By Baxley Aldworth
Be sure to drink the butter tea; it helps fend off the Himalayan cold — or at least the New York cold! Between the Nepalese music, décor, and food, it’s easy to get a little disoriented at Mustang Thakali Kitchen in Jackson Heights, Queens, one of the best Nepalese restaurants in the United States. To be more specific, its recipes draw from the Thakali, one of an estimated 12,000 groups of Nepalese people, who are renowned for their exceptional cooking. The Thakali hail from an area of Nepal called Mustang, hence the name of the restaurant.
Nepalese food tends not to be as spicy as Indian food, but it’s often found to be more full of flavor. Nepalese cuisine also uses different spices and herbs. Thakali Kitchen uses seven different spices to flavor its food: mustard green leaves, dried buckwheat (buckwheat is widely used in Nepal), caraway seeds, black pepper (very spicy and imported from Nepal), timurkochop (bright orange, and very popular in Nepal, and tastes great on eggs), fenugreek, and jimbu (a uniquely Nepalese spice).
It’s impossible to talk about Nepalese food without mentioning momos. Momos are the “must try” signature dish of Nepal, and are somewhat similar to Chinese dumplings. Dal bhat is another common Nepalese dish. It’s a platter of rice, dal (a type of lentil soup), vegetables, and often either fish,chicken or goat. Ashish Sherchan, the co-owner of Thakali Kitchen and a native of Nepal, recommends for customers to give the samyabagee a try. Similar in layout to a bento box, it contains marinated soybeans, spicy marinated coal chicken, an astonishingly delectable mix of intestines and liver, and crisp, airy rice. Don’t forget the sel roti, which is a bigger, thinner, Nepalese doughnut. Sel roti is often used as an appetizer, and is especially popular during the Dashain festival, which is the longest and most important festival in Nepal.
Don’t expect to find a buffet in Thakali Kitchen. “Nepalese people don’t like buffets, they want fresh food,” says Ashish. Lunch specials ($5.99), however, can be found daily. Been wondering what exactly that butter tea is? Its ingredients are relatively simple: just tea leaves, butter, and salt. However, the process of making it is not. The ingredients are placed in a butter-churn-like instrument and are mashed together. “It takes a certain technique to make it right; too much churning can ruin it,” says Ashish. “The butter is put into the tea to help people stay warm.” Stop by for the butter tea, stay for the samyabagee. Unique and delicious restaurants like Mustang Thakali Kitchen are why we love New York!