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The History Of Kathmandu Valley, Explained In 11 Dishes


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Bobbee Harrell



Kathmandu Valley, nestled in the heart of Nepal, is not only historically significant but also a culinary paradise. The valley, which comprises Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur, is home to a rich cultural heritage and a wide array of delectable dishes that have been passed down through generations.


The history of Kathmandu Valley dates back thousands of years, with evidence of human settlements found as early as the first century BC. Over the years, the valley has witnessed the rise and fall of various dynasties, including the Licchavi and Malla dynasties, which have left a lasting impact on the region’s culture and cuisine.


Today, Kathmandu Valley is a melting pot of diverse ethnic groups, each with their own unique culinary traditions. From the Newars, who are renowned for their artistic skills and elaborate feasts, to the Thakalis, with their delectable Dal Bhat and Tibetan-inspired cuisine, the valley offers something to delight every taste bud.


Exploring the history of Kathmandu Valley through its cuisine provides a fascinating glimpse into the cultural tapestry of the region. Each dish carries with it a story, a connection to the past, and a reflection of the people who have called this valley home for centuries.


In this article, we will take a culinary journey through the history of Kathmandu Valley, exploring 11 iconic dishes that not only tantalize the taste buds but also provide insights into the rich cultural heritage of the valley.


Momo: A Dumpling with a Rich History

When it comes to popular dishes in Nepal, momo is undoubtedly at the top of the list. These delectable dumplings, filled with a variety of savory fillings, have become a beloved staple in Nepali cuisine. But did you know that momo has a fascinating history that stretches back centuries?


The origins of momo can be traced back to Tibet, where the dish was introduced by Tibetan traders and immigrants who settled in the Kathmandu Valley. Over time, momo underwent a transformation, adapting to local tastes and ingredients to become the beloved dish it is today.


Traditionally, momo is made by rolling out dough into thin circles, filling them with a mixture of ground meat (such as chicken, buffalo, or pork) or vegetables, and folding them into delicate dumplings. The dumplings are then steamed, boiled, or fried to perfection.


Momo is not just a delicious snack; it is a cultural symbol in Nepal. It is often enjoyed during special occasions, festivals, and family gatherings. The act of making momo itself is a communal affair, with family members coming together to prepare the dough, chop the ingredients, and shape the dumplings.


Over the years, momo has evolved and diversified, with various regional variations and innovative fillings being introduced. In addition to the traditional meat and vegetable fillings, you can now find momo filled with cheese, paneer, mushrooms, and even chocolate for those with a sweet tooth.


Momo has also gained international recognition, with Nepali restaurants around the world serving this beloved dish. Its popularity is a testament to its delicious flavors and the skillful artistry required to create the perfect dumplings.


So, next time you visit Kathmandu Valley, make sure to savor the flavors of momo. Whether you prefer them steamed, fried, or in a spicy soup, momo will take you on a culinary journey through the history and cultural traditions of Nepal.


Newari Bhoj: Traditional Newari Feast

When it comes to experiencing the rich culinary traditions of Kathmandu Valley, a Newari Bhoj is a must-try. The Newars, an indigenous community of the valley, are renowned for their elaborate feasts that showcase their unique flavors and culinary skills.


A Newari Bhoj is a feast that consists of multiple courses and an array of dishes that are meticulously prepared and presented. The feast is usually hosted on special occasions like weddings, festivals, or to celebrate important milestones.


One of the iconic dishes you’ll find in a Newari Bhoj is the famous “Samay Baji.” This dish, considered a centerpiece of the feast, is a combination of various Newari delicacies. It includes beaten rice (baji), accompanied by small portions of boiled black soybeans, roasted meat (usually buffalo or pork), pickles, fried fish, and a unique mix of spices and herbs.


In addition to the Samay Baji, a Newari Bhoj also features a variety of other mouthwatering dishes. You can expect to find “Chatamari,” a rice pancake topped with minced meat or vegetables; “Choila,” marinated and grilled buffalo meat served with beaten rice; “Puka,” a sweet black sesame rice pudding; and many other flavorful creations.


What sets a Newari Bhoj apart is the attention to detail and the use of traditional cooking techniques that have been passed down through generations. From the way the food is prepared to the way it is served on traditional brass or clay dishes, every aspect reflects the Newari culture and heritage.


Not only is a Newari Bhoj a feast for the taste buds, but it is also a cultural experience. The communal aspect of sharing the meal with family and friends, the vibrant decorations, and the lively conversations create a festive atmosphere that is truly unique.


If you have the opportunity to attend a Newari Bhoj during your visit to Kathmandu Valley, consider yourself lucky. It is a chance to immerse yourself in the rich traditions and flavors of the Newari community and to appreciate the culinary treasures that the valley has to offer.


