At 40,000 1/2 feet, the imposing Rum Doodle is the highest mountain in the world, surpassing even Mount Everest, its alpine neighbor on the Himalayas. Surmounted only by a group of audacious British mountaineers and their Yogastani porters in an odyssey fraught with misadventure, its ascent is the stuff of which mountaineering legends are made. As if scaling the perilous precipice wasn’t dangerous enough, the intrepid climbers had to endure the inedible culinary miscreations of Pong, the expedition’s sadistic cook.
While Rum Doodle the mountain exists only in the 1956 novel The Ascent of Rum Doodle, there’s an immensely popular bar in Kathmandu named for the fictitious mountain. The Rum Doodle Bar is legendary as the gathering place and watering hole of outdoor adventurers who visit prior to mountaineering expeditions on the nearby Himalayas. The very best of them return after successfully ascending Everest, only one-hundred miles away. They return to cement their place among a very exclusive club of climbers.
Beginning with Sir Edmund Hillary, the first climber to summit Everest, climbers have returned to the Rum Doodle Bar to sign a summit register of the select few who have successfully climbed the highest mountain in the world. The register is kept in locked glass cases behind the bar. Signatories with connections to the Land of Enchantment include Taos resident Dave Hahn who has successfully reached the 29,035-foot top of Everest four times. On May 30, 2003, former governor Gary Johnson joined that exclusive club. Perquisites for members of this exclusive coterie include free food for the rest of their lives. Alas, the Rum Doodle Bar’s menu is rather limited, listing only a hamburger, cheeseburger, mushroom pizza and cheese pizza.
Burgers and pizza are hardly the traditional fare of Kathmandu, but they do seem to appeal to the adventurous international clientele which frequents the Rum Doodle Bar. In fact, because of tourism, a number of hybrid “westernized” foods have been introduced to an already accepting culinary culture. To indulge in local cuisine would be to dine on food which, because Kathmandu is such an ethnically and culturally diverse city, has taken inspiration from neighbors Tibet, China and especially from India.
Until recent years, the foods of Nepal have not been readily available in the Land of Enchantment. In July, 2008, Namaste Restaurant in Rio Rancho opened and though primarily an Indian restaurant, offered a smattering of dishes from Nepal. In Santa Fe, the Himalayan Cuisine restaurant offered dishes from Nepal, India and Tibet for several years before closing in 2013. July, 2014 saw the launch of Albuquerque’s first restaurant showcasing the culinary fare of Nepal.
Taste of Himalayas occupies the space which previously housed Paddy Rawal’s OM Fine Indian Dining Restaurant in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. Rawal was a magnificent shooting star talent whose departure from the Duke City left an indelible afterglow, gaining such a stellar reputation that he probably could have run for mayor of Los Ranchos and won. Taste of Himalayas will assuage the loss and over time may even make some of us forget Paddy Rawal’s genius.
Chef Raji, a native of Kathmandu, probably didn’t spend much time at the Rum Doodle. He seems far too spiritual and humble for cavorting with the hard-living, hard-drinking mountaineers. He starts his day at the restaurant by burning incense at various points throughout the restaurant. A statue of Buddha’s head overlooks the restaurant. Buddhist wall hangings resembling aprons adorn interior doors while framed angels cover the window to the kitchen. Both the wall hangings and angels are signs of respect in the spirit of namaste, Raji assured us.
Raji was kind enough to give me a quick tour of the assiduous kitchen, even demonstrating the art of preparing naan on a tandoori oven (pictured below). Baking naan, the wonderful leavened tandoori oven-baked flat bread, is not wholly unlike making tortillas. The most significant difference is that after the dough is rolled into a ball, it’s slapped against the tandoori oven wall. Over direct heat easily achieving 600-degrees, the naan is ready in just about 30-seconds. After it’s extricated from the oven with a pair of tongs, a light brushing of ghee (clarified butter) is applied, giving the naan a beautiful sheen.
There are seven different naans on the menu:plain; garlic, cilantro and chive; ginger mint; onion; stuffed potato and cheese; rosemary olive oil and stuffed dried fruit. The other available Tandoori bread is Tandoori roti whole wheat bread. Unlike naan, roti is unleavened and is made from stone-ground wholemeal flour, but is no less delicious than its bread counterpart. During our inaugural visit, we opted for the garlic cilantro/chive naan, a terrific choice. The naan is soft and moist with the pinto pony char characteristic of its brief interlude with burning coals in the oven. The triumvirate of garlic, cilantro and chive lends herbaceous properties that are accentuated with the steaminess of naan freshly extricated from the tandoori.
