A Vibrant Vegetarian Round-up
by Anisha Schubert
Does it always have to be meat or fish? Vegetarian food can be as vibrant and filling— it isn’t only beneficial for our waistlines, our wallets, or our planet, it delights our taste buds, as well. Luckily, the Kathmandu valley offers a nice choice of vegetarian restaurants.
The first places that come to mind are the ubiquitous “Sweets and Fast Food” restaurants that usually come with an extensive menu of the normal staples like veg momo and chowmein, as well as North Indian dishes, such dal makhani, palak paneer, navratan korma, malai kofta, and South Indian delicacies like idli, dosa, and uttapam. If you’ve never eaten dosa, you’re in for a treat. It is a kind of pancake, made from a fermented batter of rice and black gram. It may come with a potato-based filling (then called “masala dosa”) and usually with chutneys and sambar. Uttapam is made from a similar fermented batter, but it is much thicker—outside crispy, inside soft—with toppings like tomato or onion cooked right into the batter. Idli is a breakfast dish. The little cakes are steamed and made from fermented rice and (de-husked) black gram. But mind, in some restaurants, South Indian dishes are only served after noon.
There are a few well-known chains of these vegetarian “Sweets and Fast Food” restaurants, such as Angan, Anmol, Gautam (also called Tip Top), Gulab, Rameshwaram, Sajangoth, and Sangam, with several outlets all over Kathmandu—and even in Biratnagar and Pokhara (Angan) and Jhapa (Sangam). Let’s not forget Patan: a Gautam outlet can be found there, and another favorite of mine is Annapurna Restaurant at Patan Dhoka. And, the basic little New Shreeya Sweets near the Jawalakhel roundabout that offers decent inexpensive dosa.
Regarding Indian food, Nandan at New Road has to be mentioned, too, a long-standing favorite for both North and South Indian dishes. It’s a cozy place, and I still remember my joy when I found it back in the 90s.For upscale vegetarian Indian dining, visit Moti Mahal at Durbar Marg or Gangaur at Teendhara Marg. Both offer delicious authentic Indian food. In Thamel, good Indian vegetarian food can be found at New Satkar and Aniyor. New Satkar is at the end of a rather dark arcade, but don’t hesitate, it is worth a try. Even though the atmosphere could be better, the thali makes up for the lack of windows.
As we are already in Thamel now, do you like Middle Eastern food? Baba ghanoush (a yummy eggplant dish), hummus (a kind of chickpea dip), and falafel (deep-fried chickpea balls)? Then, OR2K is a perfect destination, a Thamel favorite of (not only) young Western backpackers. There’s cozy floor-seating and a great vegetarian menu. Another vegetarian Thamel place is Places at Saat Ghumti Marg. It sports a menu that goes pretty much once around the world—Mexican, Turkish, Thai, Chinese, with some fusion dishes thrown in, and a few nice new creations, such as Pumpkin Momo with Chili Chocolate Dip—I know it sounds weird, but the dip goes extremely well with the soft pumpkin aroma. Or, ever tried Banana Ketchup? Other favorites there are the healthy cocktails, such as True Blood (yes, it’s vegetarian, made of mainly beetroot).
The Sarangi Restaurant is a social business that supports the Gandharbas (musicians) caste. There is a beautiful rooftop setting and two menus, one vegetarian, the other one vegan, both international—Nepali/Indian, Mexican, Italian, Middle Eastern. A special treat is their homemade almond or coconut milk, which makes great cappuccino. Talking of social businesses, I need to mention The Cafe With No Name, as well, even though it is not fully vegetarian (there are some tuna dishes on the menu). But their tofu burger is simply delicious, and profits of this lovely cafe go to an organization that supports street children in Birgunj.
The Yeok Tek Restaurant in Ekantakuna is a place for those who cannot really live without meat, but want to give it a try; it specializes in Chinese “mock meat” dishes. Let’s go up north for something completely different, something originally Belgian: waffles. On the Bansbari road, easily overlooked, is the tiny Coco Waffles. As the name suggests, its main fare are waffles, sweet or savory, with your choice of veggies, mushrooms, “meatless ham”, or cheese.
Not very far away, on the Ring Road in Maharajgunj, is a hidden jewel: the Boddhi Garden vegetarian restaurant. It offers a wide range of Malaysian style Chinese dishes. I was spoilt for choice and randomly picked dishes, which turned out simply delicious. For more authentic Chinese food, let’s go to Bouddha. Right at the stupa there’s Happiness Vegetarian Restaurant, whose owner, from Hubei, has created a lovely place that is highly frequented by Tibetan monks (he also offers free food to them) and terrific dishes. And, Eight Treasures tea!
Right outside the Bouddha Stupa, on the main road, is a completely vegan restaurant, no animal ingredients at all. The Loving Heart’s friendly owners offer vegan versions of Nepali dishes (mostly with added mushroom and tofu), along with different kinds of rice, and fresh homemade soy milk, which makes great vegan chiya.
For the most peaceful, quiet, green setting, the Rabsel Garden Restaurant is a real treat. It is part of the Shezhen Monastery, and its guest house, a short walk north behind Bouddha Stupa. Here, you can enjoy a veggie curry, salad, or pizza while listening to birds and watching squirrels and butterflies in beautiful green surroundings.
Has this got your mouth watering and your taste buds expectant to try out something new? Then, enjoy your veggie meal!