Chatamari: A Savory Rice Pancake

One of the most iconic dishes of the Kathmandu Valley is Chatamari, a savory rice pancake that is as delicious as it is versatile. This traditional Newari dish is often enjoyed as a snack or appetizer, but it can also be a satisfying main course.


Chatamari is made from a batter of rice flour, lentils, water, and spices. The batter is spread thinly on a hot griddle, similar to how a pancake is made. Then, a variety of toppings are added to enhance the flavor.


The most common toppings for Chatamari include minced meat (such as chicken, buffalo, or goat), onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and a blend of traditional Nepali spices. The pancake is cooked until it is crispy on the bottom and slightly soft on top, creating a perfect blend of textures.


One of the unique aspects of Chatamari is its ability to satisfy both meat lovers and vegetarians. For those who prefer vegetarian options, Chatamari can be topped with mushrooms, paneer (Indian cottage cheese), or a medley of fresh vegetables. The flavorsome toppings are what make Chatamari an irresistible treat.


Chatamari is often enjoyed with a side of local sauces, such as tomato chutney or sesame chutney, which add a tangy and spicy kick to the already delicious pancake. It is typically served hot, fresh off the griddle, and eaten with hands, making it a delightful and interactive eating experience.


Beyond its culinary appeal, Chatamari also has cultural significance. It is often served during religious festivals and celebrations, such as Dashain or Tihar, and is considered a symbol of prosperity and good luck.


When you visit the Kathmandu Valley, make sure to seek out a local eatery or street vendor that specializes in Chatamari. It is an opportunity to savor the unique flavors of this savory rice pancake and to delve deeper into the culinary heritage of the Newari community.


Kwati: The Nutrient-Rich Soup

When it comes to hearty and nutritious soups, Kwati stands out as a favorite in the Kathmandu Valley. This traditional Newari soup is not only delicious but also packed with a variety of legumes and spices that make it a wholesome and satisfying dish.


Kwati is made from a mixture of several beans and lentils, which are soaked overnight and then cooked to a thick consistency. Some of the commonly used legumes in Kwati include black beans, green mung beans, cow peas, kidney beans, chickpeas, and soybeans.


What sets Kwati apart is not just the diverse mix of legumes but also the spices and seasonings used in its preparation. A blend of aromatic spices such as cumin, fenugreek seeds, turmeric, garlic, and ginger is added, enhancing the flavor profile of the soup.


Kwati is not only known for its delicious taste, but it is also treasured for its health benefits. The combination of different legumes provides a rich source of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It is often considered a nourishing and warming dish, especially during the cold winter months.


Traditionally, Kwati is prepared during the festival of Janai Purnima, where it holds a significant place in the Newari culture. However, it has become popular year-round, and you can find it served in many local restaurants and homes.


When it comes to enjoying Kwati, it is typically served hot and accompanied by a side of rice and pickles. The warm and comforting flavors of this nutrient-rich soup make it a favorite among locals and visitors alike.


If you have the opportunity to taste Kwati during your visit to the Kathmandu Valley, consider it a culinary adventure. This robust soup not only delights the palate but also offers a glimpse into the dietary traditions and cultural significance of the region.


Juju Dhau: King of Yogurt

When it comes to traditional dairy delights in the Kathmandu Valley, Juju Dhau reigns supreme. Known as the “King of Yogurt,” Juju Dhau is a rich and creamy yogurt that holds a special place in the hearts and palates of the people of the valley.


Originating in the town of Bhaktapur, Juju Dhau has a history that spans more than four centuries. Legend has it that during a royal visit, a king was so impressed by the unique taste and texture of the yogurt that he bestowed the name “Juju Dhau,” which translates to “King of Yogurt.”


Juju Dhau is made using a traditional method that involves fermenting buffalo milk in special clay pots called “kharas.” The clay pots, lined with a layer of butter and sealed with a cloth, provide the perfect environment for the milk to naturally ferment and develop its distinctive flavor.


The result is a yogurt that is thick, creamy, and slightly tangy, with a velvety texture that melts in your mouth. Its rich and indulgent taste sets it apart from regular yogurt and makes it a favorite dessert or snack among both locals and visitors.


One of the best ways to enjoy Juju Dhau is by pairing it with local honey or sweetened molasses, which adds a touch of natural sweetness to the creamy yogurt. The combination of sweet and tangy flavors creates a delightful harmony that is hard to resist.


While Juju Dhau is available throughout the year, it holds particular significance during festivals and special occasions. It is often served as an offering to deities during religious ceremonies or shared with family and friends to celebrate joyous occasions.


When visiting the Kathmandu Valley, make sure to indulge in this regal yogurt experience. You can find Juju Dhau in various sweet shops and traditional Newari eateries, where you can savor the velvety goodness of this iconic treat and understand why it holds the title of “King of Yogurt.”


