Sunday, October 04, 2009

Chilly Buff and Goat's Guts

Before I tell you about my dinner at Mustang Thakali Kitchen, a Nepali restaurant in Jackson Heights, please indulge me while I show you a few snapshots from my trip to Nepal in the winter of 1990-91.

Dhulikhel with Himalayas in Background

Swayambhunath Stupa

Bagmati Ghats


Mustang Thakali Kitchen specializes in, as the name says, Thakali cuisine, from the north of the country, as opposed to the Newari cuisine of the Kathmandu Valley, but I'm not going to try to figure out, let alone explain, what the differences are. I will go on record and say that I found Mustang's food significantly better and more consistent than that at another Nepali restaurant in the same neighborhood, Himalayan Yak, which I was never moved to write about. Both restaurants also feature dishes from neighboring Tibet. There are many Tibetan refugees in Nepal, and a number of Tibetan dishes, especially momos (dumplings), can be found at restaurants in Kathmandu.

I went to Mustang Thakali Kitchen with a large enough group to try a bunch of dishes. Though there are a number of vegetarian options on the menu, and though the Nepali diet is largely vegetarian, it's the variety of meat flavors and textures that really make the restaurant special.

One of the best bets to start with is the samya bajee, a bento box with a combination of spicy cold chicken, the dry and crunchy "beaten rice," marinated soybeans, and, best of all, bhutuwa goat, a moderately spicy combo of goat's liver, intestines and stomach. If you're into innards, bhutuwa goat is the dish for you.

Another of the evening's hits was the chilly buff. Buff is water buffalo, one of the most common meats in Nepal. It has an only slightly gamey flavor, and I found it to be one of the tastier dishes of the evening. "Chilly" seems to be the preferred spelling of chili on most Himalayan restaurant menus.

Mutton fry is not mutton at all, but fried goat meat, and quite delicious, as was the sukuti beef, sauteed with "Nepali spices." When I ordered the latter I mistakenly thought I was ordering the beef jerky dish that Robert Sietsema wrote about in his Village Voice review. That one is actually called sukuti sadeko. It was a case of mistaken sukutis.

Pay no attention to the menu's distinction between appetizers and entrees, as it seems largely arbitrary. All of the dishes above came from the appetizers section, while dumplings are listed as an entree.

From the entrees portion of the menu, the vegetable thali was rather sparse and disappointing, but the vegetable momos were wonderful, among the best meatless dumplings I've tasted. The ghoken, a buckwheat roti that was served with a chicken curry, was rather bland, but had an appealing, fluffy texture.

I think the key to satisfaction at Mustang Thakali Kitchen is to be adventurous and to eat lots of meat.


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