Bakeries in the Valley have come a long way since the humble pauroti-named after the rather unappetising fact that the bread was kneaded by assistants who hopped feet first into large vats of dough. Another, more plausible theory, is that the word comes from the Portuguese word for bread, p?o, that came to Nepal from India.
Today, equipped with spatulas, state-of-the-art ovens, a lot more experience and a high appreciation for hygiene, Kathmandu's bakers are turning out an array of goodies that could tempt the patron saint of dieters. Why resist when giving in is such a pleasure? Nepali Times lines up a baker's dozen-twelve plus one, just in case-of the best bakeries in town.
When Krishna Bahadur Rajkarnikar began baking 55 years ago, Nepalis were rolling out hearty rotis but had no baked alternatives. His story began with disappointment. He never received the land that was promised him by Indu Shamshere Rana in return for years of loyal service, so destiny took him to Calcutta to learn a skill that would bring in some money. A prominent baker befriended him and got Krishna working at an English bakery. He returned home and in 1947 established Krishna Pauroti. As with all new things, there were sceptics, and true-blue Brahmins suspected pauroti contained alcohol. Actually, Krishna Bahadur used boiled hops as a leavener. Then there was the name: many thought bakers used their feet to mix the batter although Krishna says it was always a handmade affair. Ghana Shyam Rajkarnikar, Krishna's son, now runs the show. He recalls when asking 50 paisa for a loaf of bread was considered exorbitant as he deftly wraps up another box of the popular fruit cakes.
While tradition is all very well, consumer tastes do change. Realising they needed to put out a bigger selection, in 1986 Krishna Bahadur's grandsons opened Mabacos-a clever acronym for Master Bakers and Confectioners. It has gained a loyal clientele for products that don't stint on quality but are easy on the pocket. Rabi Rajkarnikar, the general manager, knows competition is stiff and image is essential in a brand-conscious economy. They are now looking into opening Mabaco's Cakes and Bakes that won't use preservatives and artificial colours.
A street away on the posh Durbar Marg is The Cake Shop at Hotel de l'Annapurna. Since 1978 they've turned out breads, cakes, pastries and savories that set standards for others in the business. The White Forest, recently renamed the Everest Cake, is a triumph. Thanks to a half-price scheme between 9-10PM, The Cake Shop never has anything but the freshest temptations on display.
There are few better ways to begin your day than with the Yak & Yeti's fruit danish washed down with a double shot of espresso. It's a sugar and caffeine rush that nutritionists may frown on but indulgence is rarely fat-free or healthy. Ram Lal Shrestha, the pastry chef has been going about his business at the hotel since 1979. The Centre Point specialty is the custom made animation cakes topped with 3D planes, trains and cartoon characters no child (or adult) can resist. If you're just too busy to pop over, place an online order at www.thamel.com.
The favourite venue for chocoholics is probably the Radisson Pastry Shop. In air-conditioned splendour they can be spotted with rapture on their faces as they reverently bite into the Chocolate Nemesis-77 percent of pure chocolate that seeps into the blood, releasing a flood of endorphins \'happiness hormones\' on their way.
Many a hostess has tried to pass off the Success Cake from the Shangri-la Bakery Shop at Lazimpat as her own creation. Not that anyone is fooled. The signature French specialty that involves layers of merengue, almonds and a rich but light cream filling, is a Shangri-la hallmark that the discerning know and love. Unfortunately it only makes rare appearances but they do take orders, which is how it appears as dessert at dinner parties.
A place that is always stocked is Hot Breads Bakers and Confectioners, an international chain with five outlets in the Valley, including one in Durbar Marg. They offer variety at affordable prices, luring in students, executives and families. "We maintain international standards and only offer the freshest products because Hot Breads has become synonymous with quality," proprietor Shridar P Sharma says with pride. Don't fret if your favourite cheese croissant is all sold out. Before you know it, a fresh batch will emerge from the kitchen. Good things do come to those who wait.
Shyam Kakshapati's Nanglo's Bakery Caf? that opened its first restaurant at Teendhara, is perhaps Nepal's best-known eatery chain. Say "I'll see you at the bakery" and most Kathmandu residents will only ask which of the numerous Nanglo caf?'s you are referring to. Since 1991, Nanglo's has become a favorite hang out for the young. The website, www.nanglo's.com, lets students vote or comment on current issues. Those who join Club Bakery Caf? get discounts at various shops, recreation centres, clubs and resorts.
Twenty years ago Norbu Shrestha started carting his pies to Thamel after baking them at his father's restaurant in Boudha. Looking around his bustling Pumpernickel Bakery he remembers when it used to be all dirt roads lined by a handful of houses. Sherpa got his experience the hard way-working in bakeries across the United States, Germany and Switzerland. Each time he brought home new techniques and recipes, which explains why you can get authentic German bread in the heart of Thamel. He uses only local ingredients, and flour from Manang and Mustang for special orders. Pumpernickel Bakery has a wide selection of bread: wholewheat, multigrain and oatmeal to name just a few. This was the place that introduced the "proper" croissant and bagel to Kathmandu. And just by the way, this bakery also excels at homemade Italian icecream.
Around the corner, Weizen Bakery tempts the casual passerby with a street side display of goodies: cheesecake, scones, very sizeable apple muffins, brownies.the list is endless. The pretzel and chocolate spice cake got my thumbs up. One stop over, the cake selection at Helena's is quickly gaining respect.
Patan may not have rows of bakeries, but who needs quantity when Hermann Helmer's offers the finest quality in German bakery products? The Nepali venture has been in operation for 25 years, passing from father to sons and all three bake with the nurturing assistance of their mother, Ram Maya. Ashok KC, father and founder of the enterprise, trained in Germany and was deeply impressed by the emphasis on quality, something these bakers do not compromise on. Sons Nirmal, Kamal and Bimal now run the show. Nirmal's true passion is white bread and the perfect little cupcakes younger Hermann's customer's love. Kamal handles the pastry department, while Bimal, the youngest, makes the puffs. The bakery has proven to be a menacing temptation to many who work out at the gym next door. Since there is so much whole grain goodness going around, the disciplined can find a snack to compliment their workout. The bakery opens its doors at 7AM, and by mid-morning the first lot is already gone.
Those willing to go the extra mile won't be disappointed if they make a pilgrimage to the Hyatt Regency, Boudha. Chef Pratap Dhaubhadel's stunningly elaborate creations look almost too good too eat. Almost. The happiest hour at the Hyatt is between 7-8PM when you can go home with everything at almost half the price.