What's Cooking?: Expatriate Ladies & Exotic Cuisine

Features Issue 51 Jul, 2010
Text by Dinesh Rai

"One cannot think well, love well or sleep well, if one has not dined well." - Virginia Woolf

In prehistoric times, human beings were hunter-gatherers.But as they began to settle down and cultivate land, they soon learnt the art of cooking. Since then, man’s culinary skills have developed into a fine art. Recipes have been passed down from generation to generation and as people of different regions developed their own tastes and individual cuisine, the world became richer with a fascinating variety of foods.

Ever since the flower generation discovered Nepal, this country has enjoyed a constant flow of tourists. Some stayed behind and opened restaurants introducing exotic cuisine like the wide variety of pies that one could buy around Freak Street in the ’70s and ’80s. There were so many outlets that foreigners on extended stay referred to one lane as ‘Pie Alley’. By the time business shifted to Thamel, there were a growing number of eateries serving Chinese,  Continental and other delicacies.

Today, Kathmandu boasts of a remarkable range of international cuisine like Italian, Japanese, Russian, Burmese, Korean, Indian, Chilian, Mexican, Thai, Middle-Eastern, besides the Nepali and vast Newari cuisine. In the following pages, we feature some of the expatriate ladies who have brought to Nepal, traditional, authentic tastes from their home countries.

Saturday Café: Andrea At Boudhanath
Andrea at Boudhanath
Within the circle of buildings that surround the magnificent Boudha stupa is a three-storied Café named ‘Saturday Café. Sitting on the rooftop, enjoying the glorious view of Boudhanath, one can relish Andrea’s fabulous cuisine. As the name suggests, the Café is also open on Saturdays.

Born in Ottawa, Canada, Andrea Thain spent some time in Europe which was a learning experience and she says, “I grew up in a cosmopolitan atmosphere and there was always plenty of good cosmopolitan food around.” She then went to University in her native Canada and later moved to Hong Kong from where she finally arrived in Nepal. “The first time I came here was twenty years ago. I was teaching in Hong Kong, where I was exposed to the fine art of oriental cooking,” says Andrea. Being in Nepal, she started looking for a small place to start a simple Café. When she eventually found what she felt was the right spot, she took her time orchestrating the whole set up; she designed the roof with thatch and the tables and chairs are also her own creations. The Café was opened a year ago. It is much more than a Café, with books, clothing and handicrafts on sale. “You can spend time reading while you sample the food,” informs Andrea. And she has quite a good collection of books on sale.

According to Andrea, the Café depends on local products and they try not to import anything. But the vegetables are seasonal and naturally the menu is also seasonal. Saturday Café is totally vegetarian. “I make vegan cakes with no eggs and no milk, so that anyone can eat here, irrespective of caste and creed,” Andrea adds. The cakes cookies are delicious and people love them. They serve eastern, western and middle-eastern food, which includes cuisine from many different countries. But there are no meat products and additives in any of her food. No alcohol is served either in this Café.

Using old European recipes, Andrea makes cakes with unique tastes and she has quite a variety. “I use dry fruits and molasses and make cakes with carrots, pumpkins, sorbet using no dairy products,” she remarks. Depending on the season, she changes the menu very often and offers daily specials. “There are a lot of Chinese and Japanese vegetables in town,” says Andrea, and she buys them.Saturday Café is a European style Café with books and Nepali textiles (traditional) on display. They also have mini exhibits of photos, prints or textiles. Andrea likes to encourage local artisans by creating an informal place to exhibit their works. Besides the exhibits, musical events have also been held at the Café featuring traditional Tibetan music. Andrea’s clients are an interesting mix of students, monks, locals and expatriates. Saturday Café offers much more than food. Her Baked Cookies are also sold at the “Gemini” Department Store in Boudha.

