PETALING JAYA, March 19 — When it comes to eating another culture’s food, nothing beats a home-cooked version. At the newly-opened Nepali Private Kitchen run by Birenda Sherchan, 50, and his wife, Sumnima, 40, you get the authentic taste of Nepal — think momos and Thakali sets.
Started this February, the Sherchans have opened up their home in Bandar Sunway to guests who come in a group for their private kitchen sessions. For 20 years, the couple lived in Singapore where Birenda was working.
About three years ago, when Birenda retired from his job, they relocated here under the Malaysia, My Second Home programme for the sake of their children’s education.
The idea to start a private kitchen arose when a friend of the family, John Sonam Yohan, brought food blogger Cheng Yi over for dinner. Cheng was missing Nepali food after Restaurant Nepal at Plaza Damas closed.
Popularly known by his moniker, Fatboybakes (http://fatboyrecipes.blogspot.my/), he admits that he has a strong affinity to Nepal after visiting it a few times for church missions. The attraction was the delicious food and the kind hospitality of the Nepalis he met. Bowled over by the Sherchans’s cooking, he suggested they be entrepreneurial and start this venture.
With the private kitchen, the talented Sumnima gets to showcase her talents. She picked up her cooking skills after she got married. In the beginning, she was taught by her mother and mother-in-law to cook the family recipes.
Later through the years, she slowly practised during her spare time in Singapore. Birenda is also an expert hand in cooking his own repertoire of dishes. One of his signature dishes is the delicious Pork Messing that he would often cook up during trips to the jungle.
The fragrant tender pork pieces cooked with lemongrass make an excellent companion for alcohol. For the dinner, it was served with the Thakali set. He is also a dab hand at barbecues, as we managed to sample his BBQ pork sprinkled with Nepali spices.
Both the Sherchans come from the Thakali tribe in Nepal, who are famed for their culinary skills and are often in the F&B business. As Cheng puts it, “They were probably the Hainanese of the Nepalis.”
The highlight of a meal here is Sumnima’s homemade momos. Commonly found all over Nepal where it is eaten as an appetiser or snack, the steamed dumplings resemble the Chinese jiaozhi. “It’s the national food for Nepal,” said Sumnima.
In Nepal, it’s often made with seasoned chicken or water buffalo meat but at Nepali Private Kitchen, they prefer the porcine version. As Sumnima says, “Above all, pork is the best.” As they lived in Singapore where pork momos are commonly served, they have grown accustomed to the taste which is far superior than the chicken version. She uses a little pork fat to mince the filling together with onions to give it a juicy texture.
Since one of the guests that evening is vegetarian, Sumnima had also experimented and produced a version using chopped shiitake mushrooms and shredded Napa cabbage — a lighter but still flavourful bite with the umami taste from the mushrooms.
Both steamed dumplings are paired with a fiery but oh-so-addictive red tomato chutney, made from Sumnima’s secret recipe that has chilli, tomatoes and coriander. “Everyone has their signature sauce to go with the momos,” she explains.
A lot of work goes into the making of the dainty morsels. Sumnima tells us their dumplings are made from scratch and require about two to three hours to prepare. Even though frozen skins are available, the homemade ones taste far superior.
The skin made from wheat flour and water is the hardest part since it requires a lot of elbow grease to knead it to their desired elasticity. Moreover, it is also incredibly important that the skins have an even thickness for the dumplings to cook properly in the steamer.
Even though the momos can be served deep fried or pan fried, Sumnima feels the original way — steaming — is the best way to enjoy them.
Sumnima had also laid out various appetisers. There’s a refreshing peanut salad or Badam, as Sumnima calls it — toasted whole peanuts mixed with chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and Himalayan salt, a type of crystallised salt that is good for health. We also help ourselves to Aloo Ku Achar, soft potatoes that are lightly pickled with fenugreek seeds.
Next it’s the main item, the Thakali Dal Bhat set, served on beautiful brass plates and containers specially brought in from Nepal. Each set has two meat dishes with Dal, an important and must-have component in the meal.
The lentils are specially brought in from Nepal. As it’s planted on the higher altitude and of incredibly good quality, it takes on a creamy texture once cooked. Take a spoonful of the Dal and you will be able to taste that it’s incredibly silky with a slightly smokey aroma.
Sumnima cooks it with a mixture of ghee and butter, even though ghee is traditionally preferred. “Using ghee is the original way and it gives it a nice and creamy texture.” It’s also an interesting green colour, as they use the black lentils but once it is combined with turmeric, it turns green!
For the night’s Thakali, Sumnima has cooked up an aromatic chicken curry or Kukhura Ko Masu. Usually, chicken is another component that must be present, while the other meat dish can be mutton, pork or even fish.
Most places in Nepal would only serve one meat dish in the set. In Nepal, despite being landlocked, they source for their fish from rivers and lakes. Sumnima tells us that often families will befriend fishermen who will deliver their catch to them on a daily basis.
For the vegetarian Thakali, it’s also a delicious repertoire that got all the meat eaters eyeing it. She had cooked up bean curd cubes with creamy mashed pumpkin sprinkled with the aromatic kasoory methi or fenugreek leaves, while the other item was mushrooms with green peas.
In the middle of the Thakali, you have the steamed rice or bhat served in the middle. In Nepal, some villages would serve their own mountain rice for the Thakali. Here, Sumnima prefers to use jasmine rice. On the side, you have, pickled radish or Mula Ko Achar, spicy chutney made with timmur spice (that has a slight zingy taste similar to Szechuan peppercorns), and Lapsi, a type of sweet and sour pickled plum made by Sumnima’s mother-in-law.
The pickle is cooked with various spices and made from hog plums, native to Nepal. There are also two types of vegetables: Sabji or a green leafy vegetable and Aloo Simi or potatoes cooked with French beans. The Nepali are fussy with the way their Thakali sets are arranged and presented. “You will get mocked if it is not a proper arrangement,” said Sumnima.
For dessert, it’s a simple yoghurt or Dahi with fresh mangoes — a light treat to get your digestive juices going after that heavy meal. In Nepal, there isn’t a penchant for sweet items and they prefer just eating homemade yoghurt for dessert.
Sumnima tells us of the Juju Dhau, the king of yoghurt that comes from Bhaktapur. The texture for the sweetened yoghurt set in claypots is more like a custard with a richer taste as buffalo milk is used.
So next time when it’s time to eat out, why don’t you gather a group of friends for a night of splendid Nepali food. You discover a new cuisine and make good friends with the hospitable Sherchans.
Book a session with Nepali Private Kitchen by contacting Cheng Yi at 012-3240988 or John Sonam at 012-4152512. A session for RM70 per person includes three courses: appetisers — three items including the momos, Thakali Dal Bhat set where rice is served with two meat dishes, Dal and pickles, and dessert. Other options are also available. Each session requires a minimum of six people and maximum of 12. Reservations must be made at least three to four days in advance.