2019: a year of fusion, local, plant-based and sharing platesWhat has been the biggest trends in Kathmandu’s food scene?
Whether its Japanese, Mexican, a taste of Azerbaijan or a fusion of Asian cuisines, 2019 has introduced Kathmandu to a whole slew of new cuisines and dishes.
Avocado had some time as the toast of town, ghongi slowly rose to fame, fusion cuisine latched onto the city and Nepali chefs discovered a newfound love of highlighting indigenous cuisines and ingredients. Siddharth Ghimire, who goes by nepal.food on Instagram, believes 2019 has been a great year for food, and anticipates 2020 will bring even more.
“In 2018 we could see a solid increase in people going out to eat, but this year people are going out even more. The fact is people are going out three or four times a week now,” Ghimire said. But what exactly are people going out for? To nail down the top trends of 2019, the Post spoke to some of the top chefs and food industry insiders to see what they believed to be the biggest trends in Kathmandu’s food scene.
Perhaps kicked off by Raithaane, in Patan, there has been a slightly stronger focus on the country’s regional and national cuisines—not just the predictable dishes. Whether it’s highlighting a unique dish, or infusing local flavours into other popular dishes, there seems to have been an effort made to push Nepali cuisine in Nepal.
Aloft Kathmandu Thamel Executive Chef Shailendra Singh has made a concerted effort to infuse endemic ingredients into international cuisines. Whether it’s a dose of timmur dropped into a French bechamel sauce or a little jimbu added into another dish, Singh wanted to introduce people to tastes of Nepal with foods they recognise.“We’re always doing it, whether we’re using yak butter with morel mushrooms, we want to see what we can achieve,” Singh told the Post, adding that people were pleasantly “shocked” by the twists they put on the international food.
“But what we also liked, as chefs, is that people are going back to basics and going back to heritage cuisines that are a bit more basic,” said Singh. But it’s not just local dishes, it’s local ingredients that have been fashionable. Chef Singh has seen an influx of hydroponic and aquaponic farms coming into the industry, which he believes is an exciting prospect. Nepal.food’s Ghimire believes authentic, ethnic dishes are making a strong arrival in the Valley. Dishes like ghongi, snails, were certainly popular this year, he said.
“Tharus had a big year. I used to only be able to try it in Chirtwan, but now we have the restaurant in Kirtipur [Barghar restaurant] that serves ghongi, and ghongi is actually growing here. But, it’s explored that much,” said Ghimire, who believes the city will see more restaurants popping up serving various ethnic cuisines. One other dish that was popular was fulki, which Ghimire described as hot pani puri.
A lot of the aforementioned Asian fusion restaurants have also adopted the small-plate trend. “These tapas kind of things are a fusion kind of thing too,” says Francois Driard of Himalayan French Cheese and Farmers Markets of Kathmandu. The restaurants are serving smaller plates, so people can try several different dishes during a single meal. Bruschetta is one of the things that Driard mentions when talking about this trend, as it seems to be a popular addition to so many restaurant menus.
Whether it’s a tomato-based topping, or a drizzle of reduced balsamic drizzled over eggplant caponata on toast. Then, of course, there’s always avocado to be smashed on toasted bread. Another restaurant that adopted the tapas trend was Piano Piano, a restaurant that pushes its diners to mingle and socialise over small plates, called cicchetti in Italy. Another restaurant is due to be opened at Aloft too, with Spanish flavours and tapas-style dining.
The old favourites:
Dumplings remain king in Kathmandu, and Indian food still seems to keep going strong. The open-roofed Chinese shumai dumpling has become a popular addition to restaurant menus, filled with pork and prawns or variations of them both, but dapao also caused plenty of intrigue—especially at The Farmers Market at Le Sherpa.
“I don’t think it’s new, but one of the most popular places is Doma’s, who sell the big fat momos,” said Driard. Chef Singh says that Aloft’s Kashmiri food festival was a hit, while Soaltee Crowne Plaza and various other restaurants rolled out their various annual food events with Indian cuisine. One of the old favourites in Boudha, keema noodles, has made its way into the entire city’s consciousness, according to Ghimire.
Vegetarian and Vegan:
There’s undoubtedly been an influx of animal-free restaurants and foods coming onto the market. With more people turning to veganism or vegetarianism, there’s no doubt it’s here to stay and it’s not a passing fad.
While OR2K and Anna Maya restaurants have been around for a couple of years, Ghimire said there had been a bit more of a focus on not just ethical or environmental aspects of eating vegetarian and vegan foods.
“There were never really too many places that were health conscious. Now, I guess people in Nepal are attracted to that as well,” he said, referencing new openings like Detox Cafe in Pulchowk. “There’s a lot of room for these businesses to grow.”
This year alone, with the launch of Lazimpat’s Noir Fennel and Mamagoto, and Yum Yum and Akari in Jhamsikhel, fusion has been high on the list of restaurant openings in 2019.
Serving tastes of all countries around the continent, together or separate, has been these restaurants’ modus operandi. Think dim sum, ramen, galangal and lemongrass, then put them all together on the menu. Francois Driard, of Himalayan French Cheese and Farmers Markets of Kathmandu, notes that it has been a trend, specifically, within newly built hotels.
Chef Singh said he has enjoyed seeing Nepali food getting foreign treatment, too. “Generally, what we have seen, is French along with more refined Newari food,” said Singh. “The plate will have tastes of Newari, but with French presentation.”
Along with that, he said he had been working with a Japanese chef to work on some Japanese-Nepali fusion dishes, and hoped to roll them out some time in 2020.
Aloft’s Singh believes fusion is here to stay, and will only grow further in different ways—not just pan-Asian. While 2020 is already upon Kathmandu, there are plenty of things to look forward to, according to the aforementioned foodies.
Ghimire believes that the new Hard Rock Cafe, set to be opened in the early months of the year, could change the way people are eating in the Valley.
“I think because Visit Nepal 2020 and a number of international openings, the restaurant industry is due to grow more. I think it will be a big year for franchise restaurants too,” said Ghimire, who said the city had already seen the expansion and obsession with waffles.