Nepal, a country popular with western climbers and backpackers, has many restaurants catering to western taste buds. But visitors looking for traditional Nepalese fare will not be disappointed with dishes like gacok, momos, and Nepali curries. From restaurants in the bustling capital Kathmandu, to lakeside eateries in Pokhara, the Himalayan nation offers visitors a tantalizing range of local and international fare.
For a taste of traditional Nepalese and Tibetan cuisine in one of the country’s pioneering culinary establishments, look no further than Utse, an authentically decorated restaurant located in Kathmandu’s central Thamel district. Utse opened over 30 years ago and helped establish Thamel as a cultural hub for visitors to the city. Since then, it has expanded into an accompanying 52-room hotel. A group of experienced and faithful chefs have run the kitchen since the restaurant’s opening, cooking up delicacies like Utse’s specialty gacok, a hot pot-style dish made from a mix of meat, vegetables, mushrooms and noodles kept piping hot by lit charcoal. The Nepalese delicacy momos, dumplings stuffed with meat or vegetables and a mix of spices, are also popular with visitors, washed down with the Tibetan drink tongba, a hot millet-based alcoholic drink.
El Mediterraneo is a charming, Spanish-themed restaurant lovingly run by owner Bibhushan Raj Joshi, and known in the Kathmandu Valley region for it delicious Mediterranean cuisine. The kitchen serves a wide array of authentic Spanish dishes including the classics, like gazpacho and paellas, as well as lesser-known delicacies like chicken with pisto (a Spanish stew of onions, garlic, peppers, tomato, aubergine and courgette) and natillas, a Spanish custard dessert jazzed up with vanilla and cinnamon, alongside a number of fusion dishes adapted specifically to Nepalese taste buds, like the calamari stuffed with spinach, paneer, raisins and rice. The restaurant’s homely yet classic design evokes a relaxing Mediterranean atmosphere, while the friendly staff present fresh, imaginative dishes sure to satisfy Lalitpur’s locals and visitors alike.
Within the grounds of Dwarika’s Hotel is Krishnarpan, a restaurant serving upmarket Nepalese cuisine modeled on the ‘slow dining’ experience, where all ingredients are grown on Dwarika’s very own organic farms. The hotel and restaurant decor draws its influence from a traditional Newari style, while the hotel, which recently won the PATA (Pacific Asia Travel Association) Heritage Award, is home to a large collection of 13th century Nepalese artifacts. The traditional dining experience features low-seated tables where guests take off their shoes and sit on cushions to dine. Meals ranging from six to 22 courses are available, giving diners a chance to experience a wide variety of local food, including bandel tareko, a dish of grilled wild boar and spices, and kukhura ko masu, a Nepalese take on a chicken curry – all perfectly complimented by a glass of rakshi, a rice-based liquor.
Literally meaning ‘house of food’, the huge Bhojan Griha building dates back over 150 years and was once home to the royal priest to the King of Nepal. The four-story building took six years to restore back to its former glory, with all renovations done by locals using traditional building methods. Bhojan Griha’s large dining hall, Putali Baithak, seats over 250 guests and often hosts cultural shows with traditional Nepalese music and dancing. An architectural allusion to the style of Rana palaces, Putali Baithak serves authentic Newari dishes using local, organic produce. Although the exotic menu features many tasty dishes, a particularly intriguing combination includes the jhaneko mas ko dalwith sada bhuja (split black lentils spiced with jimmu and served with steamed white rice), and sikarni, a Nepalese dessert made with yogurt, nuts and sweet spices.
Le Sherpa prides itself on being ‘a European kitchen with Sherpa hospitality’. A beguiling gem of a restaurant set in a picturesque courtyard and gardens, the restaurant is far detached from the hustle and bustle of busy Kathmandu. The simple and modern décor of Le Sherpa’s intimate dining space is complemented by an outdoor seating area, covered by a high ceiling and draped in twinkling lights. Le Sherpa aims to set a high standard of dining in Nepal and sources its ingredients from sustainable local producers. The contemporary European menu features delights such as homemade braised rabbit ravioli with wilted rocket and Parmesan, or slow-roasted pork belly with mustard mash and a red wine sauce.
Le Sherpa, Ramalaya, Pani Pokhara, Kathmandu, Nepal +977-1-4006589
Saigon Pho, situated centrally in Kathmandu, across from the famous Shangri-La Hotel, boasts the title of being the one and only Vietnamese restaurant in the Nepalese capital. The simple restaurant is set over two floors and features a delightful terrace where diners can take in the gorgeous view over Lazimpat. Saigon Pho is decorated in a distinctly Vietnamese style with dark wooden furniture, bamboo mats and paintings depicting the country’s culture and traditions. The menu, prepared by Vietnamese chefs, offers an insight into the country’s cuisine, bursting with fresh flavors such as lemongrass, mint, basil and coriander. Among the more popular items on the menu are pho (Vietnamese noodle dishes) as well as more adventurous options like green watermelon salad with shrimp and stir-fried beef with celery, tomato and cucumber.
The light and airy atmosphere of Café Soma, combined with its wooden floors and the huge, full bookshelves lining its walls, lends the space a bohemian, European feel. Café Soma, which was refurbished in October 2013, offers a calm, quiet getaway from Kathmandu’s busy streets. Serving European deli-style fare with a Nepali twist, the kitchen concocts a range of soups, salads, sandwiches and burgers and serves them with a cup of chiya, a traditional Nepali spiced tea similar to the Indian chai. The café also regularly exhibits the work of local artists on its premises. Recent shows have included Freezing Moments, a collection of portraits by Nepalese photographer Ravin Man Bajracharya, and a show of works by members of photo.circle, an online platform promoting new photography in Nepal.
A family business run by two Pokhara-based brothers, Bishow and Visma Raj Paudel, Chilly Bar and Restaurant opened in 2009 on the Phewa Tal lakeside. The restaurant serves a rich mix of western, Chinese and Indian food, including burgers, salads, soups and pastas, alongside traditional Nepali fare, like bhatmas sandeko (spicy fried soya beans), paneer butter masala and Phewa Tal ko machha, a local specialty prepared with lake-caught fish. The three-story building comprises ground floor indoor dining, a first-floor bar and a beautiful rooftop garden dining area. Chilly’s ideal location on the lakeside of Pokhara, a popular base for climbers exploring the Annapurna range, offers spectacular views of the Himalayas. On a clear day, guests can catch a glimpse of the sacred Annapurna range peak, Machapuchare, meaning ‘fishtail peak’.
Places, or ‘Thau’ as it is locally known, serves up organic vegetarian food from its cosy restaurant space on the quiet Seven Corners side street. A joint venture between three friends, Pradip, Sanjay and Michael, who share a passion for healthy, nutritious fare, Places’ varied menu draws influences from across the globe, including dishes inspired by Nepalese, Middle Eastern and European recipes. Guests can choose from a range of items including biber dolmasi, a Turkish dish of stuffed peppers, spinach pie with sautéed vegetables and Hollandaise sauce, or the locally inspired cupcakes made with karela, a bitter squash and vegetable commonly used in Nepali cuisine. The restaurant, popular with both locals and visitors to Kathmandu, offers a pleasant, laid-back atmosphere, complete with rooftop hammocks where guests can relax and take in the surrounding sights.