At Blue Poppy – Thakali, A Taste of Nepal’s Thak Khola Valley
They look like lotuses in full bloom. As the server removes the lid off the bamboo basket, the flowers emerge with their floury petals opened and their seeds, minced meat or potato sprinkled with cheese, exposed. They are beautiful, delicate pieces of culinary art too pretty to devour without having first spent a few moments praising their beauty. While I see why the menu at the Blue Poppy— Thakali calls them “open momos,” I can’t help but wonder if a name so functional does them justice. “But what’s in a name?” Shakespeare would argue. It’s a pity he didn’t live to behold the aesthetic pleasures of modern gastronomy, an art no short of poetry.
Whether you order these dumpling flowers or the traditional momos with their perfectly furrowed folds, there’s only one way to eat them: Devoutly. Dip an end of your momo in the fiery momo sauce and place it on your tongue. First, the steam leaking from the shredded cabbage or savoury minced meat stuffing will threaten to burn your mouth as your teeth tear the covering. Then, the sauce: red hot and hell-bent on setting your ass on fire, will leave you panting. At Doma Wang’s much-loved restaurant, this fire-breathing dragon of a sauce is made in-house using a traditional recipe that calls for garlic ground into a somewhat coarse paste with a shockingly large number of chillies. For Doma and her daughter, Chef Sachiko who oversees the kitchen here, this eatery is not only a labour of love but also a way to welcome foreigners to a traditional meal in a Thakali household.
Here, you may choose to seat yourself at an ordinary table. Or, you may take off your shoes and step into a more intimate space behind a wooden jaali partition where patrons sit on the floor, on cushions around low tables. The décor is warm and inviting. Bright orange walls, multi-coloured cushions, cane lampshades, brass artefacts, and a Buddha bring a touch of the Thak Khola Valley, the upper part of the Kali Gandaki Gorge in Nepal, the home of the Thakalis. Their cuisine is known for its pickles, or achaar, as it is called in the local language. From pickled radishes to pickled pork trotters, name it and you have it! No wonder 3 types of achaar feature in each of their thalis, the bestsellers here. You get rice, a vegetable or meat curry, aloo dum, saag (fried greens), a papad, achaar (pickled potatoes, chilli-
With its cool blue illustrations reminiscent of the hills, the menu at the Blue Poppy – Thakali features dishes from Bhutan too. Take, for example, the deep-red and indulgently greasy Paro Pork, an interesting dish in which slices of pork do the salsa with pickled radishes. Unlike the pork curry in the thali, this one scores with a perfect balance of lean and fatty pork. The smokiness of the pork works harmoniously with the tartness and together with a kick from the dried red chillies create a complex flavour profile that is, at once, earthy and crisp. The tartness punches you in the mouth the first time but soon gets addictive: a slice of chilli-oil stained pork, a pickled roundlet of radish, a dash of the momo sauce when layered make for the perfect mouthful. Also, on the menu is Bhutan’s famed Ema Datshi, a dish of green chillies cooked with locally churned cheese.
If chilli peppers set you running in the opposite direction guzzling from a carafe of milk, then order one of the soups. Traditional Tibetan noodle soups like
Also read: A Nostalgist’s Guide to Eating in Darjeeling
Where the Blue Poppy— Thakali fails to make a mark is in the drinks departments. Nothing from Thak Khola or from Bhutan except the Tibetan Butter Tea but a long list of generic drinks like Masala Coke and Blue Lemonade are featured on the menu. Unless the red momo sauce has set your mouth on unquenchable fire, you can refrain from ordering a drink. The food is good, no doubt, but somewhat overpriced. If you are a Blue Poppy patron who has never been to Thakali, be prepared for higher prices. The dishes will be more value for money if the quantity of food is increased. For example, more rice in the thali (the menu does not mention if rice is unlimited) or a
Also read: Shillong Pork Trail
The food here shines through its absolute simplicity. There is the essence of Thak Khola, the world’s deepest canyon, and the hardships locals face to earn a livelihood and to have food on the table. Each of the dishes has an undeniable rustic element; there is nothing superfluous or ostentatious, no pretentious plating in empty beer cans or toy trucks. The ingredients used are fresh and you can tell, from every bite, that the food does more than tickling your taste buds. It is hearty. It is wholesome. It comforts. Doma has succeeded in serving us, city-goers, a slice of hospitality as is known in the hills. Not only is the food exceptionally good but the servers are impeccably polite and eager to walk you through the delicacies they have grown up relishing. No blaring music, no babbling television, no blinding lights; here, at the Blue Poppy— Thakali, you are called on to share an intimacy with the food on your table.
Address:Sikkim Commercial House, 4/1 Middleton Street, Kolkata
Cuisine: Nepalese– Thakali, Bhutanese
Recommended Dishes: Paro Pork, Thukpa, Momos, Nepali Thali
Open: 12noon – 5pm, 6:30pm – 10:30pm (Mon-Sun); closed every last Saturday of the month