Still another popular Indian bread is papadum, a cracker-bread made from flour then deep-fried to give it a crispy consistency. You won’t be seated for long before a complimentary plate of papadum with two chutneys are brought to your table. The papadum resembles hard taco shells, but is much more brittle and breaks apart rather easily. The chutneys are magnificent in their contrasting and complementary properties. The mint-coriander chutney offers a vibrant nasal-clearing piquancy with herbaceous noted while the tamarind chutney lends sweet notes tempered by sour-tangy properties.
The appetizer menu includes a number of vegetarian and non-vegetarian items with which diners who frequent Indian restaurants will be familiar. Those include chicken pakora and chana chaat. Others are uniquely Nepalese and should be sampled by all diners wishing to expand their culinary footprint. Soups and salads are also available. Peruse the menu further and you’ll see items suffixed with the term “Manchurian,” a tribute to the culinary inspiration gleaned from China.
Perhaps the one appetizer which best exemplifies the cuisine of Nepal is momos, a Nepali (and Tibetan) name for dumplings. Momos are almost inarguably the most popular snack and fast food in Nepal. In fact, there are more “momo corners” in Kathmandu than there are McDonald’s and Subways combined in New York City. Enjoy momos one time and you’ll wish for a preponderance of this versatile dumpling which can be filled with a limitless variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian items.
Taste of Himalayas offers four different momos, three of which are vegetarian. Available either fried or steamed, they are served eight to an order. If you’ve got a carnivorous bent, the Himalayas Prime Choice Momos are your best best. Stuffed with your choice of ground lamb (our choice) or chicken mixed with ginger, garlic and other premium spices in a dumpling wrap, they’re magnificent. The accompanying dipping sauces are wholly unnecessary though the sweet-sour-tangy tamarind sauce plays very well with the richness of the lamb.
While Taste of Himalayas doesn’t offer a buffet, it does serve a vegetarian and non-vegetarian lunch special of the day sure to please and sate budget-conscious diners. On a tray large enough to feed a small family, the non-vegetarian plate of the day (pictured above) included two pieces of tandoori chicken, a sweet rice dessert, butter chicken, chicken curry, saag paneer and Basmati rice, all of which are at least very good. The butter chicken is superb, boneless, skinless, marinated chicken pieces served in a richly flavored tomato and yogurt sauce with melted butter poured over the dish before serving. It’s sinfully rich and delicious.
For the seafood lover in you, Taste of Himalayas offers a number of dishes showcasing the fruits of the sea. The Lobster Malabar, named for a prolific pepper producing region in India, this dish showcases lobster cooked in a tomato-coconut sauce. Available in your choice of piquancy, the briny sweetness of seafood generally warrants no more than mild heat lest its flavors be obfuscated by piquant, pungent peppers. At just south of twenty dollars, it’s a steal though you should accept that at this price, you’re not getting the most tender portions of the lobster. Still, it’s a very good dish with the lobster very much at home in the tomato-coconut sauce.
The dessert menu lists six items. For my friend, the dazzling Deanell Collins and for me, there’s no need to read any further than Gajar Halwa, the delightfully rich carrot-based treat we both love. Composed of grated cooked carrots, sauteed nuts, clarified butter and milk, it’s a unique use of carrots sure to please lovers of carrot cake. Taste of Himalayas’ version is on par with the Gajar Halwa at Namaste which means it’s the best in the metropolitan area.
Aside from the vibrant and delicious cuisine, our experience at Taste of Himalayas was greatly heightened by the attentive, personal service. In slightly more than an hour, we spent time in conversation with an energetic and personable chef, a delightful manager named Jamie Lee Curtis and a very cute server we called “wolf” after she described how the naan made her ravenous like a wolf. Frankly, everything we tried had the same effect on us.
Taste of Himalayas
7520 Fourth Street
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque
LATEST VISIT: 6 September 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Gajar Halwa, Lobster Malabar, Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Curry, Butter Chicken, Saag Paneer, Basmati Rice, Sweet Rice, Garlic Cilantro/Chive Naan, Himalayas Prime Choice Momos with Lamb, Papadum