Are you headed to Nepal and curious what there is to eat?
Nepalese cuisine bears a lot of Indian and Tibetan influences (given its location) but has its own distinctive dishes. Today I wanted to share some of the famous foods in Nepal that you should definitely try!
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First, a couple quick facts about what you can expect when eating in Kathmandu and greater Nepal.
Nepali food tends to be rich in flavor and spices. It incorporates lots of rice, lentils, chickpeas and curries so it can sit in your stomach if you’re not quite used to it, but on the flip side, it’s typically gluten-free.
Nepalese people are Hindu so they don’t eat beef. In fact, much like India, you’ll see cows roaming the streets or even plopping down for a rest right in the middle of the road.
Instead of beef, Nepalese will use buff or buffalo meat. Still, the majority of Nepalese cuisine is vegetarian friendly.
Drink Purified Water
We toured some rural areas where the people use well water for cooking – make sure you double-check that the water used to make any tea or coffee you drink came from boiled water.
For all the hotels we stayed at, we received 2 bottles of water each day in our room. Nepal has a huge plastic waste issue so if you can, bring your own water bottle to be refilled.
If you don’t like spice of any kind, you might be in for a shock. Nepalese cuisine uses lots of pickled spice and spicy curries. I love spicy food so all the zingy flavor was heavenly to me!
1. Dal Bhat
Dal Bhat is probably the most famous food in Nepal.
It’s such a staple for locals you could even call it Nepal’s national food. If you’re going trekking, expect to be served traditional dal bhat at every homestay… at least twice a day.
Dal Bhat Tarkari means lentil soup (dal), rice (bhat) and curried vegetables (tarkari). The set is usually served on a metal platter and is “all you can eat”. It’s traditionally vegetarian but occasionally you might find it served with chicken or meat.
How to eat Dal Bhat
You can eat it with a fork but if you want to do as the locals, pour the dal over your rice and then mix in the curry and sauce.
Use your right hand to make small balls of food and then push that into your mouth using your thumb. Traditionally, Nepalese eat with their right hand and reserve the left hand as it’s considered unclean.
If you’re going trekking, chances are this will be your food morning and night because it’s filling and nutritious.
While Dal Bhat bears resemblance to Indian cuisine, another staple of Nepalese food has some similarities to Tibetan food.
Momos are a definite must try on your trip to Nepal. Like a dumpling, but served as a main entrée, momos are a delicious combination of dough and filling. Usually you get a full plate of 10 momos per order!
Momos are made from white flour and you can order them in a couple ways:
- served in a bowl of curry broth
Naturally, my favorite was the fried variety.
Momos are typically filled with buffalo meat, but you can also find them with either vegetables or chicken as well. The shape of the dumpling can vary by region, but they typically look like a pretty leaf or a plump circle.
3. Newari Cuisine
Nepal has many indigenous groups and the Newari are the people local to the Kathmandu Valley.
Their cuisine is famous for over 200 dishes and we tried Bara and Aloo on our food tour of the city. The coarsely ground bread is made from lentils, with ginger and cumin, to form a dense flatbread.
We ate it with a spiced potato salad (aloo sadheko), served cold.
Many Nepalese snacks seemed to resemble Indian snacks, or chaat.
You can find all sorts of tasty Nepalese snack foods on road side carts or in small stands along the streets and main squares.
If you’re worried you might not have a strong stomach, try to avoid food that’s been sitting out. Instead get freshly fried snacks at places where you see lots of locals congregating! Fried food generally tastes best when it’s fresh and hot too!
4. Sel Roti
Kind of like a doughnut meets bagel, sel rote is a crisp, puffy dough that’s been deep fried.
You’ll find this street stall snack along roadsides and during Hindu festivals like Tihar and Dashain.
They’re best eaten as a breakfast snack with yogurt, or as an afternoon snack with some veggies!
Samosas are some of my favorite Indian appetizers so when I discovered you could get them fresh off the street in Nepal, I was excited!
Samosas are said to have been first brought to the Indian subcontinent by Muslim traders but so many cultures have a version of a fried meat pastry that who really knows?
