These days on the streets of Kathmandu and Pokhara you can buy all kinds of street food from burgers to falafel. Traditional Nepal street food is somewhat different. In this post, we look at typical and popular Nepali street food for you to try in Nepal as well as modern western foods you can find as street food in popular tourist destinations in Nepal. Nepal street food is good, one of my personal favourites. As a chef, food and travel are my favourite things and Nepal one of my favourite food destinations.
Nepal Street Food
While momos and fried authentic Nepali snacks are readily available as real street food, many of these dishes are hard to serve and eat on the move. We include the Nepali staple, dal baht for reasons of completeness only. The true Nepal street food we have seen for sale in Nepal has largly consisted of simple foods often fried and grilled as mentioned below.
Look out for the street food carts that appear on the streets in the early evenings and for tiny Newarii style shops selling freshly cooked treats in the darkness of evening. Wandering the older parts of Nepali cities in the evening is a real treat, you’ll see cities come to life.
One of my favourite street foods, the simple momo. Numerous little shops now sell momos and there is a fast-food chain that sells them much like western fast food outlets sell burgers.
Not all momos are created equal so look for a busy store with a high turn-over. Often there will only be a few flavours to pick from. Fresh is best when it comes to momos and it is better to wait for a fresh batch than have some cold or reheated ones. Momos can be steamed or fried and the shape tells of their origin, Tibetan and Nepali momos can be round or crescent shaped. Expect to find momos filled with buff (buffalo meat) or veg
Most commonly made for Dashain and Tihar festivals, these bread-like delicacies are great little snacks. Outside of the festivals, you’ll have a harder time finding them. They will make appearances during weddings and at significant cultural events.
Rice flour is the main ingredient along with ghee, cardamon and cloves. Other ingredients are added to taste and personal preference. Cooking in vats of hot oil once cooked they can last for up to 3 weeks if kept properly.
Samosas are very common across the whole sub-continent and Nepal is no exception. Samosas are sometimes called singada in Nepal. Although they tend to be a different shape from other parts of the world. Almost round with twisted edges and normally always potato based and vegetarian flavoured with spices.
They can be found in both street carts that move along the roads of Kathmandu and Pokhara or inside restaurants and cafes. Look for the local stalls where locals go and you’ll be sure to find some great authentic samosas.
Puris (Pani Puri)
These mouthfuls of flavour are great when you’re hungry. Little discs of fried pastry. Granted they aren’t that healthy but sometimes that doesn’t matter. Puri vendors can be found all across major cities and towns with mobile carts.
Made with wheat flour there are various ways vendors tweak their own versions and recipes. Some add cumin and other things to the dough before frying while others may focus on the condiments.
Pani Puri is used with the made puris. They are rolled into cup shapes and then stuffed with a mixture of tamarind chutney, chickpea and or potato.
Translated as potato cutlet, this popular fried snack is similar to a potato croquette in Europe. The base ingredient of boiled potatoes is mashed with various spices and flavours added to make a quick delicious snack.
Each vendor or restaurant will have their own twist on what spices are added to their aloo chop but most will include tumeric, garlic, ginger cumin, corriander and of course chillies.
The Potato mixture is rolled into cutlet shapes and then dipped into a dry gram flour batter before frying and serving. They can be served with a variety of accompaniments depending on where you are.
Chatamari is a rice crepe originally from Newars of the Kathmandu Valley. Traditionally served for special occasions and festivals it has now become much more common. You’ll find them as starters in restaurants and as standalone dishes in smaller cafes.
They can be a variety of flavours although they tend to be either turkey or pork originally. The batter for the crepe is spread thin and slightly cooked and then the toppings are placed on top with a lid until cooked. They have been given the unofficial term of Nepal Pizza but personally that is a stretch too far for me.
Traditional meat skewers, sekuwa are one of Nepals most popular street foods. Found all across Nepal but more common in Eastern Nepal and Kathmandu.
Chicken, pork or lamb can be used in making the skewers. Lamb is minced while chicken and pork are diced. The key is marinating the day before with all the spices and yogurt so that it all soaks in.