Samay Baji: Ritualistic Feast of the Newars

Samay Baji is not just a dish but a ritualistic feast that holds deep cultural and religious significance among the Newar community of the Kathmandu Valley. This elaborate spread of flavors and textures is a testament to the Newar’s rich culinary heritage and their reverence for tradition.


The preparation of Samay Baji involves various components that come together to create a harmonious meal. The main elements of Samay Baji include beaten rice (baji), fried fish, boiled eggs, chhoela (spiced grilled meat), achaar (pickles), and smoked pork or buffalo meat.


What distinguishes Samay Baji is not just the assortment of delicious foods, but also the symbolic representation embedded in each item. It showcases the Newar’s connection to their religion, rituals, and communal festivities.


Samay Baji is often enjoyed during festivals and ceremonies, such as New Year (Nepal Sambat), Dashain, and weddings. It signifies the harmonious union of different elements and the blessings of prosperity and abundance.


Traditionally, Samay Baji is served on a plate made of banana leaves, which adds a natural and rustic touch to the feast. The various components are carefully arranged, representing a balance of flavors, colors, and textures.


When you partake in Samay Baji, you won’t just be enjoying a delicious meal, but you’ll also be immersing yourself in the culture and traditions of the Newar community. It’s an opportunity to savor the diverse flavors and experience the rituals that have been passed down through generations.


So, if you have the chance to participate in a Newar celebration or visit a traditional Newari restaurant, make sure to indulge in a Samay Baji feast. Not only will your taste buds be delighted, but you’ll also gain a deeper appreciation for the culinary heritage and religious customs of the Kathmandu Valley.


Sel Roti: Traditional Nepali Rice Bread

Sel Roti is a traditional Nepali rice bread that holds a special place in the hearts and palates of the people in the Kathmandu Valley. This circular-shaped delicacy, made from a batter of rice flour, ghee, and sugar, is a symbol of celebration and is often enjoyed during festivals and special occasions.


Preparing Sel Roti requires skill and precision. The batter is poured into hot oil in a spiral motion, creating a beautiful, golden-brown bread with a crispy exterior and a soft, fluffy interior. The aromatic fragrance of ghee fills the air as Sel Roti cooks to perfection.


The unique texture and taste of Sel Roti make it a versatile treat. It can be enjoyed on its own as a snack or paired with a cup of tea or milk. It is also commonly served during religious ceremonies and cultural events, symbolizing good luck and prosperity.


One of the most popular occasions for Sel Roti is during the festival of Tihar, also known as the Festival of Lights. It is believed that Sel Roti is offered to invite and honor the Goddess Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity.


Sel Roti holds not only cultural significance but also showcases the creativity and artistry of the Nepali people. During festive times, you can witness women skillfully making Sel Roti in large quantities, creating a mesmerizing sight as the golden rings take shape in their hands.


When you bite into a freshly made Sel Roti, you are treated to a delightful combination of crunchy exterior and soft, sweet interior. The subtle sweetness and fragrant flavors make it a beloved treat among locals and a must-try for visitors to the Kathmandu Valley.


If you have the opportunity, try to witness the process of making Sel Roti and taste this beloved Nepali delicacy. It is not just a bread, but a cultural symbol that represents the warmth, hospitality, and traditions of Nepal.


Gundruk: Fermented Leafy Greens

Gundruk is a traditional Nepali dish that showcases the ingenious way of preserving and enhancing the flavors of leafy greens. This unique delicacy is made by fermenting leafy greens, primarily mustard greens or spinach, and is a staple in the diet of the people in the Kathmandu Valley and beyond.


The process of making Gundruk starts with washing and chopping the leafy greens. The greens are then sun-dried until they wilt and become slightly dehydrated. Once dried, they are tightly packed in a container and left to ferment for a few days, allowing the natural bacteria to transform the greens into a tangy and slightly sour condiment.


What sets Gundruk apart is not just its distinctive taste, but also its nutritional benefits. The fermentation process enhances the nutritional content of the leafy greens, making them more easily digestible and providing valuable probiotics, vitamins, and minerals.


Gundruk is a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of dishes. It is commonly added to soups, stews, and curries, lending its unique flavor and enhancing the overall taste of the dish. It can also be stir-fried with spices and served as a side dish.


In addition to its culinary uses, Gundruk holds cultural significance in the Nepali community. It is often served during special occasions such as weddings and festivals, symbolizing prosperity and good fortune.


When you taste Gundruk, you’ll experience a combination of flavors – tangy, slightly sour, and earthy. The complex taste profile makes it a favorite among locals and an acquired taste for visitors. It is a testament to the diverse and unique flavors found in Nepali cuisine.


If you’re a food lover seeking to explore the depth of Nepali cuisine, don’t miss the opportunity to try Gundruk. It offers a window into the preservation techniques and cultural traditions that have been passed down through generations in the Kathmandu Valley and beyond.


