Nepal Serves cuisine from around the world
Facilities for travellers in Nepal are ever improving, so too is the variety and quality of food being offered. Fifteen years ago, visitors to Nepal had a choice of rice and lentils ( dal bhat ) or lentils and rice. Today, it is not uncommon to find
items as diverse as Norwegian Salmon, Cajun chicken and imported sashimi on the menus of Kathmandu’s finer hotels and restaurants. Authentic Italian pizza is available, cooked in a wood pizza oven by a genuine Neapolitan. Ice creams, Austrian sausages, French baguettes, and Swä bische Spätzle are all part of the ever expanding Kathmandu kitchen.
The cuisine prepared in Kathmandu’s restaurants reflects the backgrounds and preferences of the tourists who visit them. The city boasts a list of specialty restaurants ranging from Thai to German, with Italian, Chinese, Indian and Japanese in-between. German rye breads, Japanese sukiyaki and all American pancakes are readily available, as are imported steaks and seafood.
Even outside of the capital one can find good food. The lakeside resort town of Pokhara is filled with restaurants serving Continental and Asian food. Even Mexican dishes are known to make it onto the menus. Along the popular trekking trails as well are plenty of tea shops and lodges with surprisingly diverse menus.
A note of precaution is, unfortunately, required here. Keeping in mind the axiom that not all that glitters is gold will well serve the eager-to-be-pleased. Just because a favorite Continental specialty is listed on the menu does not mean that it will taste like it does back home, especially when the restaurant is located at 4,000 m. Though it is true that genuine cheese fondue is known to be served at some lodges near the foot of Mt. Everest, the different-shape-same-flavor syndrome is all too common outside of Nepal’s tourism centers.
In the mountains, it is generally better to stick to dishes prepared with traditional ingredients. That is not necessarily bad, as in the Everest region potatoes are the staple, while around the Annapurnas, rice is more common.
South Asian fare is certainly a worthwhile cuisine to explore. Traditional Nepalese, Newar and Indian restaurants are for good reason among Kathmandu’s most popular spots. Tandoor specialties and succulent rice dishes from India, steaming hot momo dumplings from Tibet, and a vast assortment of dals and curries from Nepal offer exciting flavors to initiate the neophyte into the sophisticated world of South Asian spices.
Delicious as they are, some people may find them difficult to digest. Knowing one’s intestinal limits can save a lot of internal grief as some bodies simply are not accustomed to the richness of South Asian sauces or the heat of local chili peppers.
To many considering travel in Asia, the dangers of eating can sound overwhelming. Stories of gastroenteritis abound, and although often exaggerated, they are not without ground.
Precautions must be taken and common sense used. The good news is that Kathmandu has been waging a war against travel tummy since the early 1990s. The result, while still short of total eradication, is a vastly improved understanding of kitchen hygiene. So when packing for a few weeks in Nepal, travellers should not forget to include hearty appetites along with their hiking shoes.
Traditional decor, delightful food
Until recently, the closest one got to tasting authentic Newari food was at one of the homes of the Newars-the original inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley-known for their profound passion for the bhoj, or feasts. Of late, the sit-down, lavish bhoj has become a rarity of sort, but its richness and great taste have
caught the imagination of restaurateurs and spawned a number of good Newari diners in town. Lajana, located just next to the Radisson Hotel at Lazimpat, is the latest addition to this exclusive club striving to preserve this age-old tradition.
Lajana’s soothing and soft sounding name means “courtesy” which you will find aplenty in the warm reception and hospitality accorded here.
Decor-wise, the restaurant draws in a typical Newari home with its latticed windows, exquisite woodcarvings, black beams running across the ceilings, and artistic use of splendid Newari antiques – the karuwa, anti, sukunda and panas. The floors are all done in traditional square oiled bricks, while the pinkish walls are softlit to great effect.
If the decor is charming, the menu will delight. To begin with, there is tucha, or mouth-watering snacks such as wo (shallow fried grounded black lentil patty), haku choela (smoked meat marinated to pickle), momos and musya palu (soybean and ginger marinated to pickle). If you find the snacks delectable, wait till you savor the tantalizing variety meats.
The restaurant features beli, or set dinner, in addition to its regular a la carte menu. The main course combines the staple ja kyen (plain rice and lentil soup) with green vegetables, pickles and meat curries, cooked to perfection as only the Newars know how. To complement the fine food, is a selection of top wines and drinks from around the world that flows from an exquisite sit-down bar. But the best way to wash down the sumptuous food is with ayla, home distilled spirit.
Food is taken either sitting down on cushions or around a dining table, served by waiters and waitresses in typical Nepalese attire. But if the weather is fine, the terrace just up a stairway is the perfect place to spend a delightful evening.
Lajana is more than just dining in elegance. It is also revelling in an aura of times gone by.
– Bijaya Lal Shrestha
Address: Lazimpat (near Radisson Hotel), Kathmandu; Tel: 413874
Decor: Typical Newar home with latticed windows, exquisite woodcarvings, Newari antiques and brick floors
Menu: Newari cuisine – tucha (snacks), variety meats and beli (fixed dinner) or a la carte choices
Facilities: Restaurant seats 60 people – 40 sit down, 20 around tables in separate rooms; sit-down bar; terrace for 40 people