Kathmandu:

We haven’t begun to call it petrol rationing, but if you walk from Bhatbhatteni to Patan, you will need to break camp at least a dozen times, tents, utensils, cooks and all.

Thank god then that a few pioneers like Shyam and Rani Kakshapati, and more recently Nangia’s Bawarchi, Pradhan of Java, The Road House Group and The New Orleans People have opened up all over the Valley, so one doesn’t actually grow faint with hunger and resort to eating tyres and tarmac.

My friend Tasneem can be rung up at 9803299610 for a quite exquisite biryani and a mutton curry that is to fight for.

Another acquaintance, Sarad Satyal made such a success of his delicious Dhaba that he’s opened up Masala, right near Tasneem’s, only his is a restaurant. Both in Patan.

At Sarad’s Masala, you begin with a few shami kebabs, the little round minced kebabs delights that have come to us from Afghanistan and Swat. I promise you that there is a place and it used to be run by a Nawab called a Wali.

Says Jennifer Brennan in her prize winning book, Curries and Bugles, A Memoir of the British Raj, “The Wali, who we visited, was a Muslim and ate as a Muslim. The following recipe for kebabs would be very familiar to Muslims from Baghdad to Kabul, and Peshawar to Saidu Sharif.”

Food writer Madhur Jaffrey fills her shamis with almonds, poppy seeds and says,

“Traditionally, shami kebabs, which are spicy, hamburger-like patties made with finely minced

lamb, are shallow-fried in a frying-pan.”

Sarad does one of the very best seekh kebabs, which he describes as tender rolls of succulent

lamb mixed with ginger, green chillies and coriander, spiced with royal cumin and saffron and finished over a charcoal fire.

By a strange coincidence, Sarad’s neighbour Tasneem has a seekh kebab that she learnt from her Bohri family. But these are slightly different from the ones I drool over. They are called Lagania seekh and are cooked in a pan and have the most extraordinary egg topping and 15 more condiments. My favourite seekhs are done on skewers and have fewer condiments more meat and added juiciness.

Excellent too is Masala’s Kashmiri ghost, which is a bright red mutton curry. I can’t describe it except of a taste that hits you and stays with you. Restaurant owner Camellia Panjabi is informative, “The hallmark of the dish as cooked in Kashmir is the liberal use of the true Kashmiri red chilli, which has a mild flavour but gives a bright red colour. Rogan means meat fat and josh literally means heat, though figuratively it means intensity. Traditionally rogan josh was slow-cooked in its own fat for an intense flavour.”

But if I were to choose one curry that I would brave the petrol shortage for, it would be the palak ghost of Punjab or meat with spinach. Says Camellia Panjabi, “Punjab is home to an earthy cuisine and it is common to find the man of the house pounding away on a piece of the meat to tenderise them so that his palak ghost is outstanding”.

At Masala both rogan josh and the palak ghost have flavours that dreams are made up. You get a little nutmeg coming through some black cardamoms and cinnamon. And it’s total love at first taste.

Sarad is probably one of the few people who has done a miracle in potatoes. “Our designer potatoes are cooked by steam in a red and yellow gravy over a very, very slow fire and garnished with ginger.” Best of spicy Masala luck Sarad. Contact Subash Rimal at 9841824059.