Kachila: A Spicy and Tangy Delicacy

Kachila is a spicy and tangy delicacy that tantalizes the taste buds with its unique flavors. This traditional dish, native to the Kathmandu Valley, showcases the vibrant and aromatic spices that are characteristic of Nepali cuisine.


The star ingredient of Kachila is minced meat, typically buffalo or goat, which is marinated with a blend of spices such as ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, and chili powder. The meat is then mixed with lime or lemon juice, creating a tangy and zesty flavor profile.


What sets Kachila apart is its raw preparation. Unlike other meat dishes that require cooking, Kachila is consumed raw, giving it a distinct texture and taste. The freshness of the ingredients and the careful balance of spices contribute to its irresistible charm.


Despite its raw nature, Kachila is considered safe to eat due to the marinating process and the use of high-quality, fresh ingredients. The acidity from the citrus juice acts as a natural preservative, while the spices help to ward off any harmful bacteria.


Kachila is typically served as a snack or appetizer, accompanied by beaten rice (baji) or puffed rice (chura). The combination of the flavorful meat with the light and crispy texture of the rice creates a satisfying contrast.


As you take a bite of Kachila, you’ll experience a burst of flavors – the heat from the chili, the tanginess from the citrus, and the aromatic spices dancing on your palate. It is a dish that awakens the senses and leaves a lasting impression.


While Kachila may not be for the faint of heart, it is an opportunity to venture into the bold and vibrant flavors of Nepali cuisine. It allows you to appreciate the skillful balance of spices and the culinary traditions that have been passed down through generations.


When you visit the Kathmandu Valley, seek out a local eatery or a Newari restaurant that serves Kachila. It is an invitation to embark on a culinary adventure that will ignite your taste buds with its spicy and tangy allure.


Yomari: A Sweet Delight

Yomari is a sweet delight that holds a special place in the hearts of the people of the Kathmandu Valley. This traditional Newari dessert is made from rice flour dough filled with a sweet mixture of molasses or khoya (reduced milk), and often flavored with hints of cardamom or sesame.


The name “Yomari” itself is derived from two Newari words – “yo,” meaning “like” or “favorite,” and “mari,” meaning “bread.” As the name suggests, Yomari is a beloved treat that is eagerly awaited during festivals, especially the Yomari Punhi festival, dedicated to the Newari harvest deity.


Preparing Yomari is a skillful art that requires patience and precision. The rice flour dough is kneaded until smooth and pliable, then shaped into a conical form and filled with the sweet filling. The delicate dumplings are then steamed until they become soft and slightly translucent.


One of the unique aspects of Yomari is the symbolism behind its shape. The conical shape represents the sacred Himalayan peak, symbolizing good fortune and prosperity. It is believed that by enjoying Yomari, one receives blessings for abundance and well-being.


When you take a bite of Yomari, you’ll experience a delightful combination of textures and flavors. The tender and chewy rice dough gives way to a sweet and gooey filling, creating a burst of sweetness in every bite. The aromatic hints of cardamom or sesame add an extra layer of fragrance.


Yomari is not just a delicacy to be savored but also a cultural tradition that brings communities together. During the Yomari Punhi festival, families gather to make Yomari together, fostering a sense of unity and celebration.


If you have the chance to visit the Kathmandu Valley during the Yomari Punhi festival or any other festive occasion, don’t miss the opportunity to try this exquisite dessert. It is a taste of tradition and a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of the Newar community.



Exploring the culinary delights of the Kathmandu Valley is a journey that takes you through centuries of history, culture, and flavors. From the humble momo to the regal Juju Dhau, each dish tells a story and offers a glimpse into the vibrant tapestry of Nepali cuisine.


Throughout this article, we have delved into 11 iconic dishes that showcase the richness of the Kathmandu Valley’s culinary traditions. From the traditional Newari Bhoj feasts to the tangy and spicy Kachila, each dish holds cultural significance and reflects the ingenuity of Nepali cooking techniques.


Whether you are a visitor to the Kathmandu Valley or a local seeking to delve deeper into your own heritage, these dishes provide a sensory experience that goes beyond taste. They immerse you in the rituals, celebrations, and communal traditions that have shaped Nepali cuisine for generations.


So, as you savor the delicious momo, delight in the savory rice pancake of Chatamari, or appreciate the rich flavors of Kwati, remember that each bite carries with it the history, culture, and warmth of Nepal.


From the streets of Kathmandu to the homes of Newari families, these dishes are a testament to the culinary expertise and creativity of the Nepali people. They invite you to celebrate the diversity of flavors and the unique treasures that the Kathmandu Valley has to offer.


So, whether you have the opportunity to sample these dishes during your visit or recreate them in your own kitchen, may you savor the taste of Nepal and immerse yourself in the gastronomic wonders of the Kathmandu Valley.