When I heard we were going to a Nepalese restaurant, I was intrigued. My previous experience with Nepalese food consisted only of momos, which are similar to Chinese dumplings, and I was eager to learn more about what Nepalese food is about.
I discovered momos while on a trip to northeastern India. Every time I spotted the big steaming pots along the street, I would happily run over to them for the steamed dumplings they harboured inside. Being in a foreign land, those little dumplings were a little treat of comfort. Momos were first introduced to Nepal through Tibetan immigrants that settled there. They quickly became very popular and Nepalese would eat it throughout the day, like a snack.
At Kasthamandap, our city’s first Nepalese restaurant, momos are certainly on the menu, both steamed (35RMB) and in a pan fried “guo tie” version (40RMB). They are a hearty chicken dumpling served with a robust ginger, coriander and tomato dipping sauce, kindof like a salsa. There is also a vegetarian momo for 30RMB.
The restaurant has two chefs from Nepal and the owner, Ramindra, has been living in China for 19 years. He had opened a Nepalese restaurant in Shanghai many years ago with a partner, and now he comes to Hangzhou to let us have a taste of his country’s food. After a quick look at the menu, I saw many items you would find in an Indian restaurant, so I asked Ramindra, what is the difference between the two cuisines?
“There are a lot of similarities, we both use the same kind of spices but the way we use them is different…it is the different cooking styles of mountainous regions verses the plains. Our food is lighter.”
So without further ado, we embarked on our gastronomic discovery. Chicken Tikka (50RMB), with a vibrant orange colour, was marinated to an incredible juicy, softness and had a refreshing lemony accent.
Nepal Mutton Curry (58RMB) is indeed very similar to the Indian version. There are the familiar masala spices but with a lighter, sweet taste. The thick gravy comes from tomatoes and onions that have been cooked down over a long time, flavouring the bite sized pieces of bone-in mutton.
To accompanying the curries, you can have Alu Mari (25RMB) which is like naan bread stuffed with potato and fresh coriander leaves.
Chicken Biryani (58RMB) is a celebration of plenty. I have never had a biryani with so many different ingredients! There was coconut, chestnut, tomatoes, hard-boiled egg, caramelized onions and almost as much chicken as rice.
Jimbu Crispy Potatoes (22RMB) was a dish we saw on almost every table during the busy lunch session and we would recommend it as a savoury and well-seasoned appetizer. The slices of potatoes were roasted to a crisp on the outside and soft and fluffy inside. They were then dusted with cumin, chili powder, coriander and jimbu – a spice found only in high mountainous elevations. The jimbu looks like long thin threads and it contributed a woodsy, fragrant aroma.
I almost overlooked the Himalayan Pork Ribs (35RMB half portion, 65RMB full), since they did not look meaty (the restaurant is working on changing that) but what it lacked in meat it made up for in taste. There is a nice sweet, roasted flavour that makes you want to keep eating.
Chicken Sadeku (25RMB) was maybe the most distinctly Nepalese dish we had that meal. Ramindra says they already toned down the spice level, as normally it would be full of chili powder and bright red. It’s a typical dish from the Newar ethnic group of Nepal, flavoured with turmeric, fenugreek, cumin powder and chili. It’s fresh tasting with a spicy kick.
It was a lovely meal and we really learned a lot about Nepalese culture and cuisine through talking with the friendly owner. If you like Indian food, but want it to be lighter then you really should come for a visit. It’s also the first chance to taste some uniquely Nepalese flavours like the Jimbu potatoes or chicken sadeku.
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