words and photos by Holly Brown
Every so often I get an exclusive tip-off, a secret whispered hint from some blessed soul, from someone who knows not only of my love of fine foods, but also (perhaps more so) that I am, in fact, the Wanderer of this very column. These tidbits point me in new, uncertain directions, giving me an exclusive look at the deliciously rich underbelly that is the Akron culinary culture.
Nepali Kitchen was something I heard about in passing conversation for months. Every couple of weeks or so, someone would ask me about Nepali Kitchen. Soon enough, I was lusting after this restaurant and the soon-to-be-had meal there. I named dropped the place in everyday conversation if only to feel closer to actually having gone. At the beginning of a particularly gloomy week in November at the onset of daylight savings time, I put my foot down. Nepali Kitchen had to happen and it had to happen now.
I rallied my faithful troop—Ryan, my boyfriend/roommate/fellow food adventurer and Maya, my friend/work-wife/guide to all things Akron—who were often in my company when asked about said restaurant. This dining experience felt like a mission, a call-to-arms, or forks as it were. I was fidgety on the drive over and couldn’t stop bouncing in my seat. The excitement was mounting.
We were immediately greeted by the smell of rich spices. On a flatscreen at the back of the restaurant, a series of Nepalese music videos played. Perhaps it was the spices, or the fact that each and every Nepalese song bounced with happiness, or perhaps it was the anticipation, but I was giddy the minute I sat down at Nepali Kitchen.
But I could not, for the life of me, decide on anything. I clung to one remembered bit of advice to fish me from that ocean of uncertainty: get the mixed platter appetizer. We also ordered three lassis (two mango-, one strawberry-flavored drinks), which arrived in bright yellow-orange and pink, tasting like a yogurt-y smoothie—not too thick, not too rich and the perfect palate cleanser for what we were about to launch into.
As if by magic, a basket of flaky, fried goodness appeared—and then disappeared almost as fast. We split everything three ways, not quite certain what anything was and not wanting anyone to miss out on something spectacular. There were four kinds of pakora, which are like fritters of various sizes: vegetable, onion, chicken and paneer, which is a kind of homemade cheese. The sampler also came with one vegetable samosa, a pastry stuffed with peas and potatoes.
Though fried, each is light and crispy, instead of leaving you with that lead-in-the-stomach feeling common to other fried foods I love. Each filling had such a distinctly different texture and assortment of spices working within it that each fritter tasted immensely different from the ones before. There was no sogging-of-grease or masking-with-batter taste. Rather, the fried crust seemed to heighten what was contained within. While dividing samples and passing them across plates, we lost track of which pastry was filled with what. I was unable to predict what was to come and had to rely on my senses of taste and smell to teach me what lay inside, which was a great experience.
The time had finally come for a decision. Though I am always allowed and encouraged to share food with my cohorts, I place a lot of pressure on my own meal choice, and this was perhaps the most pressure I had felt in a while to choose carefully. I finally settled on lamb curry while also getting an order of Bhatura (crispy layered fried bread) for the table. Spoiler alert: I could have eaten that whole basket by myself.
My curry arrived alongside mutton chow mien (noodles, veggies, spices, and savory sauce) and chicken matar (curry with peas). My nose tingled when I inhaled. I could feel the layering of spices, the spiciness of the food. When I took that first bite, I was flooded with such earthy flavor. The curry was spicy but grounded, the temperature served to make the flavor more intense rather than mask it. It tasted real, like it was carefully crafted with consideration on every ingredient. The rice was thinner, more al-dente than the sticky rices of my past, and balanced the thick sauce and the rich lamb perfectly.
When my fullness forced me to bring home leftovers, they were so good I ate them cold, right out of the styrofoam carton, because I literally couldn’t wait to head them up. I think it’s safe to say Misson: Nepali Kitchen was a rousing success.
Holly Brown loves writing, mostly poems and about food. Maybe she should write more poems about food.