Tukche’s Thakali thali

Kathmandu:

A flight of stairs above the noise and clamour of Durbar Marg is a wondrous twilight quiet and an exotic place of old wood, burnished metal and beautiful tapestry all selected and put together by Mrs Bhattachan in her Tukche Thakali Kitchen. A place that is never empty. A friend was so impressed by it that he threatened to bring his Sheikh boss to the place.

Everyone who comes to Tukche Thakali  Kitchen are greeted by Devendra, who offers a menu that goes on four pages with romantic names like Kan Chhyamba, which is a Thakali version of finger chips made of buck wheat flour served with pickles while you wait for your meal.

But the best of the almost 50 items on the menu is the Vegetarian or Non-vegetarian set mini meal which comes in a thali — that romantic looking metal platter with matching bowls filled with goodness.

Tukche Thakali Kitchen is one of the few places that every item on the Thali satisfies. In lesser places, one inevitably complains about at least one offering on the Thali.

In Tukche, there is inevitably Syeoe or steam rice, which is soft and fluffy and particularly delicious when you add the clarified butter or ghee made in Tukche (the place in the mountains), which is something of a Thakali capital. Then you have Khu or black lentils — a dal favoured throughout South Asia. Devendra told me that the black dal had ghee and crushed garlic. We are warned by those extraordinary food writers the Majupurias that “this dal is very nutritious but is difficult to digest. Therefore, always cook it with garlic, ginger and onion”.

There are six steps to making a good Khu. Avoid one at your peril. Go through them all and you have a dish that makes dal-bhaat a regal dish with taste that is gentle on the tongue and full of flavours.

On the Thali is Plaa or fried potatoes. They too are something of a miracle. Imagine potatoes coated with turmeric, chilly and that slightly sharp uniquely Nepali spice timur. The many masalas or spices come together for a taste that is a combination of slightly hot and deliciously piquant. Food writer Madhur Jaffrey has an Indian version of this and she exclaims how delicious potatoes are when crusted with herbs and spices.

The mutton curry or the Ra Sya in the tradition of the best food has few condiments. There is a tomato base and the flavour comes through of garlic, ginger, onions and tomatoes and there is a touch of cumin or jeera.

Obviously a gourmet, Messers Majupurias talk of the cooking of mutton, “Allow the gravy to cook until it becomes thicker. Heat ghee and pour it in the cooked meat so as to impart flavour to it. Some people use oil and ghee together.”

Even without the ghee and the oil, the Tukche meat curry had an elusive taste that inevitably has you asking for more.

Then the green that looks so fantastic on the Thali comes from a mustard spinach. The taste is fresh. Thakali tradition has a touch of cumin and a little ginger. Sometimes turmeric to soothe. Crunchy and delicious, it vies for attention with the timur spiced tomato pickle or Golberako Achar and the crunchy Lapue or radish pickle of which the Majupurias says that they provide vitamins and, a bonus, a hot spiciness that adds to the taste of the main meal.

In the end, the elements of the Thali come together as one delightful come-back-for-more whole. Call 4225890.