It's not often that you see Nepalese dishes on the menu.
But thanks to Mount Everest Restaurant, just east of Spadina, we can revel in the wondrous and unusual spices and flavours that Nepal has to offer.
Owners Niraj Adhikari and Dibesh Regmi have created a unique place that offers both dishes from Nepal, where they are both from, and India.
Both owners studied hospitality and decided to open a restaurant together, to "introduce Nepalese food to Toronto."
Niraj explains that both
countries "use the same spices. There are a few differences here and there." Nepalese food is usually lighter, as there is no cream or milk.
The restaurant is clean, sparse and comfortable and can not only accommodate singles, couples or a large group, but birthday parties, anniversaries and any other special occasion that you may have in mind.
The night I dine, the crowd is a fun mix of students and professors from the neighbouring university, couples and foursomes, retired folks and people from the neighbourhood in groups of one, two and 10. There are a lot of regulars too.
And they are open for lunch ($8.95 buffet with around 15 items - a la carte is also available) and dinner 7 days a week, so whenever you have a hankering, they'll be open. There's also take out and catering, if you can't stay, but be sure to stop in on Monday and Wednesday nights when there's sitar music from 7 - 10 p.m.!
There are brightly coloured paintings from Nepal that depict rural life - a yak basking in the sun, a woman with a basket - and their folk songs play overhead.
The kitchen team today is comprised of Amit Sibal, Ganga Ram and Tika Ram and my waiter is from Tibet - these people are cooking and serving dishes from their home countries and so I feel a little like being invited into someone's house.
Yellow lentil pappadums arrive at my table. Some pappadums are made out of rice flour, so it's a nice change. They are accompanied by green chutney, mango chutney and sweet tamarind sauce.
Mixed Vegetable Pakoras ($3.95) are golden fried in a light chickpea flour batter and are crispy and spicy, but it's the Nepali Khaja (Nepalese Appetizer) that I am so excited about.
Momo Chicken - 8 pieces ($8.95) is a Nepali-style steamed chicken dumpling, served with Nepali Achar, which is a pickle condiment. The Momos are very similar to Japanese gyoza and I have had a number of variations of the Momo, but never one this delicate.
Thin, almost see-through pouches hold savory minced chicken and the sauce contains a Nepalese spice that is similar to black pepper. Combined with some garlic, a bit of heat and a creamy tomato base, it is the perfect accompaniment for such tender packages.
"Green Chicken" or as it says on the menu, Hariali Tikka ($13.95), is the brightest green I've seen on food outside of vegetables. The large chunks of boneless chicken have retained all of their moisture and are light tasting, despite their marinating in yogurt, mint and "exotic Indian Masala." It is the combination of marinating and cooking the chicken in a clay (Tandoori) oven that makes it so moist.
The Chicken Tikka Masala is prepared in the Tandoori oven as well, and is mild and creamy, thanks to yogurt, lemon juice and spices, but it's the Nepalese dishes that I find the most exhilarating, such as the Aloo, Tama and Bodi ($9.25).
Both owners warn me that the flavours are unusual and that many people "have to get used to the tastes."
I am excited to try something that I am unfamiliar with and up for the challenge. This popular local mountain dish is comprised of potatoes, bamboo shoots and black-eyed peas cooked with "mountain spices."
The tastes are superb, but incredibly hard to define. It turns out that they are spices I've never had before, like gedimbu. The soft, hearty black eyed peas and potatoes that have maintained their shape and integrity make for a rich stew that I highly recommend you try, if for nothing else, to get something completely different out of the range of tastes that you currently know.
And if you are a garlic lover, be sure to get the Masala Naan ($3.25), a soft chewy bread that comes heavily dosed with chunks of fresh garlic - you'll need a mint after this one, but it's worth it!