Cuisine isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when most people think of Nepal, unless perhaps it’s yak meat on the mountain trails. Nepal is all about the outdoors—mountaineering, trekking, river rafting—where adventurers brave the elements on dried fruit and granola bars. But the country offers a tremendous variety of foods served in restaurants, bakeries and bars that cater to all visitors, especially in the capital, Kathmandu.
A trip to Kathmandu should include some time in the Thamel district in the city center. Aside from being next to cultural exhibits like the ancient Durbar Square, Thamel is the base for most visitors. It’s small maze of alleys with shops and hawkers offering trekking tours, winter gear, Tibetan carpets, DVDs, T shirts, trinkets, marijuana, foot massages and hotel rooms. This buzzing little ghetto has some great little places to eat, though an address or phone number won’t help you find most of them:
The Katmandu Guest House was the first hotel to open in the area, and is a good landmark for those negotiating Thamal’s tiny alleyways. The lodgings aren’t five-star, but its restaurant has a good combination of Nepalese, North Indian and Western fare, and the bar area can be lively. (977-1-413-632)
Taking a right out of the hotel front gate and then heading left at the first alley will bring you to the Pumpernickel Bakery on you right. Fresh baked muffins and pastries await you at sunrise, not to mention delicious breakfast and lunch plates complete with local-brewed coffees and fresh juices. One of my favorites is the cold tuna-fish sandwich on fresh whole wheat bread with yak cheese. The cheese is 50 cents extra, but why not live a little?
The Rum Doodle Restaurant and Bar is a short walk north of the Katmandu Guest House and a quick left turn down a dead end alley. This place is brimming with mountaineering history, including photos and autographs of Everest climbers including Sir Edmund Hillary written on fake paper footprints of Yeti (a.k.a. the Abominable Snowman). The two-story establishment has a wood-fired pizza oven, but go local and try baked chicken leg with local Nepali spices or stuffed creamed mushrooms. Don’t forget to have a drink at their “40,000½-foot bar” on your way out.
Once you get tired of the noise, congestion and hawkers in Thamel—and you will—catch a cab to Kathmandu’s southern outskirts. The serene hilltop suburb of Patan consists of upscale neighborhoods for Nepalese and expatriates, ancient temples and quaint art shops. Bicycle is a preferred mode of transportation through the narrow streets. The Summit Hotel has great views of Kathmandu and distant mountains. While you’re sitting on their outdoor patio, nibble on some appetizers like the feta cheese and olives, or the spicy fried potatoes. The hotel restaurant has a barbeque every Friday night that’s fantastic, even with the regular presence of noisy foreign aid workers who live nearby. (977-1-521-894)