The words ‘tourist trap’ are all I think lately as I walk down Laugavegur. A Nepali restaurant on the main street had, therefore, firmly remained on my avoid list and the menu advertised outside wasn’t enticing either. Tourist trap, I was smugly convinced.
But in the past year, there has been a change in name, ownership, as well as in the kitchen. At Himalayan Spice, under owner Ash Kumar Gurung, chefs Pradip Gurung, Duraj Gurung and Shyam Thapa have crafted a fastidious menu, designed to showcase the mountainous cuisine of Nepal.
Nepali fare is distinctive, even as it shares similarities with the cuisines of India, Tibet and China. Thanks to the altitude and shorter growing periods, grains like buckwheat and barley; hardy veggies like daikon radish; lentils; leafy greens; and cheese are integral parts of the cuisine. Himalayan Spice does an appreciative job of capturing this spirit, even as the menu offers Indian restaurant classics like palak paneer.
When an innocent-looking timbale of puffed rice is set down, I’m mentally prepared for a bhel-puri like dish. But Chatpate (1099 ISK), with its tumble of crushed Wai Wai noodles (a Nepali brand of noodles with a near-cult following) and puffed rice, enrobed in a sour, sweet, spicy tamarind slicked sauce, steals my heart. Chopped cucumber adds a touch of freshness, and we wipe our plates clean, in mild disbelief that we just had chaat this good in Reykjavík.
Momos are by now synonymous with Nepali cuisine. Unlike Tibetan momos, with their delicate filling of meat, green onions and soy, Nepali momos are a transitional version as they jostle between Tibet and India. Ergo, turmeric and other ground spices find favour here.
The chicken momos (2499 ISK) are at that exciting edge of familiar newness, with juicy minced chicken jolted with spikes of fresh green chillies, the unexpected bite urging you to eat another steamed dumpling. Forego cutlery, however, they’re best enjoyed by hand. The skins could’ve been slinkier, but I’ll still go back for my momo-tomato chutney fix.
The Himalayan thakali (3999 ISK) is a sublime treat to all the senses. Served like a thali, the gleaming brass bowls with various vegetable and meat dishes are an array of delicious planets orbiting the star—a mound of perfectly steamed, fluffy basmati rice.
I stir together generous spoonfuls of the dal—slow-cooked whole moong dal, with nothing more than what I suspect to be a simple ghee tempering, with the rice. Bite down on a bit of mustard forward moleko achar (radish pickle) now and then. Is that an onion-rich home-style chicken curry there? Delicious. How about the simply spiced cauliflower and potato stir fry?
But the real star is the unassuming spinach, quickly blanched and stir-fried with nubs of golden-brown fried garlic. Why sawdusty kale is almost revered and velvety greens cooked this way sidelined I’ll never understand. Each dish underlines the homeliness of this fare—heightened simplicity that belies their nuanced expression, something those who grew up with similar food will instantly recognise.
To palates and minds accustomed to spice-forward desi dishes, the subtlety of many of the dishes might seem like an anti-climax. But I urge you to go all-in with the entire experience. It certainly put a spring back in my step.
Like any city geared towards tourists, Laugavegur is full of traps. It is a relief then to find restaurants that strive for their voice and express it with attractively priced, wholesome fare. Gracious service sweetens the affair that much more. Himalayan Spice is far from being a tourist trap, rather it’s a little Nepalese nook right in Reykjavík.
Info: Himalayan Spice
Visit the restaurant at Himalayan Spice at Laugavegur 60A
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