KATHMANDU: Narendra Man Singh, owner of Thamel House is hospitality itself, stopping at tables for a drink of the purest rice wine served in shallow earthen bowls, and a chat.
“I started Thamel House in 1993, by converting a typical Newari home into a restaurant serving recipes that came from the kitchen of my family. I believe that people from abroad want to taste authentic food from the country they’re visiting,” said Narendra Man Singh.
What happened next in the mid-nineties was patron, Utpal Sengupta who used to specialise in huge French incentive groups spent their first evening in Nepal on the top floor of Thamel House. Here they sat in ethnic chic, on colourful cushions, giving the food the traditional French “Oh La La,” (that’s a quote from an old Cole Porter song) and taking away memories in the form of elegantly packed spices bound in a recipe for Thamel House’s justly famous chicken curry.
The evening I ate at Thamel House, the French had passed the good word through Europe and a Swiss group guzzled in perfect contentment with a British bunch while Nepali diners gave the place a local and very important gastronomic seal of approval.
The ‘Best Of Thamel House’, menu that Utpal Sengupta created is still in place.
The meal is heavy (in a light sort of way) on a seemingly endless offering of snacks. There was the Bhatmas, which is spiced Soyabean with chopped onions and a ginger and garlic taste that is irresistibly chewy with drinks and the Nepali rakshi scalds away the taste leaving your palate fresh for the next course.
Actually go easy on the rakshi, two and you’re under a spell but three and you’re under the table.
There are two dishes that cause major dissension’s amongst Newari, families, the Alu Tareko and the Ma Ma Cha. Everyone thinks their interpretation of these specialties is better than everyone else’s. It’s never stated but a Cheshire cat smile appears after the first nibble, telling everyone mine-is-better-than -yours.
I relished the Alu Tareko, which is a Nepali Fry. Think French Fries, now encrust them with a medley of spices, nibble slowly and float away in delight.
The Ma Ma Cha is the round Newari momo (as against the crescent shaped one of Northern climes) where the delicately flavoured minced meat is complimented by the fine as a wish, wrap of flour. The Thamel House Ma Ma Cha is subtle enough to try several to get a fix on the taste. The accompanying tomato chutney serves to whet the appetite while wetting the dumpling.
I had the ever obliging Gyanu Lama serve the Sekuwa which I used to snack on, along with the main course. The Sekuwa like its neighbour the Tandoori Chicken is marinated and char grilled. The Sekuwa brings out the flavour of the special country chicken, Thamel House insists upon.
The Mis Mas which is mixed vegetables is lightly curried allowing each vegetable the chance to speak for itself, so to speak. All you get in terms of spices is a touch of turmeric.The Kukhura Ko Ledo, is a chicken curry that leaves most chicken curries at the starting line. The gravy is thick and rich. One suspects that in addition to the onions and tomatoes some distilled magic was added.
The fluffy rice had with it the Nepali favourite black daal or lentils. In Thamel House it’s thicker with a wildness of herbs and spices cooked in a heavy iron pot.
For dessert we had Shikharni which is yoghurt based wonderment that is lemony and coconutty and delicious.
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