Sekuwa is often served with rice and chutney in restaurants and cafes. Street stalls may just serve with chutney.
Another food item from the Newars of Kathmandu Valley is Lakhamari. Unlike Chatamari this is a sweet delicacy. Traditionally made from flour, butter and sugar they are especially made for weddings.
They come in various shapes and those different shapes have different names. One of the unique things with lakhamari is that a groom has to give these to the bride’s family before their wedding, normally with the wedding invitation.
A perfect dish for those cold days in the mountains. Thukpa was one of my favourite dishes in Nepal. It is a hearty noodle soup that originated in Tibet and was brought to Nepal many years ago with the traders and Tibetians that resettled in Nepal and the mountain villages scattered throughout the Himalayas.
Depending on where you have your thukpa you’ll notice they differ. Nepali versions tend to lend themselves more to the Indian curry style with those recognisable spices such as garam masala and chilli both dried and fresh.
If you trek to Everest Base Camp then you’ll see thukpa offered at nearly all restaurants and lodges. You will then be able to see for yourself how the style changes as you head up into the mountains away from Kathmandu and Lukla.
If you know Nepal cuisine at all then you’ll have heard of dal baht. The staple dish for trekking anywhere in Nepal you can even get t-shirts with 24 hour dal baht power slogans across them.
There are slight variations on the ingredients depending on where you are in Nepal. The closer to Everest Base Camp the plainer it becomes and expensive (rightly so).
The three main components of dal baht are dal, rice and varied side dishes which may include steamed or sauteed vegetables, vegetable curry, popadoms, pickle, and curd. Upmarket restaurants in Kathmandu may include all of the above.
One of my absolute favourites in Nepal. You can’t get it everywhere but places like Bhaktapur Nepal are known for juju. It translates as king of curd and is one of the best curds I’ve eaten anywhere on the planet.
Shops in Bhaktapur are dedicated to selling little terracotta pots full of curd often topped with a treacle or honey squiggled on top. They come in various sizes from small individual pots right up to family size pots.
The juju is made by boiling buffalo milk in the pots and leaving them to ferment. This produces a rich silky smooth yogurt that is up there as one of the best in the world in my opinion. If your in the country’s capital, we found juju dhau on Freak Street Kathmandu
Modern Western-Influenced Street Food in Nepal
Thankfully the invasion of fast food outlets from America hasn’t really hit Nepal. There is still no Mcdonalds at time of publishing. India has the world’s first Mcdonalds that is 100% beef free. Something that Nepal also places as a high priority being a Hindu nation. KFC and Pizza Hut (same company) have started appearing in Kathmandu but in very small numbers.
Local companies still rule in terms of numbers and shops that offer and deliver fast food. You can now get a lot of fast foods delivered such as in the west. Most of these are locally run and owned. Uber has yet to make an appearance in Nepal.
Q&A – Street Food in Nepal
- Q: Is street food in Nepal expensive? A: No street food is incredibly cheap. You may have to barter to get the best price.
- Q: How healthy is street food? A: It depends on where you go and at what time of day. I’ve had no issues eating street food but you need to use a bit of common sense. If you have lots of the deep fried treats then it won’t be great from a health and fitness point of view.
- Q: Where can you find street food? A: Practically anywhere there are people but cities like Kathmandu will have the biggest selection.
- Q: When can you find street food in Nepal? A: While there are a very few late night stalls catering to tourists the majority will be packing up by 10 pm and going home. Most start out at about 9 am but the busy rush is from 5 pm until about 9 pm.
- Q: Is there vegan and vegetarian food available? A: Vegetarian food is very common and often outnumbers meat dishes. Vegan is a little harder but is still much more common than in other countries. Just check what they are using to fry with.
The good thing I love about Nepal street food is that it is what it is. They don’t have a huge amount of over-regulation. Little stalls pop up everywhere on the streets and in hole-in-the-wall-style cafes. The flip side is you need to be careful about hygiene. Common sense is all you’ll need really. We didn’t find anything so strange in Nepal that it made it ono our weird foods from around the world list, but we did enjoy some really great meals, both in restaurants and from street food stalls.