Category Archives: Food

The Best Thing I Ever Ate: Nepali Food

I love to travel. I love to meet new people. I love to learn about different cultures in foreign places. There are many ways to take in a new culture. While some love to read travel books or go on guided tours, I prefer to be with those who call that place “home.” I want to talk with the locals, shop where they shop and of course, eat where they eat. Food is palatable history. The sights, the smells and the tastes of the local cuisine provide a tangible connection to a location’s past and present. You’d be surprised how much you can learn through what you taste.

Food-Momo

When I visited Nepal, one of the first things I ordered was “momo’s”. Every Asian country has its version of dumplings and these are Nepal’s. They are most commonly steamed although you can order them fried as well. You will find them on every menu in Nepal at a very reasonable price. A set of ten costs no more than $1.50. Wikipedia provides the following history of momo’s,

Since this dish was initially popular among the Newar community of the Kathmandu valley, one prevalent belief is that traveling Newar merchants brought the recipe and the name momo from Lhasa, Tibet where they were a traditional delicacy for centuries. They modified the seasonings of the dish with available ingredients, using water buffalo and kept the same name.

Nepal is sandwiched between China to the north and India to the south. It’s interesting to see how momo’s embody both culture’s influence. The appearance of the wrapper is very similar to that of the Chinese xiao long bao (the soup dumpling made famous by Din Tai Fung), but is more el dente and doughy in texture. The filling is typically a mixture of minced pork or chicken with finely chopped vegetables primarily consisting of cabbage and onions. The flavor is distinct. Garlic, coriander, cumin and other Indian-inspired spices combine to provide a pungent and pleasant taste. A dipping sauce similar to tikka masala is included. It’s mellow tomato-base compliments the aggressive flavors well.
Food-Dal-Bhat

Another very common dish is Nepal is dal bhat. Bhat means “rice” and dal is a simple but very flavorful lentil soup that is eaten with it. Typically included with these two items is a chicken or goat curry and tarkari, a mix of various cooked seasonal vegetables. The spices and spiciness is very similar to Indian cuisine but slightly more subdued. Also included is a small portion of yogurt and a mild mustard-like dipping sauce that blends well with the other complex flavors. Overall, the presentation is quite exquisite as everything is served in individual metal bowls encircling a large portion of rice in the center.

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The best restaurant Sonia and I ate at for momo’s and dal bhat was Thasang Authentic Thakali Kitchen in Kathmandu. It was quite swanky and quickly became one of our favorite places. But by far, the best food we had in Nepal was in the homes of people who invited us over to share a family meal. The Nepali people are naturally warm and very hospitable. Two different times, we were invited to come and break bread (or share rice), sometimes unexpectedly. Nothing can compare to a home cooked meal. No doubt family recipes outshine restaurant offerings but what made the meals even better was the love and generosity of the hands that prepared and served the meals.

We were told that in Nepali culture, if you have food left over on your plate, that meant you truly had enough to eat and were satisfied. But, if you were able to finish everything on your plate, that meant the host had not provided enough and should give you more. We found that to be true as the host families were always willing to generously refill any bowl or plate that ran low. That’s why I also lost very little weight on my trip.

Pasadena_NepalIf you can’t go all the way to Nepal to eat but live in southern California, there are two Nepali/Tibetan restaurants in Pasadena. The Himalayan Cafe and the Tibet Nepal House are quite authentic. I would recommend the latter over the former although neither can compare to the real thing. If you want to taste a little of Nepal, give it a try. You might discover a new culture and in the process find it’s the best thing you ever ate.

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The Best thing I ever ate: Butterball


Butterball

BUTTERBALL!

No, it’s not a turkey. It’s a delectable dessert baked fresh every day at one of my favorite local bakeries, Some Crust in Claremont, CA. It might look like an ordinary cookie but don’t let it’s modest appearance fool you.

The texture of this golden medallion is hard to describe. It’s firm outer crust protects a rich, yet light inner shortbread-like cake laced with a faint vanilla sweetness. If you’ve ever eaten a homemade madeleine cookie, it’s very similar but more cookie-like. Despite having the word “butter” in it’s name, the butterball is not oily or dense. Yet, when you take a bite, the cookie literally melts in your mouth blending perfectly with the powdered sugar that dusts the entire dessert. Some Crust’s selection of “Monkey & Son” dark, rich coffee complements the butterball perfectly.

MothersBread

I must admit that the overall experience of eating at Some Crust might enhance the flavor of anything I eat there. It’s a classic establishment that has been serving the community since 1916 and the owners have done well to preserve its original personality. I like places like this. Places that have history and character. I don’t mind paying slightly more to have a treat here rather than at a large franchise bakery like Panera Bread.

Whenever and wherever I travel, I always want to eat where the locals eat not only because it’s usually more authentic and tasty but also because it subtly connects me with the location’s past and present culture. Some Crust is strategically located in the quaint side of Claremont appropriately called “the Village.” The Village attracts many students and professors since it’s only a five minute walk south of the renown Claremont Colleges. Some Crust Bakery is a favorite local hangout for many of them. Over time, it’s become one of my favorite places to study and has recently become a favorite place to bring a “study buddy” from home.

Eden_Somecrust

There might be better desserts out there but none with such a great name with a perfect texture and blend of flavor served in such a uniquely charming location. All of which helps to make the butterball the best thing I ever ate

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The Best Thing I Ever Ate: Tsukemen

On the Food Network, there is a show called, “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.” Last Friday, I ate coconut fried chicken at Cha Cha Chicken in Santa Monica which according to Iron Chef, Michael Symon, is the best thing he ever ate. Maybe the expectations were too high or maybe I was there on an off-day but the chicken left my culinary hopes lingering. I have to admit, the chicken was good but certainly not the best I ever ate.

Later that same evening, Sonia and I got a late night snack after the Drop Box premier with my brother and sister-in-law. They know the area very well and are quite the foodies so we headed over to Seoul Sausage in West LA only to discover it was already closed. Fortunately, a few doors down is a little place called Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle. Long name for a ramen house. But not just any ramen house. One of THEE best places in LA for ramen according to most food critics. Apparently, people sometimes wait over an hour to get a chance to eat their speciality. What is it?

TSUKEMEN.

Tsukemen

Tsukemen is the modern day version of a traditional Japanese staple. A sort of deconstructed ramen. The noodles are thicker and stiffer than traditional ramen and are kept separate from the broth until you choose to dip them in the heavenly demi-glaze-like broth of pork goodness. Practically, it keeps the noodles from getting overcooked so you can slow down to savor the heavenly combination of the rich pork fat flavor (over 60 hrs of stewing), the al dente noodles and the bright juice of fresh lime to achieve that elusive “umami” balance of flavor. I ordered the works which came with a soft boiled egg and tender, thick slices of Japanese-style char siu (think dark, soy-flavored pork belly rather than bright red pork shoulder). There was little room for the two bowls that made up my order because tons of condiments crowded the table. I had no idea what they were for, but I confidently added them all as if I knew what I was doing. Freshly ground sesame seeds, dark pickled tsukemono, crushed red pepper, pickled ginger and something called “tonkotsu sauce,” a tart, spicy flavored oil. Put it all together and it was truly the best thing I ever ate

…that is until I eat the next “best thing I ever ate.”

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