Kathmandus and Kathmandon’ts 

What to eat when Nepal meets India at the new Himalayan Kitchen.

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It’s hard for me to imagine a place much further from Salt Lake City than Kathmandu, in Nepal. It’s approximately 7,587 miles as the crow flies, and light years away in terms of culture, religion, politics and cuisine.

Then again, our climates are quite similar. Kathmandu’s summers are toasty and its winters frigid, just like here. I know this because Rabi (pronounced “Robbie”) told me so. Rabi is one of the friendly and informative servers working at the Himalayan Kitchen. He’s been in Utah now for about five months. How does a person get from Kathmandu to the Beehive State? I’ll let Rabi tell you that story himself when you visit the Himalayan Kitchen, which is something you should do.

A few months ago, Taj India restaurant on 400 South morphed into the Himalayan Kitchen. Some of the Taj India staff stuck around through the transition, and the Indian dishes served at the Himalayan Kitchen are essentially the same as Taj India’s. For that matter, the décor is pretty much identical to Taj India’s, except for a few wall posters of the Himalayas and an intriguing photo on the back wall of a Nepalese Buddhist temple. That photo notwithstanding, much of Nepal is Hindu. So don’t go to the Himalayan Kitchen looking for beef and pork.

Since northeast India shares a border with Nepal, it’s not hard to understand why the Himalayan Kitchen would serve both Indian and Nepalese cuisine. Plus, it would probably be a stretch for a restaurant serving only the food of Nepal to make it in Utah. Besides, there’s a lot of overlap between Nepalese and Indian cooking. For example, staples of Indian cooking like dal, pulau and sag are just as common in Nepal.

There are a couple of ways to go about dining at the Himalayan Kitchen. A good way to sink your teeth into Nepalese/Indian cuisine is to stake out the daily lunch buffet ($8.45) at the restaurant. The buffet selection varies from day to day but there are always dependable staples like tandoori chicken, curries, basmati rice, dal, naan and such. It’s a good way to try a lot of different dishes without having to commit to full-size entrees.

At dinnertime, I suggest bringing friends or family. Nepalese and Indian food is made to share. Indeed, on a recent Friday evening, the restaurant was filled with what appeared to be City Weekly reader types: a lot of natural fibers, piercings, artful tattoos and frayed copies of One Hundred Years of Solitude on every other table. OK, I exaggerate. But the place was filled with a lot of happy customers, most sharing wine or beer along with good conversation and great food.

It’ll take you a while to orient yourself to the Himalayan Kitchen menu, so put in a quick order for an appetizer platter or two to buy some time. The Himalayan platter ($7.95) will feed a small army and keep even the kids happy until entrées arrive. Our platter included three tandoori chicken legs, a couple of boneless pieces of chicken tikka, a large tender lamb kebab, and two cumin-infused lamb sausages (seek kebabs) along with dipping sauces.

A 9-year-old pal of mine was totally stoked by the boneless chicken tikka, so much so that he ordered the same thing for his entrée. Unusually tender chunks of white chicken meat are marinated in a yogurt and spice mixture, then cooked tandoori style. The result is a plate of bright orange-red (the color comes primarily from food coloring), subtly spiced pieces of boneless chicken that, yes, even a 9-year-old will love. By the way, the difference between the Himalayan Kitchen’s chicken tikka ($11.95) and chicken tandoori ($10.95) is simply a matter of boneless versus bone-in.

Essential to any meal at the Himalayan Kitchen is an order of Nepali steamed dumplings called momos. Kids love these, too. Momos are very similar to Chinese potstickers, but are a tad lighter and fragrant with scents of ginger and cilantro. Although traditional Nepali momos are made with buffalo meat, at the Himalayan Kitchen they come in two varieties: either chicken or veggie. There are 10 pieces per order ($8.95), and they’re served with a scrumptious spicy sauce thickened with ground cashews.

One more kid note: At first glance the Himalayan Kitchen might freak American kids out. Don’t worry. Just put in a quick order for cheese naan ($2.25), traditional teardrop-shaped bread charred quickly in a red-hot tandoor. The cheese naan isn’t very cheesy, but there’s just enough cheese flavor to snap kids’ taste buds to attention and still hold appeal for adults.

In fact, there was absolutely nothing at the Himalayan Kitchen that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. I simply mention some kids’ favorites since most of us find it so difficult to get the little ones to eat anything more exotic than Lunchables. So it made my night when the 12-year-old in tow ordered chicken chow chow ($7.95), thin Nepali stir-fried noodles tossed with shredded chicken and fresh vegetables. For vegetarians, chow chow is also available sans chicken for $1 less. Incidentally, there are more than a dozen vegetarian specialty entrées on the Himalayan Kitchen menu. I’m especially nuts about the quanty masala ($8.95), which is a mid-autumn Nepali festival dish made from nine different types of beans cooked with fresh herbs, onion, ginger, garlic and tomato.

Most dishes on the Himalayan Kitchen menu go great with the beers served there, including Kingfisher, Maharaj and Squatter’s IPA. But wine drinkers beware: Unless you’re partial to Glen Ellen, bring your own bottle.

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