Rice Bowled over,Nepalis style

Dubby Bhagat

Kathmandu:

When Li Hung-Chang arrived in New York as Chinese ambassador to the United States in 1896 he brought with him three cooks whom he instructed to include in a new menu a dish that would appeal to both Eastern and Western palates. And Chop Suey was born. Chef Lal Bahadur who spent 18 years in Calcutta, some of them at the famous Peiping restaurant, is rather like the good 19th century ambassador when he says, “The food at The Rice And Bowl is Chinese but made for Nepali tastes.” Ever since Rice And Bowl opened less than a decade ago it has always been full of customers.

‘’The service is excellent and what makes the ambience is the fact that there are always people,’’ said Pat Lock who was dining at the Rice And Bowl with her husband Mike and their guests the Spencers who were there for the first time. “I like the Manchurian Chicken and the Lemon Chicken,” said Mike Lock, who has been eating at The Rice And Bowl since it opened; he is a connoisseur of life and his partaking of it includes a fantastic knowledge of the performing arts and art of the edible kind.

The Chicken Manchurian which Mike likes is beautifully spiced with garlic, ginger, green chilly and a hint of soya sauce that makes each morsel of chicken go from gentle to sharp in one bite. The Lemon Chicken is subtler mixing taste like ginger, honey and lemon juice. “Five of us are partners. I used to be a businessman and now I spend my evenings over here. I like it. I meet a lot of people and keep contact with them,” said Narendra Shrestha, one of the restaurant owners as Bishnu Thapa, the restaurant’s captain, and Pradip Shahi served us the many splendoured Peking Soup. It’s a deliciously thick broth with garlic and cilantro made to contrast with the taste of prawns. Eggs add a finishing touch. “In China it would be thinner, it would have soya sauce instead of the chilly sauce I use for local tastes,” said Chef Lal Bahadur. His Hot and Sour Soup has got the traditional soya sauce mixed with a home made garlic sauce, lemon and has textures ranging from the soft of tofu to the crisp of vegetables. “It is a most popular soup,” said our host Narendra Shrestha. And I could imagine the warmth of the soup and its hot and sour taste being ideal for winter evenings and piquant for summer ones. “We import our hot bean and soya sauce and rice noodles,” said Narendra.

The Hot Bean Sauce that drenched the slices of lamb in The Lamb With Hot Bean Sauce was mixed with cilantro, ginger, garlic and onion and managed to quicken the taste buds while having a mellow but hot wonderfulness all at the same time. One of Rice And Bowl’s many specialties.

And the rice noodles imported from Singapore traveled well and were extraordinarily startling in the Singapore Noodles which were made crunchy with an array of vegetables and were bound together in one delectably different dish with — hold your breath — turmeric sauce! “I don’t have many dinners at home with my family,’’ said Narendra Shrestha, “But the compensation is they all love Chinese food particularly the spicy Sezchuan dishes.” “Our Fried Green Mustard Leaves are liked by everybody,” said Bishnu Thapa which I knew because I order it everytime I’m there.

“In mornings I attend to my Nestlé business. We supply Nestlé products to all of Nepal. We use the Nestlé Tomato Sauce in the restaurant and that is not Chinese,” said Narendra Shrestha as we left, thanking Pradip Shahi who had done speedy wonders service for us. It was only later at home as I relived the meal that I remembered that in 1690 the Chinese had a fish sauce called ke-tsiap which British sailors called Ketchup and took with them to England and unable to copy the original they created a new sauce by adding tomatoes. Serendipity.

Narendra Shrestha’s Rice And Bowl and Nestlé did come together after all.