“Red and White wine, Rs. 450 per piece” declares one piece of paper, which also prices “Leamon tea” at Rs. 40. Welcome to the world of Nepali “Resturaan”s, where drinks are sold piece by piece, and solid dishes are presumably to be sipped with spoons. No, these are not the posh restaurants at New Road, Thamel or Durbarmarg, but the slightly dingy ones that you see on roadsides, or in suburbs like Kirtipur. Such hilarious spelling mistakes as the ones mentioned are pretty common, but these are the least of our worries at these restaurants.
For example, the wide variety of dishes in these restaurants sometimes boggles your mind. At the remotest corners of the valley, you will find notices saying “yaha pijja painchha” and the menu of course, includes everything from Chinese (chopusy) to continental (finger frees and sandwish) to local Newari (which are all spelled correctly). Sometimes, you find novelty items so novel that the next person at the table can never tell what you are eating. Once, when my friend tried a piece of my egg paratha, she couldn’t understand why I was praising it so highly! “It is a bad example of alu paratha, there is nothing but onions here,” she said delicately after some thoughtful chewing. Similarly, one day my dish of egg tama flummoxed the considerable food knowledge of every person at the table. (It might look like I have a weakness for egg dishes, but actually, that is all the choice for a vegetarian at these restaurants, since every other dish is of buffalo meat. Popularly known as buff. Sob sob.) But anyways, one person, after seeing the puddle of yellowish gray material in my bowl, asked me why I wanted to have kalo dal, and if I was recovering from typhoid.
But then of course, you only get to know which of the listed dishes are for real when you order the most out of the way items. Most of the times, your order of “pijja” is met with a sheepish smile and a “pijja oven isn’t working today” (After you get the same answer everyday, you realize that the “pijja” signboard is just a successful advertisement ploy!). My recent order of “ice-cream milkshake” was the subject of hot discussion at a restaurant. In plain hearing of all customers, the various cooks, waiters and all billing personnel discussed how to make it. The most popular suggestion being passed around was that since “ice” is mentioned, it must be made with lots of ice. I never knew the exact percentage of ice, cream, milk or shake in the ice-cream milkshake, but when it finally arrived, it was quite delicious, of unidentified flavor and topped with a dollop of strawberry ice-cream (now, since nobody ever asked me about the flavor of the shake, I can’t really blame anyone for taking liberties with it...)
And then of course, there are the variety of restaurant personnel, ranging from cook to waiter to receptionist, who might all be the same person! I remember a homely restaurant where a lady in a grimy maxi was lounging around looking particularly useless. A few moments later, we were mildly surprised to find that she was the waitress when she ambled up to take our orders. She disappeared into the kitchen with our order. When she came back with it in a few moments, we realized she was also the cook who had made our dishes. While we ate, the lady cleaned nearby tables, which seemed to grow grimier with cleaning. We chomped our dishes slowly, partly because it is good for health, and partly because we were unable to close our mouths. They insisted on opening to a permanent ‘O’ of surprise at her multitasking. Later, our after-dinner sugar cubes and cloves actually fell out of our mouths from the ‘O’ of surprise, when we saw that the same lady in maxi was doing our billings too. Though she had her minions milling around, she did not seem happy with them. She held us up at the billing counter specifically to complain about how her boys tried hard but could never flip an egg paratha as well as her.
So, ladies and gentlemen, if you support multi talented people who can handle every aspect of the business (I am sure the lady in the maxi also takes care of the inventory, the dishwashing, and accounts at the restaurant!), and for a little bit of adventure (you never know what you are going to get from your order), then you know what to do!! Let go of the safe roadside restaurants for once, and venture into the kaleidoscopic world of vegetarian “snakes”, “chikan bargar”s and “cheej pakoda”s!
Statutory Warning: Adventuring may be hazardous to health. Please do not sue me if you contract diarrhea.