FOOD TRAVELS: NEPAL (PART 1)

I demanded a holiday. Seeing Mount Everest was on my husband’s bucket list. Put the two together and you get destination NEPAL. That was the easy part. The question we needed to ask was – what is the best way to see Everest? It seems at a price you get to go up in a plan and see the mountain up close or you could trek. For a couch potato couple, walking to a height of 3440 meters to Namche Bazaar (25kms of walking from Lukla to Namche and then back the same distance) to get a glimpse of the majestic mountain was an absolutely stupid, spontaneous and compelling one – more of a self-challenge to myself and one that I was determined to achieve. Besides which, there was no way I was going to let my husband down.

No poetic words have been more apt than from Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken to summarize our decision –

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

I know, by now you must be thinking – isn’t this a food blog. Indeed it is!!!! And that is why, this blog is dedicated to all fantastic food we had and were introduced to in Kathmandu and Pokhara and all the sustenance that kept me going up and down the mountain.  I will divide this Food Trail blog into 2 parts – Kathmandu and Pokhara in the first, and the Trek in part 2.

KATHMANDU

A city surrounded by spirituality… where chaos and patience live side by side, where amidst the devastation left by the earthquake, restoration and re-creation take centre-stage, where smiles surround you and a ‘namaste’ is a word you get accustomed to hearing… it’s a city that I felt at home in.

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SAM’s One Tree Café: Located bang on Durbar Marg, this quaint café has been built keeping in mind the massive tree growing through it (hence the name), with a huge monochrome mural wall that you just cannot ignore, my favourite blue shade of chairs and what I loved about it was that the servers may have been deaf and dumb but they got our order spot on (unlike some more able servers I have encountered) and the service with a smile was infectious.

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Chicken Choela: I was told this is a very popular Newari dish in Nepal, one that is usually served as an appetizer.

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Chicken Tibetan Momos: Momos in Nepal is what we deem comfort food – they are on nearly every menu. What I learned is that the Tibetan momos are shaped longer – unlike the round dumpling ones I have been used to in Chinese restaurants.

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Yak & Yeti Hotel: We stayed at this absolutely beautiful centerally located hotel and every morning I had the most delicious fresh orange juice. Besides breakfast which was included in our boarding, we did have one meal – dinner which was buffet – but I am not going to bore you with details of that as it was an international spread.

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Roadhouse Café: Serving Italian food, Roadhouse is one of the nicest restaurants with a view if you are visiting Boudhanath Stupa area.

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We tried their vegetarian pizza but it was demolished before I could reach for my camera – but trust me – it was delicious. But I did manage to get a shot of my drink and dessert – Hot lemon and honey does wonders for the throat and chocolate mousse is just a perfect end.

On the short walk from Boudhanath Stupa to the car, we stopped by this really small hole-in-the-wall restaurant (not sure what else I could call it) and it was here that I had the most refreshing, absolutely fresh sugarcane juice. I had not realized how much I miss this drink until that very first sip.

Honacha: If you ever visit Patan Darbar, this tiny eatery on Mamaru Galli behind the Krishna temple is a must for its delicious spicy and hot potatoes and bara – a lentil pancake that can be served plain or with Sukuti or dried minced buffalo meat or egg, or even both.

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Café du Temple in Patan has more of an international menu – although they do serve the staple Nepali dal-bhaat (dal and rice). I did not eat here… but in all the traditional architectures or temples, this touristy block just stood out.

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Organic Restaurant at the Wellness Organic Club: Well you need to throw yourself into the cuisine and culture of any new place you visit. So, accompanied by some graceful Nepali dances, we enjoyed a wonderful meal at this 5th floor restaurant. Nepalis are the most gracious hosts and it helps if you have them as company – you get to learn so much more about the country, the food, the culture, urban legends and most importantly about the people themselves – a more enriching experience than any Lonely Planet guide could provide. We let our hosts do the ordering (and although I diligently wrote all the dishes down, as on every holiday you have to lose something – and this time round it was the piece of paper). I need to mention a couple of dishes – I might not have their correct names – but here goes…

Momos: How can you go out for a Nepali meal and not try them.

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Chicken Choela: The sauce that accompanied this was absolutely superb and the chicken spice was just perfect for my palate.  

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Raksi (local alcohol or tharra as we would call it in India): What became my husbands new favourite drink is not easy to find. It is a locally distilled alcoholic drink which is often made at home and not available in every restaurant or shop. Usually made of kodo millet or rice, it is a strong drink which if I have to liken it to anything – it would be sake. Here it was served in a small earthen bowl – you sip it (it’s is NOT a shooter). Over the course of trying it during our holiday, and depending on the weather, my husband learned to enjoy it slightly warmed up.

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Kheer (rice pudding): This might have had a different name on the menu but it reminded me of the Indian kheer which is slow cooked rice with milk, cashews, coconuts, dates, cinnamon, cardamom, and saffron.

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POKHARA

Pokhara was meant to be about relaxation, flying off a mountain (paragliding to the uninitiated) but the weather Gods had other plans… so amidst sunshine, thunder, lightning and torrential rain, we put our feet up and just enjoyed another side of this beautiful city…

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Due to a national strike, we ended up having all our meals at our hotel Fishtail Lodge – and I did not have a single regret.

Sometimes when the weather is as inviting and the view as mesmerizing as this, a nice local and aptly named – Mt. Everest – chilled beer was the order of the day. My husband and I laughed that it was the first time a beer stayed chill for the duration of the drink-up thanks to the weather!

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Machha Tareko: Basically this is the Nepali version of their fried fish – the fish I had was a fresh water fish and was coated in herbs flavoured batter and deep fired in mustard oil with spicy potatoes – I can still remember the taste of it and how I had wiped the plate clean.

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Chocolate Mousse: Only my second chocolate indulgence of the trip and one that I truly deserved after all the walking.

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Sha’s Omelet (self-proclaimed): I was totally pampered every morning with the most perfect omelet. The Chef made me one whose ingredients I choose – I wanted my turmeric, chilly powder, coriander leaves, green chilies (all got especially from the kitchen for me) to be added to regular mushrooms and onion.

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Coffee: You realize how fleeting time can be and how precious your coffee time (consider it some ‘me-time’) is. In the hustle bustle of everyday life in Dubai, you just need to get it over and done with and you rush through routines with little time to take a breath. But on holiday you learn to sit back, relax and enjoy your coffee one sip at a time – and with a view like this, I was not planning on moving anytime soon…

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Did I love the food – YES! Did I love the country – ABSOLUTELY!

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