*A big thanks to the Nepal Tourism Board, the Impact Travel Alliance and the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) for assisting with my trip! Wondering where to eat in Kathmandu and what conscious Nepali food experiences exist in the city? Read on. On May 27 at approximately 3:23pm, I had my first momo. I was in search of the best Nepali food in Thamel and found myself sitting on the patio of Thamel Cave Kitchen with some other bloggers, who were all talking about their love of this South Asian dumpling. “I’ve never heard of momos,” I told the group, who immediately went silent and looked at me in horror before springing into action, grabbing menus and ordering every type of momo possible in an effort to remedy the situation. There were steamed chicken momos. Fried buffalo momos. Steamed spicy buffalo momos. Mixed vegetable momos. Tandoori momos. Excitedly, I stabbed my fork into these plump snacks, dipping them in peanut sauces, chili sauces, and sour sauces. Not only does this afternoon meal introduce me to a delicious dish, but it whets my appetite to dive deeper into Kathmandu culinary culture, momos and more.
The temple itself is interesting, too, featuring epitaphs written in a special language only known to those who created them. Seto Machindranath is worshipped by both Hindus and Buddhists as the god of rain and prosperous harvest.
On the temple facade, intricate carvings and prayer wheels add to the peace of the place.
Afterward, we continue the spiritual stroll around the nearby Shree Gha Stupa, sitting to enjoy a hot lemon tea — lemon in hot water with sugar — before moving on to our next food stop.
Here is why you *should* feed the pigeons in #Kathmandu. Hint: It's not the reason you think! #VisitNepal
VideoBefore reading this tasty Nepal travel guide… Watch the video above! You’ll join me for a Kathmandu cooking class as well as a Nepali breakfast food tour. Bonus: See some incredible views from my Mohare Danda Trek through the Annapurna Himalayas. Then continue reading the post. Warning: Hunger may ensue! What are your favorite foods to eat in #Nepal? Don't miss these dishes + culinary experiences in #Kathmandu!
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Coffee In KathmanduAfter gorging on momos, I take a break from eating to caffeinate at kar.ma coffee @ HUB a conscious cafe nearby. Here they serve cup-to-crop coffee made with 100% organic Arabica beans sourced directly from small cooperatives in Nepal. Not only is the coffee delicious, but the whole shop is focused on sustainability, from selling wooden housewares crafted by Nepali women to constructing furniture from local non-yielding mango trees to using all-natural plates made from leaves. It’s beautifully-decorated, as well, making me linger and gaze longer at every Instagram-worthy detail. That’s when I notice a flyer promoting a pay-what-you-wish Kathmandu cooking class. Apparently, along with selling coffee, the cafe also has a service known as Social Tours, a company offering truly local experiences. Sipping my affogato, I decide to sign up and dive deeper into Nepali snacks and what to eat in Kathmandu.
A Delicious Kathmandu Cooking ClassWhen I arrive to the cooking class, Raj, one of the founders of Social Tours, greets me with a smile. He has the class sit around a low table as he shares more about what we’ll be doing for the next three hours. The group has a choice between three typical Nepali foods:
- Dal bhat. Known as the national dish of Nepal, this features steamed rice, a side of vegetables and a side of lentil soup (dal).
- Paratha. I’ve actually had Paratha in Delhi and loved these layered flatbreads that are baked and then shallowly fried before being filled with anything from potato to cheese and beyond.
- Momos. Our group unanimously voted to make these Asian dumplings, with one version being stuffed with mixed vegetables and another version including chicken.
