Strolling from Hari Shankara temple towards Nyatapole, you’ll notice locals sitting in the shade enjoying a cup of chiya, bakeries busy making sweet Newari pastries, and the aroma of spiced meat wafting in the air.
Known for its culture, architecture, and craftsmanship, Bhaktapur is a Newari city with a beautiful history. It is a one-of-a-kind destination when it comes to ancient temples, historic landmarks, and artisan crafts. Undoubtedly, the little medieval town of Bhaktapur will take you back to a simpler time where brick roads and storied temples ruled superior.
One way to immerse yourself into Bhaktapur’s enticing ambiance is through its food. Bhaktapur is a destination rich in history and culture, but many do not realize that the town is also a foodie’s paradise. With great food and greater prices, Bhaktapur is a gastronomic marvel. The city’s Newar locals are quite proud of their culinary heritage — and rightfully so.
While in Bhaktapur, you might be overwhelmed with the sheer volume of restaurants and eateries strewn about across the Durbar Square area. But the real treats are the smaller local grub-hubs hidden in alleyways, away from the public eye. Most of these eateries and stalls have been serving and perfecting the same traditional dishes for decades.
So, how does one curate the perfect Newari meal? What are some dishes you cannot miss? And where in Bhaktapur do they hide?
Surrounded by beautiful architecture, and bathing in the local culture, here are 4 dishes that will make for the perfect meal in Bhaktapur Durbar Square.
1. Bara — black lentil pancakes
A savory pancake made from black lentils topped with spiced buffalo meat and eggs makes the perfect bara (also called ‘Wo:’ in the Nepal Bhasa). More often than not it is had with kwati, an aromatic broth made out of a vivid selection of beans. Hearty and healthy, it is the perfect start to your food journey in Bhaktapur Durbar Square.
If you are vegan or vegetarian, you can still enjoy baras as they are essentially made from black lentils. Just ask for a plain bara with kwati and you’re good to go!
‘Aama ko Bara Pasal,’ one of the most popular eateries serving baras is located right next to the Nyatapola temple. The eatery was established in the early 70s. Bikumaya Bajracharya, 72, has been running the store and selling baras for 44 years.
Serving over 300 people a day, the store is small but cosy, with the perfect view of Nyatapole peeking through the neighborhood houses. Whether it is to eat some delicious bara or meet the Bara legend herself, ‘Aama ko Bara Pasal’ is the perfect place to start.
2. Momo — Nepali dumplings
A proper Nepali meal is incomplete without momos, and this list would not be the same if we did not have it here.
Momos are steamed dumplings, most commonly made out of flour and filled with spiced buffalo mincemeat. Typically served with a cold tangy soup, momos are a favorite all over Nepal — Bhaktapur is no exception.
Momos are usually served quickly and are the quintessential Nepali fast food. A plate normally comes with ten momos, but it is a guarantee that a plate is never enough. Rain or shine, you can never go wrong with momos.
For those who don’t prefer buffalo meat, there are also chicken and vegetarian options that are equally delicious!
On the east of Nyatapola temple, you’ll find Everest momos. Another local staple, this small joint serves great momos with a delicious soup base. You’ll find an array of momo places in Bhaktapur, but if you’re looking for an authentic local favorite, Everest is the place to go.
3. Juju dhau — the king of yogurts
Over the years, Bhaktapur and Juju dhau have become almost synonymous to each other.
In Nepal Bhasa, ‘juju‘ means king, and ‘dhau‘ means yogurt. A spoonful is all it takes to understand why it is hailed as ‘king yogurt.’
A Newari specialty, it is made by boiling buffalo milk in a clay pot and then allowing it to ferment. Known for its rich flavor and unique texture, this dhau is so creamy and thick that it does not fall apart even when flipped upside down.
This yogurt is one of the best desserts you’ll find in Bhaktapur. It has a very distinctive taste, almost luxurious, with a creamy custard-like texture. Juju dhau is prepared through a very traditional method, that has remained largely unchanged for nearly a century, and is a must-eat for anyone visiting Bhaktapur.
Served in a traditional matka (an earthen bowl/cup), there is something very satisfying about the entire experience of having Juju dhau while strolling around the Durbar Square.
Juju Dhau pairs notoriously well with other dishes. It goes beautifully with baras and momos, playfully complimenting the savory dishes. Another reason to sneak this into your meal in Bhaktapur.
The area around Nyatapola Temple is covered with little stores selling this delicacy and honestly, not much can go wrong here. Simply walk into a store and ask for some Juju dhau and you are good to go.
4. Khuwa Kulfi — local milk popsicles
Winter or summer, whilst strolling through Bhaktapur Durbar Square, you’ll see locals with a Kulfi in their hands. Kulfi’s are popsicles made from milk and khuwa (a thickened milk product). These popsicles can be found everywhere, and typically have fruits and nuts as add-ons.
Bhaktapur, as always, takes it a step further. Here, kulfis are made with delicious khuwa, coconut shavings, brown sugar, cashews, and cinnamon. Kulfis in Bhaktapur are so rich that they leave behind a thick layer of milky goodness inside the mouth.
These sweet, creamy, and nutty popsicles are the perfect dessert to enjoy as you explore the alleys of Bhaktapur.
You’ll find a small ice cream store right at the foot of Nyatapola selling these Kulfis. While they have many varieties (including chocolate and mango flavors), I think the best option to go for is the classic Khuwa Kulfi. It comes as a cone-shaped popsicle, easy to eat and easy to carry.
You can enjoy a Kulfi and rest on the steps of the Nyatapola, taking in the beautiful Bhadgaon architecture and culture.
Bhaktapur is a beautiful city that never seems to lose its historical magic. Every alley, every corner of the city has a charm of its own. So, it’s no surprise that this entire city has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. The cuisine Bhaktapur offers only adds to its traditional allure.