In Nepal, you’ll typically find that samosas are HUGE triangle-shaped balls of pastry, made from white flour. Inside they’re typically a vegetarian mixture of potatoes and spices (if you don’t like spicy food you might want to take a small bite first).
At some street stalls, the samosas we ordered came with a shallow pan of neon orange sauce, that tasted lightly sweet and helped to cut the spiciness.
If you want to try samosas in Nepal, make sure to get them FRESH for the best flavor. You don’t want one from a pile that’s been sitting in the hot sun and dusty air all day.
We went to one place that was popping with locals on our Nepalese food tour and tried some on our own from a lady who was frying them in a hot pan, roadside. Mhm delicious!
6. Pani Puri
Before going to Nepal, I did some quick research to learn about the food and heard people raving about pani puri.
This Indian snack is typically sold road side, and throughout Nepal we saw men standing by these blue carts stuffed with empty panipuri shells.
Try to get one fresh, where you see lots of (preferably local) customers. Classic pani puri is hallowed out and filled with rose water.
For a more savory option, try pani puri chaat masala, where the puffed shells are filled with soft potatoes, chickpeas, coriander, chili and crispy noodles. They’re surprisingly filling!
Again these can be spicy but we recommend eating it with the cooling yogurt-type sauce for some heat relief. It’s this fantastic hot and cooling sensation in your mouth that will have your tastebuds all jittery!
Nepali chai tea is served everywhere and quite delicious! Warm black tea, spiced with milk and heaps of sugar is quite comforting when it’s cold out.
I bought a box of the local blend as a souvenir to take home.
Lassi is a popular sweet yogurt drink and quite delicious.
The water curd is mixed with sugar and water to form a thick, refreshing drink. If you’re worried about street food, you can check to see if the lassi has been made with purified water. The best way to select a restaurant (in any country, really) is to look at the volume of customers they have.
In Kathmandu Durbar Square, there’s a small lassi street stand that’s very popular with local Nepalese – again, we learned about it from our local food guide – this is why we love taking food tours on our travels.
The nice thing about this shop is they sprinkle some nuts on top for some crunch! I will say, in the Nepalese heat, lassi doesn’t quite come ice-cold. It’s more like room temperature – but it’s still delicious!
8. Everest Beer
Local Nepali beer includes Sherpa, Gorkha, Everest and Kathmandu.
We gave the local rice wine a try (raksi) which was some strong stuff. Honestly, it tasted a bit like Chinese baijiu aka rubbing alcohol haha.
Like most of Asia, Nepalese people enjoy sticky sweet dessert.
Traditionally the desserts you’ll find will be made from nuts, palm sugar and milk curd (sorry, no chocolate!).
This neon snack looks like an orange lattice swirl.
It’s made from a dough batter drizzled to form a circular shape, then dunked in some sweet sauce. The color was a little intimidating but it tastes very similar to a funnel cake!
It is very sweet.
10. Juju Dhau
The direct translation of juju dhau is “King Curd” and you’ll find this sign all over street stalls in Bhaktapur.
Although the English translation of “curd” might not sound appetizing – give this snack a go! It’s rich, creamy and flavorful without being too sweet and I really enjoyed it.
Standard yogurt is made with cow’s milk.
For the King’s yogurt, fresh buffalo milk is used instead, giving the yogurt a richer, more flavorful taste and thicker consistency.
To find it, head to Bhaktapur, the ancient Newa City, where this is the local specialty. Locals make the curd by first boiling milk, sweetening it with honey and then leaving it to pasteurize in red clay pots.
The clay pots are traditional to Bhaktapur (you can find souvenir clay objects all over town) and their porous nature allows excess liquid to evaporate slowly, enabling the yogurt to have a firm, creamy texture.
To the Newars of Nepal, dhau denotes purity and so most of their auspicious ceremonies and festivals will involve the yogurt. Don’t miss it!
On our secret Kathmandu food tour, we had the chance to try yomari, a sweet bun that originated as a festival food.
Our local guide explained that traditionally it was made only during Yomari Punhi, the largest Newar festival which marks the end of the rice harvest, as an offering of thanks to the Gods for a good harvest.
The festival dates is typically around November / December, but it shifts slightly each year based on the lunar calendar. Locals love it so much that now you can find the bread nearly year round.
