Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Thakkhola Thakali Cuisine

Yesterday I had lunch at a restaurant known for its superior dal bhat, the Nepali "national meal" of lentil soup, rice, and curried vegetables. The restaurant, Thakkhola Thakali Cuisine, is located in Jawalakhel, and, true to the recommendations, its menu focuses on set meals such as dal bhat.

The menu also offered a variation on the standard dal bhat meal called phapar ko dhido, which replaces rice with a "buckwheat mash." Intrigued, I asked the waiter about it. "Try it!," he said.

I happen to like buckwheat a lot, so I ordered up a "veg" phapar ko dhido, which would come with dal, spinach, mustard greens, curried vegetables, raw carrot and cucumber slices, and achar, the spicy pickle that is a standard condiment here. Several minutes later, this platter arrived:

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Quite a pile of buckwheat mash. The waiter had told me that it tastes like mashed potatoes. I think raw dough is a more appropriate description, but to each his own.

I dug in as best I could, ripping off a small piece of the mash and dipping it in the dal. Clearly, this bland blob is meant to be a vehicle for dal, vegetables, and meat, just like rice or roti. I appreciated the earthy, whole grain nature of the mash, but I just did not love the texture of raw dough.

Because I barely made a dent in the dough, the waiter offered to pack it up for me so I could take it home. Not wanting to offend anyone in the restaurant, I enthusiastically accepted. When I returned home, I put the dough in the fridge in case I had a change of heart.

But even better than a change of heart, I got an idea later that night as I prepared dinner: what if I used the dough to make buckwheat pancakes?

I started by cutting off a thin slice of the dough, which had by then settled into a nice loaf shape:

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Then I used a rolling pin to thin out the slice and try to make a round shape of it. No go. The stuff was sticky and not as pliable as I had expected. Flour dusted on the roller and the board might have helped things, but I did not have any on hand. Instead, I used my fingers to flatten and shape a small pancake as best as I could. Here was the result:

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Then I heated a pan over medium heat and lightly oiled the bottom with olive oil. I cooked my two little pancakes for about three minutes on each side, until lightly browned.

I served these pancakes with my homemade medley of yellow dal, cauliflower, curried eggplant, carrot slices, and achar:

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Verdict: the texture of the mash was definitely more palatable in pancake form, but it was still lacking taste.

Not quite ready to give up on it yet, I decided to transform the pancakes into a sweet treat, spooning on top a drizzle of local honey with walnuts:

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This, my friends, was excellent -- probably more due to the delicious honey than the buckwheat, but still, there was finally redemption.

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