By Vivian & Michelle from www.chicagofoodwhores.com
Recently Vivian and I were lucky enough to be invited by Kiran and Jennifer of Himalayan Restaurant to do a tasting of their menu, which is Indian and Nepali cuisine. Being the food whores that we are, we jumped at the chance to try something new and exciting! With Kiran, the owner, as our guide, we took a gastronomic journey to Nepal!
Don’t let the location fool you! Vivian and I visited the Niles location, which is located in a strip mall. The interior is simple and comfortable. You might even call it “fancy” since the tables have real white tablecloths! We went for a late weekend lunch, thinking we’d miss the crowd, but the place was still packed with Indian families having lunch! We took this as a sign that we were in for a real treat!
First we started with a few appetizers from the buffet. Most of the dishes in the buffet are South Indian style, with the traditional sauces such as yogurt sauce and tamarind. We had lentil soup and a selection of salad and veggies. I particularly liked the lentil fritters.
After the buffet came a long procession of dishes from the regular menu. Kiran was sure to emphasize the traditional Nepali dishes, especially since Vivian and I are both already familiar with Indian food. The first dish we tried is also an appetizer called Chicken Chowela. I love the way Kiran described this – he called it “Nepali pub food”! This spicy dish is traditionally served in the hot summer months, with a rice-based liquor. This was the first of many homestyle “mom’s recipe” dishes that we tried. While the spice level was toned down a bit from the traditional way, it still had a great tomatoey, spicy kick. Although Nepal is a relatively small country, the food is very regionalized. Chowela is a dish mainly found in Kathmandu. Quite fittingly, Kiran is from the region in Nepal that is known for their festivals and great food!
Since Nepal is located between India and Tibet, naturally they have been influenced by their neighbors. Nepal adopted some ingredients, such as soy, and some cooking styles, such as the use of cornstarch, from its Chinese neighbors. Himalayan Restaurant offers a selection of Indo-Chinese dishes. We tried the Gobi Manchurian, which is battered and fried cauliflower with green pepper, onion and a tomato-based sauce. This dish was easily one of our favorites! Great big flavors – kind of a sweet aroma with a smoky taste — totally unique. Super good! If you’re looking for something unlike anything you’ve tried before, I highly recommend this dish. It’s so flavorful, I promise you won’t even miss the meat!
In the same way that Nepal adopted some Tibetan cooking techniques, they also adopted some aspects of traditional Indian cooking. While there are lots of similarities between Indian and Nepalese cuisine – they use many of the same spices – there are also some distinct differences. In general, Indian food is very rich and robust. Nepalese food may use the same spices, but they simply use LESS of them. The basic herbs and spices of Nepalese food are ginger and garlic. Additionally, Nepalese cooking uses clarified butter instead of oil, and there are NO milk-based products in Nepalese cuisine, unlike Indian food which can use ingredients such as cream or coconut milk.
Next we tried the most typical of all Nepali foods – the momo. Momos are Nepali-style dumplings. Kiran called it “the hamburger of Nepal” because it’s a dish you can find everywhere, done a million different ways. The momos that Kiran makes look very similar to the Shanghainese soup dumplings, xiao long bao, like little pouches without the soup! We tried chicken momos, which are stuffed with chicken, ginger and garlic. One of the most important aspects of the momo is the sauce. Kiran serves his momos with a red chile sauce made of chiles, tomato and ginger. There is another style of pan-fried momo, which is served with a sweeter sauce. Vivian and I are dumpling lovers – we could eat them ANYTIME—so we both loved the momos. I’ve actually had momos before, and I like Himalayan’s version, with a fairly thin wrapper (not so chewy!) and a thicker, tastier sauce. Momos are definitely another MUST at Himalayan Restaurant!
Next, the manager brought out a selection of traditional Nepali dishes that he thought we must try. We had Bodi Aloo, which is sautéed potatoes and green beans, Khasi Ko Masu, a goat curry which is a basic at ALL Nepali occasions, and the Kadhai Paneer, which is homemade paneer cooked with tomato, onions and bell peppers. These were served with saffron rice and garlic naan and whole wheat roti. The goat curry had a great rich sauce, but Vivian and I were both drawn to the vegetarian dishes. And we’re dedicated carnivores! The vegetarian food at Himalayan Restaurant has so much depth of flavor that they would easily safisfy any meat-eater! Even though I loved the strong flavor of the garlic naan, plain naan or roti are much more traditional.
By this time, Vivian and I are starting to get full, but then a sizzling plate of tandoori was brought out, and of course we had to try everything! We recommend the Mix Grill, which comes with tandoori chicken, chicken tikka, lamb kabob and fish tikka. I’d never had fish tikka before, and with a meaty fish like mahi mahi, it was quite delicious! MMM, love those sizzlin’ onions!
As full as we were, of course we had to have dessert as well. We tried a drink called Falooda, which is actually a Middle Eastern style dessert, containing ice cream, rose syrup, jelly, some poppy seeds, and noodles! Lots of interesting textures going on, and it’s kinda fun to suck noodles up through the straw!
So what does one drink with Nepali food? There is tea of course, or lassi, the Indian version of a fruit smoothie. Himalayan Restaurant is one of the only places importing Haywards 5000 beer in the area, so I decided to try one. Actually the beer is a great palate cleanser, preparing your taste buds for the next delicious bite! Himalayan Restaurant has a full bar with a variety of wines. I like that Kiran has put conscious thought into what types of beverages will pair well with his food, for example a Malbec with a lamb curry. In fact, he is also planning a wine dinner at the restaurant! Many people are at a loss as to how to pair ethnic food and wine, and I think it’s great that Himalayan Restaurant is showing us all how it’s done!
What Vivian took away from this experience was much more than full bellies and boxes of leftovers! What sticks in my mind even more than the unique flavor of the Gobi Manchurian is Kiran’s passion for what he does, and his enthusiasm to share his culture with his customers. While the 2 locations of his restaurant are both successful, he’s not just trying to make a buck. It’s clear that Kiran and his partners have worked hard to get to where they are. He truly wants each customer to have an enjoyable experience, and not only to taste great food, but to learn about his culture.
For a true taste of Nepal’s delicious cuisine and culture, a visit to Himalayan Restaurant is highly recommended!
Himalayan Restaurant & Bar – Bloomingdale
398 W Armytrail Road
Bloomingdale IL 60108
Himalayan Restaurant & Bar – Niles
8265 Golf Road
Niles IL 60714
Himalayan Restaurant & Bar – Gurnee
3747 Grand Ave
Gurnee IL 60031