Gurkha Himalayan Kitchen
Aalu Achaar? Bhatmaas Saandeko? Tensing Momo? Come again?
You’ve probably never heard of these dishes before but the ingredients are those you’d recognize, combined in traditional Nepalese fashion. Depending on your imagination (mine’s quite active), you can feel as though you’re eating a meal atop the Himalayan Mountains when you dine at Gurkha Himalayan Kitchen. With a Head Chef from Gorkha, a district of Nepal and where the term Gurkha came from, you can expect nothing but an authentic Nepali meal…with a slight Western influence of course.
I had the opportunity of having a meal at Gurkha Himalayan Kitchen prior to their Grand Opening on March 16th. I met the Chef, toured the dining and kitchen area and sampled some food on their current menu. The reason I say current is that it's probable that they will change their menu periodically to keep things fresh and to keep their regulars excited with new dishes. As you can imagine it’s not cheap to print a new menu every time you make an adjustment to it, so they will be having tablet menus where you can peruse images of the dishes, read descriptions of the food and even place your order electronically. You may have heard of this before (my friend ordered a pizza recently via iPad) but it’s fairly new to the restaurant scene.
Below is a description of what I ate, accompanied by my photos and thoughts on the dishes.
Aalu Achaar: Potato salad garnished with lemon juice, mustard oil and Himalayan herbs served with cucumber and beaten rice (cheura). Shown below plated with complimentary Papad (Nepalese/Indian "cracker").
This dish had spices on it that perfectly coated the potatoes and cucumber. Being Irish I appreciated the use of potatoes in a dish that didn’t completely mask the flavour of the potato but simply added to it. It was a light start and when topped with the cheura not only looked authentically Nepalese but tasted like something they might eat. The cheura on its own is quite flavourless as you can imagine beaten rice might be, but worth trying as there are very few places where you’ll see it as a topper.
Bhatmaas Saandeko: Roasted soybean mixed with Himalayan herbs and mustard oil.
This reminded me of something that you would eat with a beer in place of nuts. Although I wouldn’t recommend eating it with your hands, it just felt like the flavours may compliment each other. The citrus burst that came with each bite was light and refreshing and a good match with the onions, herbs and subtle notes of ginger. The crunch was delightful and it was like Lays in that I couldn’t resist going back for more. The dish felt healthy and refreshing and would be nice in the summer. Definitely a shareable dish as you probably wouldn’t want to eat that many soybeans in one sitting, although healthy it would just be too much.
Taas: Special Nepali snack prepared with grilled, lean lamb meat, served with puffed rice, cucumber, pickle and spicy sauce.
My favorite dish! The lamb was cooked and seasoned magically and there were enough spices to coat everything in the dish. I loved the multiple textures from the beaten rice, the puffed rice, the diced green onions and the bite-size chunks of lamb. It says spicy sauce but I didn’t find it spicy hot, just spicy flavorful with lots of cilantro, garlic, and onion. The serving is big enough for two or three if sharing as an appetizer. Had I not had all of the other dishes though I would’ve eaten it all.
An option if there with people who like to dibble and dabble in dishes is the Gurkha Platter that gives you the choice of four appetizers.
Time for the entrées.
Chicken Chilli: Boneless chicken, green chilli, bell peppers, onions sautéed in mild Nepali spices.
I liked the addition of the green peppers and onions but this dish was greasier and fattier then any of the other dishes. The spices were right (although I’d add ask for spicier), but the chicken…well you could tell it wasn’t from the breast of bird and still had skin on in some cases. When not eating the fattier tasting pieces I found that the chicken was cooked well and was moist and juicy, something that many restaurants struggle to achieve.
Gorkhali Khasi: Lamb sautéed in various spices and Nepali curry sauce. A classic Nepalese dish.
I really enjoyed the flavor of the lamb curry with cumin and turmeric strong, but the lamb was gamey (maybe it was mistakenly goat?) and a tad overcooked. Lots of oil in this curry which tasted fantastic on the rice and Daal. I felt the lamb was better prepared in the Taas though, and maybe a different part of the lamb was used as this one had a few pieces of bone still attached.
Tensing Momo: Chicken based Tibetan style steamed dumpling served with chutney (A staff favourite).
I understand that people love dumplings whether it’s for Dim Sum or in the form of a pierogie, but there’s something about them that just don’t do it for me. I admit these ones were flavourful and contained minced chicken and onions that were seasoned nicely but of all the things on the menu it wouldn’t be my top choice. These dumplings are steamed and not pan-fried which makes them healthier, but of course less buttery, less crispy and, well, less delicious. What I loved about the dish though was the fact that it was served in, what looked to be, a smiling face. With a name like momo, and a face on my plate, I would be compelled to order them again.
Chutneys: Cilantro and mint, or tomato-garlic.
I had both of them to accompany my momos. They weren’t spicy as far as heat goes but packed a nice flavour and complimented the momos perfectly. It was nice to have a fresh in-house made sauce to top the dumplings rather than a greasy oil-based sauce that you typically get with similar food.
Although technically listed as an entrée rather than a sharing plate I would consider it the latter. Too many dumplings, even if steamed, are not good for anyone. Especially when there are so many other choices.
Paalungo: Fresh spinach leaves sautéed in seeds (cumin, mustard and fenugreek), dry red chilli and fresh garlic cloves. A Nepali staple.
It was a bit salty and I would’ve liked to taste more prevalence of the other flavours. I mostly tasted the garlic and butter in this dish but that’s not much to complain about. That said I gobbled it up because I like my greens…and my butter. Who doesn’t like butter, especially when with garlic?
