Nepal’s beauty doesn’t end with its scenic landscape. embarks on a culinary trail in the region to discover local delicacies and some of the tastiest meals ever. By Ruth Dsouza Prabhu
The idea to head to Nepal on a family vacation struck us on a random work day in February 2022. The idea gathered steam quickly and within 48 hours, all our bookings were done.
Love in first bite
Armed with a heavily researched list of 15 restaurants and 30 local dishes, we landed in Kathmandu in April. The first morning, before traffic clogged up the streets, we walked to Café Mitra. We ordered breakfast platters of eggs benedict, avocado toast, and the house special eggs. It was here that I had my first taste of Nepal—chiya—a milk tea spiced with cardamom, ginger, pepper, and cinnamon.
Strong on the palate but for a tea lover like me, a perfect start to the day. We then headed northeast of Kathmandu to Boudhanath Stupa. A large part of Nepal’s food culture is Tibetan, with some Chinese influences. With only a small board on the sidewalk to announce its presence, we stepped into Aama Canteen, whose portly Tibetan owner was pleased to see us. She suggested laphing, cold flat noodles made of potato or wheat starch and rolled with a chili paste. She adjusts the spice as per your tolerance levels but fair warning, her interpretation of medium-spicy can hit you like throwing an accelerant on fire.
Later that night, with the spice from the laphing still setting random fires across our digestive tracts, we ventured into Avocado Café, in Thamel. It was Nepali New Year’s eve and everyone was in a festive mood. We ordered sukuti sadeko (dried meat of buffalo, yak, or ostrich with salad) and paired it along with some local craft beer from Barasinghe and Sherpa Brewery.
The next day, we headed to Patan Durbar Square. We walked to Nandini Food Court, a small space run by two sisters. The food served here is from the Newa community. As we pulled cane stools around one of the only two knee-high tables, I surveyed the many tarkari (vegetable side dishes) set out on the counter. Potatoes, beans, varied tubers, saag (seasonal greens) and achaar (pickles or chutneys) were laid out. When assembled on a plate, these become a samaj baji (Newa for a set meal) with either chiura (beaten rice) or rice with dal.
But that meal was for another day. We wanted something sweet. The yomari is a palm-sized steamed rice dumpling available with two kinds of fillings— khuwa (evaporated milk solids) or chaku (jaggery). Biting through the thick casing of our khuwa yomari, the filling tasted like sweet, slightly pasty crumbles of milk powder. Next, we asked for the savoury bara, also called wo. This black gram lentil pancake snack has evolved to include eggs, vegetables and even minced meat toppings. Our egg bara paired well with the local version of masala lemon goli soda.
Next on my list was a dish I was determined not to leave Nepal without trying—sapo micha, a Newa speciality—buffalo tripe stuffed with bone marrow, tied into little pouches and deep-fried. The result is a dark brown bite-sized bundle that is crisp as a fried wonton on the outside giving way to moist, greasy bone marrow on the inside.
While researching Patan, I came across Raithaane – a restaurant by three food-loving friends that showcases ethnic cuisine and local ingredients of the many Nepali communities. I got in touch with Prashanta Khanale, co-owner and author of the cookbook Timmur: Stories and Flavours from Nepal, which showcases the culinary heritage of 11 Nepali communities, and he graciously joined us for lunch.
We started our meal with some Uwa Raksi – alcohol distilled from Naked Barley. The drink gets its golden hue from sandalwood and its tree bark. Had at room temperature, it packs a solid punch with each sip, much like a good quality sake. Prashanta suggested we have the Batuk, a fried snack made of black lentils. It is served with Chukauni, a potato, yoghurt and mustard salad from Western Nepal. The Batuk, made for weddings and the Makar Sankranti festival, has a grainy texture with the salad adding a great layer of flavour. We also had some local sticky rice with duck curry, a classic from the Tharu community.
Next, we tried the pan-roasted black pig. This pig is an indigenous variety and not too fatty. However, they are not easy to come by and the version we ate was a hybrid of the black and a local variety. The tomato chutney it came with had a touch of crushed Siltimmur – a whole black pepper with the unexpected flavour of citrus, something we spoke about for days.
The highlight of our meal here was the Chamre and Yangben Faksa – rice, slow-cooked in roasted and pressed mustard oil, with pork and a wild lichen curry. Lichen is a cultural identity of the Limbus and few outside the community know how to cook it. The Lichen is earthy, mildly smoky and melds beautifully with the flavours of the pork and rice.
The next day, while driving through Bhaktapur, I crossed out juju dhau or King curd on my list. This speciality of Bhaktapur is made with buffalo milk. The curd is thick, creamy and leaves a strong after-taste of fresh milk in the mouth.
On our last day in Kathmandu, we dined at Thamel House. The samaj baji set here came with black dal and wild boar choila tossed with roasted bell peppers. What tied this meal together was aila—fermented rice alcohol and two shots of this can result in a happy afternoon. And because we wanted to tick the last must-have on my list we ordered some jhol momos, meat-stuffed momos submerged in a fiery red gravy.
We ended our food trip by bringing back with us souvenirs of many versions of lapsi (pickled and preserved Nepali hogplum), siltimmur, churpi (hard blocks of yak milk cheese), some aila and sukuti. I also brought back varieties of Nepali tea and already charting out our next trip.
Getting to Nepal
Nepal Airlines operates direct flights to Kathmandu from Bengaluru, New Delhi, and Mumbai.
Where to eat
Head to Café Mitra in Kathmandu for a wholesome breakfast. Meal for two costs INR 800.
Nandini Food Court in Lalitpur serves local Newari cuisine. Meal for two costs INR 330.
Thamel House in Kathmandu is perfect to experience Nepali hospitality. Meal for two costs INR 1,200.
Visit Raithaane in Lalitpur for ethnic cuisine of the many Nepali communities. Meal for two costs INR 1,800
Related: Explore Lo Manthang–Nepal’s Ancient Walled City In Upper Mustang