Nepali Momo Recipe: How To Make Momos In KathmanduThe Kathmandu cooking class begins with a trip to a local market to gather our ingredients. Despite the class being pay-what-you-wish, our instructors Sakuntala and Asmita purchase the groceries. First, we head to the meat shop to get some chicken, followed by a visit to a small store to get our produce and spices. There is even a special Momo Masala that is specifically for momos. Ingredients in hand, we head back to the cafe to begin cooking. At this point in my trip to Nepal, I haven’t eaten meat in 11 days, and I’ve decided to see how long I can go. I leave the chicken for some of the other participants and grab a knife to begin chopping produce for the veggie momos. The mixed vegetable Nepali momo recipe goes like this: As we’re making the flour from scratch, including some momos made with regular flour and other momos made with buckwheat, a few people begin mixing and kneading the dough. Others begin chopping cabbage, mincing red and green onion, mincing ginger and garlic, and grating carrot. These ingredients are added into a mixing bowl, where salt is also sprinkled on top. Those making the chicken momos also chop and add raw chicken. Next, it’s time to add the mixture to the flour, which a few of us have rolled into balls before pin-rolling them into small flat circles. Cupping the circular dough discs on our hands, we plop a teaspoon of the momo mixture inside, gently pinching the inside shut. From there it’s a finger dance, pinch-twist-pinch-twist-pinch-twist, until the momo is completely closed and curved into a crescent shape. The raw momos are then cooked in a steamer, the vegetarian momos for 15 minutes and the chicken momos for 20 minutes. When ready, our instructors bring the momos over with two dipping sauces. One is a spicy peanut sauce, and the other is a tomato sauce laced with cumin, coriander, chili powder, garlic ginger, sal, and fenugreek. As stated above, Nepalis don’t mess around when it comes to momo dipping sauces! I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve helped to make these momos myself, but they are the best I’ve had in Nepal. Within 20 minutes, I’ve gobbled down 10 momos — that’s not counting a special Snickers-filled momo our instructors made us as a surprise dessert. The sky really is the limit when it comes to getting creative with momos. What is your favorite type of #momo in #Nepal? @jessonajourney loves spicy buff, chicken, veg, and Snickers! Yes, you read that right.
A Nepali Food Tour In KathmanduMy exploration of Kathmandu doesn’t stop here, though. Next up: A Kathmandu Breakfast Tour with Backstreet Academy. A quick note on Backstreet Academy: They are a socially conscious tour company connecting travelers with locals around Asia who have special skills and knowledge. By booking an experience, you are empowering locals with your dollars while also having a truly meaningful local experience. You can click here to browse their positive impact experiences around the world, from fishing to cooking to crafting and beyond. While I absolutely love momos, this Kathmandu food walk is focused on taking visitors beyond dumplings and dal baht to try local Nepali food they’ve never heard of. For this experience, the group meets early at 7am. I’ve only had time for a quick coffee at my hotel, though the energy of the streets waking up helps to fuel me. While Backstreet Academy’s Secret Food Tour is an afternoon food walk focused on local dishes, the breakfast tour focuses on unique breakfast foods, savored while exploring Kathmandu as it wakes up. Led by our guides Kanti and Sandeep, our group walks down quiet streets, where milkmen on bikes sell fresh dairy and locals do their morning shopping. Outside local homes sit offerings of flowers, cookies, dried rice, beans, carrot, and broken plates for the Rato Machhindranath Jatra Festival, one of the most important festivals for Nepal’s Newar people. The festival, which is dedicated to Kathmandu Valley’s rain god, is currently going on as it’s just before monsoon season.
Where To Eat In Kathmandu: Discovering Hidden SpotsWe wander past shops selling tea, pottery, singing bowls, and soaps until finally, our guides lead us into a courtyard with homes and a temple dating back to the 12th century. It’s one of the oldest courtyards in the country, with truly gorgeous facades showcasing detailed parapet walls in bright blues and chocolate browns. Bending down, we walk through a slender tunnel with a low roof — which I soon learn is common in Kathmandu — and come into an even smaller courtyard where a blue-painted eatery with no sign sits. Three men sit on cushions outside sipping tea, while a local woman, Sarina, seems to spin in circles in her small kitchen, boiling, frying, and mixing ingredients. We’re served strong black tea from boiled tea leaves and, soon after, small plates of potato (aloo) and semolina (suji) are placed in front of us. The potatoes are boiled and laced with spices before being fried, while the semolina is laced with sugar for a sweet touch. While semolina is a popular ingredient all over the world, different cultures use it in unique ways. In Nepal, semolina is used to make savory foods as well as desserts. There are so many good restaurants in Kathmandu, and this eatery is proof.
Strolling The Morning Market In KathmanduOnce we finish, we’re off to the morning Asan Market, which is only open from 5am to 8am. “Many guests struggle with the early meeting time,” says Sandeep. “But once they see the market they’re glad they came.” The market is chaotic, though the colors, scents, and sounds make me want to stop and linger. Each time I do, I get swallowed by the chaos, but I’m entranced by the sacks brimming with spices, piles of black and pink Himalayan salt, hooks dangling pots, pans, and housewares. Colorful garments hang loosely from shop doorways, locals race by in rainbow-colored rickshaws, and women sit on the ground stringing orange flowers together for spiritual purposes. A dog sleeps on the red steps of a temple. Most tourists never get to see this incredible morning market in #Kathmandu. Here is how you can explore it like a local on your visit to #Nepal!
