KATHMANDU: I think one should go to Jatra at least once a month to discover a new delight. In its current avatar Jatra, the most happening place in town is in the heart of Thamel near the Ganesh Man Singh building. It’s a restaurant of amazing design built around a courtyard where brick meets fashioned wood from the olden days and brass and metal enliven an atmosphere full of people and talk and music. On the walls are paintings for sale.
“Our customers are Nepali professionals, families, and during the day, young couples”, said Alok Maskey one of the owners.
The menu, which goes from light meals to pasta and pizzas, sizzlers and steaks, has something for everyone.
The very popular Greek chicken flavoured with a mix of herbs and touches of lemon made me think of the playwright Aristophanes (392BC) who needed a 182 letter word to describe a dish with seventeen sweet and sour ingredients including the herb Rosemary that was the prominent taste in the Jatra’s Greek chicken.
“We try and fuse different kinds of food because our guests demanded it”, said Alok as I tasted the superb chicken stuffed with a herbed spinach smothered with a supreme sauce which was as one food writer describes, “It’s special characteristics are perfect whiteness and delicacy”. The spinach stuffing in the chicken reminded me of the misplaced decimal point in 1870 that made American people believe that spinach gave you strength and then in 1929 spinach got another push by Popeye a comic character who swallows spinach to beat baddies.
Everyone comes to Jatra be it for the food or for the warm hospitality that the other partner Dinesh Shrestha creates with mentoring. Jatra’s staff are hospitality itself like Yubraj Lama or the Captain Aiman Tamang. “The point of mentoring is you help someone to stand on their own feet, then you let go”. Dinesh a consultant with ILO helped to create the mentor approach for the jobless underprivileged.
I hope chef Rit Shrestha finds comfort in the team spirit that Alok and Dinesh have put in place because it’s what makes Jatra’s Rogan Josh which was rich and true to what Camellia Panjabi has written about the dish “Rogan means fat and josh literally means heat, though figuratively it means intensity. Traditionally fatty meat on the bone was used for making Rogan Josh and it was slow cooked in its own fat, with extra added for an intense flavour. The dish gets its heat and intensity from the lavish use of body heat-inducing spices”.
As edible and as extraordinary was a Butter Chicken Masala where the Tandoori spices were added to with Chef Rit’s own spice combination. Says a food writer, “Butter chicken originated in the 1950s at the Moti Mahal restaurant in Delhi where they made the sauce by adding butter and tomato to the leftover chicken juices in the marinade trays from which they used to sell hundreds of portions of Tandoori Chicken every day.” Jatra is about happenings, like when Full Circle played there or more recently when the
famous Nepali jsournalist Narayan Wagle talked about his new book Palpasa Café.
Alok Maskey and Dinesh Shrestha have seen to it that the food is good, the atmosphere like a non-stop party and they have learnt that
after their customers the most important people in Jatra are their staff whom they meet twice a month to decided what’s going to happen. And Jatra has decided that Biryani’s will head a list of newness in the very near
future while keeping all that has made Jatra so successful. Especially the charm.