one and they’ll fry it until it puffs a bit.  

King Curd

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:

They’re traditionally made and served in clay pots.

Best to buy them from the king curd stores as they’re only NR 35 compared to NR 150 at restaurants. 

Sandwhiches

They’re cheap, filling, and delicious.  From Western sandwhiches to shawarmas to kati rolls.  

Bacon sandwhich at Sandwhich Point in Thamel

Vegetarian burger at Maya Resto and Bar at Pokhara

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!

TIPS

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.

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The Streets of Kathmandu

The old section of Kathmandu was all that I dreamed it to be— narrow cobbled streets, old houses and buildings, beautiful architecture, ancient temples, and the bustle of people going about their everyday life.  Never mind about the incessant taxi or rickshaw drivers offering rides to nearby sights, shop owners asking you to come “look inside,” and the traffic at Thamel Marga.  Walking the streets of old Kathmandu is a destination in itself.

Buddhist prayer flags hanging across Thamel Marga

A wooden mask adorns the window of a shop fronting Hanuman Dokha Square

One of the many “chaitya” (stupa) you will chance on at corners in old Kathmandu

Rickshaws parked in front of a temple

Blankets and table covers for sale

Many buildings have narrow terraces in front

A monk at a street corner

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Dinner at Thamel House Restaurant or How I Turned From Backpacker to Flashpacker

No Christmas Eve  celebrations for me other than praying and wishing people at FB.  Normally, I would go out and have a good sumptuos dinner but since I was still full from the filling lunch I had at Thamel Kitchen, I decided to just have a Christmas Day dinner.  After being out the whole day in Pasupatinath, Boudhana, Bungmati, and Kokhana and skipping lunch due to tummy problems, I thought of trying out Thamel House Restaurant.  Trip Advisor reviews were positive, albeit mentioning it was a tad expensive.   However, what really got me was the nice wooden exterior that along with a signage promised of traditional Nepali and Newar meals.

Entered the restaurant and was promptly escorted by a waiter in Newari wear to a seat at a table.  Seeing the white tablecloth and the candles, I braced myself for the prices. 

Out came the menu printed on fancy paper with an even fancier script.  Momo for Rp 300?  Rice for Rp 175? Wildboar meat for Rp 450?  Seeing so many good stuff in the menu, I decided to just go with the non-vegetarian full course meal at Rp 1,100. Might as well indulge.  So I straightened my shirt, tucked my feet under the chair, and tried to look respectable when the waiter who was more smartly dressed than I am came around to take my order.

A few minutes later, the first appetizer appeared, a salad of tomatoes, onions, and cilantro with crunchy peppercorns served on a small brass plate.

Next came a small bowl of hearty dahl followed by a perfectly crunchy potato pakora and three pieces of buff momo served with a delicious semi-spicy sauce.  The appetizers came from small stainless steel bowls and served directly to my plate with a flourish as the name of each was announced. 

As soon as I was finished, the plate was removed and the waiter announced, “You’re ready for the main course.’  Aaahh.  I felt so …. high class! 

Out came a large brass plate and a small clay saucer upon which the waiter poured alchohol from a bottle anmouncing, “The local wine, rakso.” Again with a flourish.

Spoonfulls of pillowy basmati rice was served on my plate followed by a serving of mutton stewed in tomatoes, wildboat meat sauteed in onions, sauted vegetables, chicken with bell peppers, steamed spinach, and black beans.

I didn’t expect the food to be that plentiful.  I dug in and it was delicious!  The dishes all complemented each other.  I especially liked how the black beans which have been thickly pureed provided a counterpoint to the stir-fried meats.  It tasted like a Mexican mole.  I really really enjoyed it.  But the best part was yet to come.  Seeing my nearly empty plate, a waiter approached me and asked if I wanted some more! Of course!  Out came servings of everything again!  I was so happy.  You know that feeling your getting really good value for your money?  I was offered a 3rd serving but turned it down as I was so full already.

The table was cleared and I was served a cup of thick yogurt sweetened with cinnamon and sprinkled with nuts.  Delicious!  Capping the course was a choice of black tea or coffee.

This was my best meal in Thamel so far.  The wooden interiors were lovely and the waiters looked good in their Newari uniforms and were very attentive.  For just around Php 550 I had a fantastic gastronomic experience that satisfied my desire to taste Newari food and filled my tummy.  

After paying at the counter, as I turned to exit, the person manning it pointed to a bunch of small decorative masks and asked me to take one as a souvenir! Another surprise! What more could you ask for in a restaurant, especially one in a tourist ghetto that is Thamel.

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