Discovering Street Food In KathmanduSuddenly, our guides direct us through a seemingly hidden door, and the market chaos immediately goes quiet. Peace. We walk down an alley toward a cart stacked with a circular fried rice bread known as sel roti. The man has a friendly smile, and he grabs a stack of newspaper and lays it down along a long cement ledge for us to sit. He uses the rest of the newspaper to wrap our roti, which he hands to us with a glass of milk tea. “Ouch!” I shout instinctively, the hot liquid burning my fingers. Sandeep smiles, showing me the correct way to hold the glass; fingertips gently pressing the lip of the glass and on the bottom, as shown in the above photo.
A Spiritual Stop At The Akash Bhairav TempleWith more carbs in our belly, we take a break from food for a cultural stop: The Akash Bhairav Temple. Akash Bhairav, “God of the Sky”, is a Hindu deity. We each take a small butter lamp from a local outside the temple, take off our shoes and walk inside, bending over to light the lamp against others on the floor. Walking clockwise, we stop in front of the statue of Akash Bhairav, where a man takes the candle, touches it to the statue, and hands it back, allowing each person to become more connected to the god. We continue walking clockwise and place the lamp back down. Outside local men come up to us incessantly, asking us to buy everything from mini chess boards to flutes. They promise us a good price, but I can’t close my suitcase as it is. I smile and shake my head. “No thank you.” There is more food to eat.
Why You Should Feed The Pigeons, TooBut first: Pigeons. No, not to eat, but to feed and chase. In the square, around the 10th century Seto Machindranath Temple, you’ll find hundreds of pigeons, attracted by the feed thrown to them by locals and visitors, which is sold in shops right in the square. The strategy here, which can be somewhat controversial, is to get hundreds of pigeons into one place and then run into them, getting them to scatter. When they fly away, the energy from their wings is supposed to transfer to the people underneath. “In Nepal, there is a big focus on nature,” explains Frankey. “Communities feed the street dogs and in return the dogs bark to warn us about strangers. We feed the pigeons to share their energy. ‘Nature culture’ is in every civilization in some way or another. It’s the oldest religion in the world.” Here is a quick video clip of the pigeon-feeding experience:
Nepal’s Delicious Bread & Curry CultureAt the next food stop, a woman stands in a street-facing window stirring a pot. A plate of unleavened deep-fried puri bread sits in the window. Behind her is another woman with a soft smile holding a sleeping baby, and a young girl of about six stands near her. I can see a garden out the backdoor. Our group crams inside the small eatery, though once seated it feels more cozy than confined. The woman has a huge grin as she passes around various breads for dipping into a spicy dal (chickpea) curry. We’re told this eatery is known for its soups and curries, and after just one bite I can definitely see why.
Is The Best Nepali Food Sweet?Nearby, we once again duck into a hidden alley and are taken to our final stop: Shree Kumari, a bakery that has been in the same family for three generations and is 100 years old. This is where we satisfy that sweet tooth with what I would describe as the Nepalese version of funnel cake. The snack contains three pieces:
- Jeri (or Jalebi). A deep-fried web-shaped cake dipped in sweet syrup. It is the color of the sugar that’s cooked in for a long time that gives it a yellowish color.
- Swari. A soft fried flatbread that is used as a tasty vessel to transport the jeri and haluwa to your mouth.
- Haluwa. A sugar-laced semolina with a soft cookie dough consistency.
Why I Love Nepali FoodWhat I love about exploring a place through food is that it’s an enriching experience in more ways than one. You can satisfy your hunger and ignite your taste buds while also learning about a culture. Every single chef who makes your food, each dish placed in front of you and every ingredient in that dish has a story and can give you deeper insight into the place you’re visiting. Through the above Kathmandu experiences, you will gain a deeper understanding of Nepal culture. And just in case you haven’t watched my Nepali food video yet:
When it comes to where to eat in Kathmandu, what are your top spots?
Do you have a favorite Nepali food tour or cooking class, too?
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