Masala Dosa. The Bakery Cafe. Kathmandu, Nepal

The Bakery Cafe in Kathmandu, Nepal

I was taken to The Bakery Café in Kathmandu for lunch by a tour guide during a day of sightseeing.  It seemed like a typical Nepalese restaurant at first glance.  After looking at the menu I realized the menu offered a wide variety of cuisines, including American pizza and burgers, Tibetan Momo, a fixed Nepali lunch, and a large selection of Chinese items.

The Bakery Café opened its first location in 1991, attempting to introduce American fast food culture to Kathmandu.  It is a far cry from American fast food, but the diverse menu of items served quickly, with traditional table service and a full bar, perhaps makes the Bakery Café better than American fast food. 

Location: There are eight locations around the city, in the neighborhoods of Bouddha, Bhatbhateni, Jawalakhel, Maharajgunj, New Baneshwar, Pulchowk, Teendhara and Teku

Menu: Tibetan Momos are offered in vegetable, buffalo, chicken and mutton. Cows are sacred in this mostly Hindu country, so buffalo and mutton (lamb) are the common substitutes.   Pizzas come in small, medium and large, with a list of toppings that is modest by American standards, but if you are an American looking for a pizza in Kathmandu, you will be thrilled with cheese, mushrooms or sausage. 

The BBQ menu offers chicken, mutton, chicken wings, and paneer, a local farmer’s cheese.  You won’t find any beef brisket or pulled pork here.  When it comes to BBQ, it is all about the sauce, so I admire the attempt to Americanize the local ingredients.  BBQ lamb (or mutton) is rare in the United States, but perhaps we should try it more often.  I’m not sure BBQ cheese will ever be a hit in the States, but never underestimate the creativity of vegetarians. 

The Chinese menu includes a variety of soft noodles, fried rice, Chicken Manchurian, Chicken Szechuan and other dishes that can be prepared and served quickly. A fixed Nepalese lunch of plain rice, Dal, vegetable curry, pickle and a green salad is also available. 

In a country that borders India and China, has a large population of Tibetan refugees, a local Newari population and lots of international visitors, mixing cultures and cuisines in Kathmandu is a way of life.  The extensive list of offerings is impressive for a restaurant that prides itself on serving quickly.

Masala Dosa was recommended.  It is a South Indian dish, that upon first glance, looks like an American chicken salad wrap.  The Masala, or inside filling is a mix of rice, lentils, potato, methi (fenugreek leaves) and curry leaves.  The Dosa is a thin flat bread.  It is often served with chutneys and sambar, a lentil-based vegetable soup or chowder.  This option is like a soup and salad luncheon in an American restaurant. 

The dessert menu offers a banana split, cake, pastry, muffins, and ice cream.  Ice cream is a special offering in Nepal, as many restaurants don’t have freezer capacity, and so they aren’t able to offer it.  Ice cream and yogurt are often made with buffalo milk and not cow’s milk.  This was my first taste of buffalo milk.  It tasted like cow’s milk to me.  

Don’t let the name fool you, I was looking for a bakery counter, an elaborate dessert offering, homemade bread, or some other sign that this was actually a bakery.  I didn’t see it.  Like many things lost in translation, the term bakery doesn’t translate as literally as I had hoped in this situation.  Yes, there was cake and pastry on the dessert menu, but it certainly wasn’t presented as a featured item.

Thoughts: The location we visited is across the street from a United Nations office building.  Clearly, this place knows its market, and can cater to a diverse crowd of international professionals who need a fast lunch option.  The open air, roomy setting made it comfortable for private conversations at the table.

As one does in many foreign countries, we used a lot of sign language to order our meals.  Then, I noticed our guide was also signing and pointing and waving as he ordered.  He then explained that the Bakery Café has done something quite progressive for Nepal. They have a program where they hire deaf people to work in the restaurant.  There aren’t a lot of opportunities for deaf people to work in Nepal. 

I think this is a brilliant idea.  In a restaurant full of international patrons, where language is an obstacle anyhow, it really doesn’t matter whether the wait staff can hear the patrons.  Pointing and gesturing works just fine. 

There are lots of seemingly “American” or “Continental” restaurants in Kathmandu.  Like any big city around the world, you can probably find every kind of cuisine.  I like to eat like the locals wherever I go, so I mostly ate some type of curry every day.  Still, it was fun to see what Nepalese people think American food is, and to know that if you really had a craving for a piece of pizza, BBQ or a burger, you can find it at The Bakery Café. 

Price Range: You can eat very well for not a lot of money in Nepal.  A 12 -piece Momo meal is the equivalent of about $2.  A small mushroom pizza is about $2.75.  Chinese options go up to $7.  I couldn’t find anything on the menu for over $10.  If you want to go a little crazy trying lots of new things, from a pricing perspective, Nepal is a country where experimenting a bit has a small price tag. 

Victoria Hart

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