THE MOVEABLE FEAST: Of travellin’ men and menu diverse
Heerendra Tamrakar and his family of five brothers and sisters who own Helena’s have much in common with me. Almost opposite Helena’s are my friends Lars and Sunita Braaten’s bookshop. They always order the fried fish and pork chops.
Heerendra worked for five months in the Yak And Yeti in the 80’s and was a good friend of my friend Raju KC, now a swami in San Francisco. Kunda Dixit, whom I wrote for and who opened Lars’ United Books, wrote about Heerendra when he first opened on Kantipath two decades ago.
“The general manager of Yak And Yeti gave me the most important advice of my life — don’t work for others, work for yourself,” said Heerendra as Lesh Bahadur Thapa, who was serving us, brought the Chicken Maryland. It first appeared in the great Chef Escoffier’s book Ma Cuisine, a breaded breast of chicken served with batter-fried bananas, pineapples (and in the case of Helena’s) fried apples. The taste is overwhelmingly of fruit which coats your mouth in deliciousness.
“Helena is my sister’s name. As we shifted location, after Kunda Dixit’s first article about us, tourists would come to the kitchen and teach our cooks their favourite dishes. Which is how the present menu evolved,” said Heerendra.
Chef Man Bahadur Giri (who has been with Helen’s for 17 years even before the restaurant acquired it’s present wholly-owned Tamrakar family location), said of the Weiner Schnitzel, “I use a little mustard, some fresh garlic and salt and pepper and put a lot of care into the way I crumb-fry it.”
The taste would have done the old Viennese proud — it’s one of their most famous traditional dishes. It’s a fine steak crumbed and golden fried. Originally it was cotoletta alla Milanese in Northern Italy and was brought to Germany by a General.
At the table next to us sat a German couple, who said they had been to Nepal nine or ten times, and on their first night they always dined at Helena’s. Uwe and Inger brought their grandson with them two years ago and he loved the tomato soup, which was fresh and zesty. Uwe and Inger liked the mellowness of the cauliflower in cheese.
The Cordon Bleu was a blue ribbon with a medal awarded by the French king Louis XV to the Chef of his girlfriend, the Countess du Barry, for making an extraordinary chicken dish with cheese and ham folded cleverly within, before sa-utéing. The name of the dish comes from the award. In Helena’s, the Cordon Bleu is served with a saucy brown gravy with an oniony taste that accents the cheese, the chicken and the ham. Heerendra travels, which helps with the menu of Helena’s.
The Chicken Kiev which is a chicken breast rolled around butter seasoned by Chef Giri with parsley and mushrooms and then, as tradition demands, crumb fried was, created by a Frenchman in the 18th century and was much loved by the Russian Empress Elizabeth. Thus, the name which delighted homesick Russian immigrants in New York. Helena’s Kiev would compete with the Kievs that Heerendra would get anywhere in the world.
We left reluctantly eating a chocolate brownie, which was invented in 1897 when a housewife in America dropped a baking cake but kept it, cutting it into smaller pieces. Helena’s serves it with nuts. All the dishes at Helena’s have something new about them, which had a satisfied lady diner shouting “I love Nepal” as she left the restaurant — satisfied. Call 4266979, 4224200.