The steamed bun is made from rice flour dough, specifically of rice from the new harvest, and then steamed, which gives it that transparent white look. Inside you’ll find a sweet paste made from molasses, sesame seeds and coconut.
It reminded me of some Chinese sweet buns.
Our Guided Food Tour
Often when I travel, I find that the best restaurants and street stands are known to the locals. So to get the tastiest, freshest good stuff, we join a food tour!
We highly recommend the Kathmandu food tour that we took, which introduced us to some hidden hole-in-the-wall restaurants and snack carts that we never would have found on our own.
Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and shared some tidbits about local Nepali culture and food that none of our other guides thought worth mentioning!
If you want variety and aren’t afraid to experiment, the food and shopping tour (we combined it to do a little souvenir shopping) was a fun day.
Check availability and rates here.
Where to Eat in Kathmandu
Of course, we did plenty of eating on our own too. Here’s a list of the places we tried and got recommendations for:
1. Tip Top Samosas
A hidden courtyard is home to the most famous samosa shop in Kathmandu, but it’s only known to the locals.
Our guide led us through this alley, then ducked through another one… and we emerged into a square teeming with locals happily munching on deep fried snacks. Tip Top also sells puri and julebi!
2. Krishnarpan inside Dwarika’s Hotel
For a fancier option, try this fine dining restaurant inside the 5 star Dwarika’s Hotel.
They offer a 6 course or 9 course meal, presented in the traditional Nepalese way, and it’s an unforgettable experience.
Dwarika’s is the finest hotel in Nepal, and built in the traditional Nepalese style, so it’s worth staying here too! The staff dress in traditional clothing from Nepal’s different indigenous groups and all the dishes are served in traditional bowls.
It’s a feast for all the senses!
3. Thamel Doner Kebab
If you want a change from Nepalese food, stop at this tiny shop in Thamel for one of the best falafels in Kathmandu.
A friend who had been to Nepal before recommended it, and after trying the falafel wrap and mango lassi, I was sold! The owner is very friendly and the food is fresh and filling.
Funny enough, I also see now it’s the #1 rated restaurant in Thamel on TripAdvisor.
4. Kathmandu Durbar Square Lassi Shop
A veritable institution among locals, this shop serves lassis and lassis only.
Available in two sizes and topped with cashews, pistachios and dried fruit, it’s delicious! This was another spot our local guide led us to.
This 2 floor restaurant is huge in Kathmandu as all the international travelers and expats hang out here. The Israeli style cafe serves up all-day breakfast, fresh bread, juices and espresso.
Sit down on the floor cushions and hang out with the other travelers. There’s also another location in Pokhara.
And that’s it! Our sampling of delicious cuisine in Nepal. Have you been? What are you most looking forward to eating?
Visiting Nepal – Trip Planning Checklist
Check for flight deals to Nepal here and expect crowds and higher prices in spring and fall, when trekking season opens to Everest Base Camp. We went in the off season at the start of Monsoon summer and were lucky with the weather!
Book your hotels in advance to save or check here for last minute deals. Many hotels in Nepal are old but increasingly more modern, heritage-style hotels are being built. Kathmandu frequently suffers from power outages so keep expectations low/reasonable and take along extra power banks.
Lastly, be sure to visit Nepal with travel insurance. Kathmandu and Pokhara are hectic, crowded cities with non existent sidewalks and motor traffic everywhere. Trek safely, as altitude sickness can impact anyone. A guy in our group was hit by a motorcycle and ended up with a 4 figure hospital bill. Whether phone gets stolen, or an injury forces you to cancel all or part of your vacation, travel insurance will help when you need it most. Get a quote for your trip here.
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My partner is Nepali and most of the way through your list I was going “yep, he makes me eat this” but it looks to me like he’s avoided showing me the deserts!! they look amazing! We are hopefully going to Nepal next November (2019) so I am going to show him this and say “hey, make me try the bright orange desert” haha
Haha – oh great, well I’m glad I got the list pretty accurate! You’ll love Nepal! and definitely have him take you on a dessert tour :)
Shal roti looks really yummy. Your description of all the dishes is very authentic.
Really impressed with info. Thank you