Jhaaneko Daal: Black or yellow lentils soaked and cooked with Nepali spices and tempered with onion, cumin seeds and garlic.
You’ve probably had Daal before, but it was most likely at an Indian Restaurant. This daal, although lentil based as you'd expect, (daal means lentil), is definitely not the same. Their version isn't thick like Indian daal, with the consistency runnier and almost soup-like. The onion, cumin seeds and garlic combine to make a delicious medley to give the somewhat flavourless lentils, when eating them alone, some zip. The negative? I felt like it was a bit heavy on the salt if just spooning it in to your mouth (yes that’s how I eat) but when atop of some rice or coating a piece of roti it’s just right.
Nepali Roti: Fresh baked whole wheat bread.
This was not like roti that I’ve had before; it wasn’t greasy. It looked like it was char-grilled for just long enough so that it was slightly crisp on the outside but still with a dough-like inside. I decided to put Daal on mine but also dipped it and filled it with the curries.
An option for dining at Gurkha that I would consider is Nepali Bhojan (The Works). With this you can choose to have either a vegetarian friendly feast or a combination of meat and veggies - a great idea if you want to sample dishes but don't have someone who wants to share.
Rice is rice. This one was steamed to perfection and garnished with cilantro. Obviously a great way to soak up the curries and eat with the Daal. I prefer roti over rice but who says you can’t have both?
And the sweet finish.
Rasbari/Dudhbari: Popular Nepali dessert with sweetened milk spheres in pistachio-flavoured cream syrup.
“Give me a hundred of these and I could eat them all,” proclaimed one of the Nepali servers.
I may or may not be lactose intolerant. Regardless I eat dairy and for sure wouldn’t turn this dish away. It’s sweet enough to be dessert but balanced out by the pistachios and the milkiness of it. The first bites were fantastic and then it somewhat lost its appeal. I finished it but I don’t think I would want a larger portion. It has as interesting sponge-like texture and look, and a unique flavour so ff you’re never tried it before I recommend it. But, if dairy is not your thing…maybe try the chai crème brulee.
I’m used to most ethnic food being quite heavy and disastrous to the waistline so I was surprised to hear that most of the dishes at Gurkha are prepared low fat, many using skim milk instead of heavy cream and seasoned with spices rather than sauces and oils. Considering we’re fairly health-conscious in Vancouver this is a definite perk when you don’t have to worry about “breaking your diet” when dining out.
When I go back I already know a few things that I wanted to try, but couldn’t fit in to my stomach, although being very tempted to taste everything.
Next on my list: The highly recommended Kathmandu Sekuwa, boneless lamb marinated in yoghurt, fresh ginger and spices, the Sherpa Chicken, because of the name and it being spiced with Himalayan peppercorns, and the Khukuri Banana, a rum-flamed banana with ice cream, honey and almond sauce. And of course I’ll have the Taas again because I loved it so much.
To quench your thirst they have well-known beers on tap like Granville Island and Coors, as well as a small, but carefully selected, menu of wine. I had red wine with my meal and found it to balance the flavours of the dishes quite well, especially with the lamb that I had. Word is that in the future they’ll have wine on tap! Talk about cutting edge. I doubt that’s how the do it Nepal though….
My final thoughts.
Gurkha Himalayan Kitchen is a good place to go have a drink and share some Nepali appies with a friend, or have an authentic Nepali meal with you family or a date. It’s quaint, cozy and is designed to feel like your dining room and I think they do a pretty good job at achieving that. The rustic tables paired with the modern chairs make it casual yet classic and I’m already looking forward to patio weather so I can check out theirs, which is similar to a balcony you may have in your house. Beyond all of the aesthetics it’s more the staff that brings the warmth than the room you’re sitting in. I met the servers who all seemed down to earth and amiable; one was from Vancouver, the others from Victoria and Nepal.
Sitting down with Raju, the owner, we discussed the importance that service will be in their business. He feels that while the food has to be delicious, it’s good service that will maintain regular clientele. I couldn’t agree more. Think about the last time you ate out. Did they go the extra mile? Did they know their menu and wine? In a Nepali restaurant it’s hard to expect servers from Vancouver to be experts in the field but given some training (and tasting) I’m sure they’ll be able to offer helpful advice.
“It’s about giving customers something they know [familiar faces for servers] with something we know [traditional Nepali food].”
This is the first restaurant that Raju has opened but he’s a busy man with aspirations to open a University within 5 years (permits already in the works), as well as another restaurant probably on Commercial Drive. That one will most likely be a Russian Italian Fusion restaurant, inspired by his wife who is Russian but makes a mean Italian meal! I also learned that since he’s a huge art enthusiast and somewhat of a wine connoisseur he plans to open the upstairs eventually to be a community art and wine space. Stay tuned for more details.
For more food porn Himalayan style click here.
Gurkha Himalayan kitchen will be open for dinner only for the first week or two at which time they’ll open for lunch as well.
So what’s a Gurkha you ask? Gurkhas (also Gorkha or Ghurka) are a mountainous tribe from Nepal. They are known for their mastery in war as part of the Nepalese Army and are often shown wielding a kukri or khukuri, a forward-curving knife. In times past, it was said that once a kukri was drawn in battle, it had to "taste blood" - if not, its owner had to cut himself before returning it to its sheath. Now, the Gurkhas say, it is used mainly for cooking.
Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-10782099