At Blue Poppy – Thakali, A Taste of Nepal’s Thak Khola Valley

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.

Aloo Cheese Open Momos

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.

Also read: At Momo I Am, Reinventing Comfort Foods of the Darjeeling Hills

Vegetable Momos
Interiors at Thakali

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-churpi pickle, and fermented radish leaves), dal, and sour curd on a traditional bell metal plate. On the particular day we ate here, the pork pieces in the curry accompanying the pork thali were mostly fatty. The curry was easily outshone by other items like the aloo dum and the dal. The dal, here black lentils are used, is cooked until creamy and served laced with ghee. It turns the piping hot white rice into a luxurious comfort food you can’t get enough of. The balance of flavours in most of the dishes is praiseworthy. Spices are used sparingly, with restraint. Take, for example, the saag. The leaves and stalks retain a slight crunch and a vegetal aftertaste. Or, the pickles in which spices complement instead of overpowering the natural flavours of the produce. The potato pickle is a speciality of the valley. Matchstick sized pieces of potatoes are pickled in spices; besides the characteristic acidity and tartness of pickles, there is a surprisingly bitter aftertaste that lingers awhile. 

Pork Thali

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.

Paro Pork
Pickled radishes in the Paro Pork

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 thukpa, thenthuk, and men tse-tse share space with Indo-Chinese options like hot and sour, and sweet corn soup. The men tse-tse comes with flat noodles while the thenthuk has hand-pulled noodles swimming in a broth containing vegetables like carrots and spinach and, if you desire, chunks of meat. In the insufferably hot plains of the Indo-Gangetic basin, chicken and pork have replaced yak meat, which the Tibetans prefer in their soup bowls and also in their momos. Smoke clings to the glistening surface of the light, aromatic broth as the server brings the bowl of homemade goodness to the table. The broth is a little starchy from the noodles. There’s a hint of soy and a tantalizing pepperiness. It’s full-bodied and a delight to the sinuses and luckily, the cooks here have restrained from Indianizing the dish. Tip: A thin, round slice of pickled radish from the Paro Pork jazzes up a mouthful of the thenthuk and brings it to an unparalleled level!

Also read: A Nostalgist’s Guide to Eating in Darjeeling

Vegetable Thenthuk

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 sel roti added for good measures. The aloo cheese open momo is an interesting innovation but the flavours fall somewhat flat. The wrappers of the open momos lack the suppleness, the tenderness that is the hallmark of the exceptionally good momos here.

Also read: Shillong Pork Trail 

Pork Curry

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.

Cane Lamps & Bright Orange Walls at Thakali
Blue Poppy-Thakali Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Address:Sikkim Commercial House, 4/1 Middleton Street, Kolkata

Telephone: +918583992714

Cuisine: Nepalese– Thakali, Bhutanese

Recommended Dishes: Paro Pork, Thukpa, Momos, Nepali Thali

Price: ₹₹

Open: 12noon – 5pm, 6:30pm – 10:30pm (Mon-Sun); closed every last Saturday of the month

18 thoughts on “At Blue Poppy – Thakali, A Taste of Nepal’s Thak Khola Valley”

  • You describe food with such passion- it reminded me of Japanese movie Tampopo (it evolves around food). Have you seen it? Anyhow, I’m wondering now about the aesthetic pleasures of Shakespeare’s time. I’m sure some interesting creations were made, at least for certain people. 🙂 I have never tried momos, but I know I’d like those filled with shredded cabbage and minced meat (one of my favorite traditional Croatian dishes is sarma- fermented cabbage leaves filled with minced meat and rice, so I am quite fond of that flavor).

  • Oh my dumplings! Reading this posts made me so hungry. We love Nepalese food, the mix of influences has created a very unique flavour all of its own. You write about food with the same passion that I gobble it down with.

    Thanks for sharing. Keep travel blogging. Adventure is better shared with friends!

  • Hello and thanks for the great article about the blue poppy! I am planning my trip to India and looking for great restaurant tips too 🙂 – and now, i made my decision where I will go to have lunch in Kolkata. Thanks for this extra good recommendation!

  • Oh wow, what a start, those flower-like open momos are just gorgeous! Also loving the look of the rest of your Thali, especially the vegetable thenthuk which looks like a great antidote to the heat of other dishes!

  • Wow, what a refreshingly well-written review of a restaurant. I couldn’t agree more with your philosophy on eating momos and just loved how visceral you made it all feel for your reader. You have a future in food writing!

  • Honestly I am impressed with how beautifully you’ve described the restaurant and food. The momos look fabulous! I could really imagine the taste; you definitely have a talent for food writing!

  • I just LOVE your descriptions of eating the food and describing the restaurant. You really do have a flare for food reviews. I actually experienced you sampling the dumpling flowers or the traditional momos. Nicely done. Should I ever make it to Kolkata I will have to make it to Blue Poppy. One gentle reader request though for future travel posts — let me know where the location you are writing about in your lede. “While I see why the menu at the Blue Poppy in Kolkata … ” for example.

    • Thank you so much, Michael. I’ll keep your idea in mind. I think it help the reader to locate their bearings. Someone who’s been to the city might be able to relate more if I mention the place in the opening paragraph.

  • We’ve never heard nor tasted Momo! But it looks yummy, and we’d love to try them someday! If we’ll ever be in Kolkata, we’ll certainly consider going to this restaurant. Thanks a lot for sharing this review!

  • Every dish looks exquisite! I absolutely love dumplings, they are like little morsels of joy 😉 never heard of momos before but they look INCREDIBLE. Love that this is a mother-daughter team!

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