Kathmandu is the bursting-at-the-seams capital of Nepal, at once forward-looking and provincial, trendy and traditional, surrounded by some of the world’s most spectacular beauty and wallowing in its own filth. Visitors to Nepal, unless coming overland from India, must pass through Kathmandu, as it’s home to the only international airport in the country. And while many leave its dust-clogged arteries as soon as possible after arriving, heeding the call of the Himalaya just beyond the city’s northern rim, those who stay a while discover why this is the kind of place people come to on a quick backpacking trip and wake up in 40 years later, having never left. Its culture is ancient, and so is its food, with just the right amount of contemporary.

It’s often mistakenly said that Nepali food is similar to Indian, perhaps because both cuisines feature spiced curries. While both Indian and Nepali food vary according to region and the ethnic group preparing it, generally speaking Nepali food is less reliant on butter, cream, milk, and heavy sauces than Indian food. You won’t find many Nepali curries swimming in rich gravy. Instead, you’ll be served whole ingredients that have been freshly cooked with a plethora of spices. That doesn’t always mean that Nepali food is hot with chili, though—many Nepali meals are served with a fiery hot sauce on the side, so you can choose your own spice levels. That rule, however, goes out the window when it comes to Newari food.

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