Contact Ph: 2073157

Fire & Ice: Annamaria’s Story
It was the 16th of September 1988,when Annamaria and her daughter Amarilli arrived in Nepal to join her husband Frank who had already been in Nepal for a few weeks. “When the airplane door opened, it felt like I was in heaven. It was a beautiful, clear day and the air was so fresh! We could see the mountains in the distance. I will never forget that,” says Annamaria. At the time she was recovering from a long illness and had to be helped down the plane. “It was Frank’s idea to come to Nepal, when in the UK he was offered a job at Lincoln School in Kathmandu,” she remembers. He thought it might help her recover. How right he was! They were then blessed with two daughters. Their eldest daughter is in Kent University in the UK and misses Nepal very much. Annamaria is a linguist and speaks French, English, Italian, Nepali, a little German and a bit of Danish.

In 1994, there were only a few Italian restaurants in Kathmandu and she was introduced to Italian machinery like ovens, ice cream machines, etc. So Annamaria thought of starting a small café. With luck on her side, she won a small place at the Sanchay Kosh Building in Thamel. She started with one pizza oven and eight pizzas on the menu. Her biggest problems were getting the right kind of tomatoes and finding Mozzarella cheese. “Now, we have someone who makes Mozzarella only for us,” informs Annamaria. She calls her menu simple, but has 18 types of pizzas including Parigina, Prosciutto e Funghi, Rompipalle, Terra e Mare, etc). She also makes Lasagna, Polenta (corn flour), Spaghetti (Pomodoro, Carbonara, Puttanesca, etc). Her pizzas have a special taste and people throng to relish them. She thinks Nepal produces the best vegetables in the world!

Finding the right people to work with was difficult, but now she has very well trained staff and her waiters offer the best service. Her ovens are huge and the pizza is cooked on the bricks. Fire and Ice is famous for its pizzas. Many other establishments have learnt from Fire and Ice and prepare pizzas as big as Annamaria’s and use ovens similar to hers. “But it’s ok, I feel flattered to be copied,” she says. “My pizzas are big because, as in Italy, going out to a restaurant should be a happy family event, and it’s good to ‘share’.”

As we were leaving the restaurant, it had started getting busy and outside we found about twenty people trying to get in. Fire and Ice is the most popular place for authentic Italian food, where the atmosphere is also warm and inviting. Today Annamaria is busy running another ‘Fire and Ice’ in Middleton Street, the heart of the old Indian city of Kolkata. In her absence, Frank takes charge of the establishment here. It seems that Fire and Ice is a growing enterprise!
Contact Ph: 4250210

Chez Caroline: Caroline’s Place
Caroline loved to travel and arrived in Nepal when the flower generation was blooming. It was 1969, the end of an incredible decade. Her desire to meet people of different cultures kept her on the move. She went out to see the world and her fascination with Asian cultures brought her to India and then Nepal, where she found peace. The greenery and the relaxed atmosphere enchanted her. Coming to Asia became a yearly affair for Caroline. She then received a grant and studied Hindi in New Delhi.

Born and brought up in Paris, France, Caroline studied movie editing after school and traveled during the holidays. She visited exotic places like Morocco, but it was India that fascinated her and she visited every year for 3/4 years. It was during this period that she made regular trips to Nepal bringing French groups and on one of these jaunts, she met Utpal Sengupta, who was then the general manager of the newly opened Hotel Shangri-la. They bonded instantly. Once they were married, Caroline had to find something to do in Kathmandu, so she began a career in jewelry designing. But she had always harbored a desire to open a restaurant in France, although that has remained just a dream.

However, when Caroline made up her mind to open a small Café in Nepal, she got full support from Utpal. Thus, ‘Chez Caroline’ was born at the chic Baber Mahal Revisited. “It means Caroline’s Place, a name given by Utpal,” says Caroline, “In fact it was Utpal who set up the whole place for me to run.”

Today, Chez Caroline is where the expatriate community likes to hang out, amidst the simple setting that Caroline has chosen. Serving French and Mediterranean food, most of the recipe is her own as well as what came from her family. Much of it is what she inherited from her grandmother. “I read a lot on cookery and I live to create new tastes,” reveals Caroline. Her usual menu consists of three pages devoted to regular stuff and the last page changes every day as she creates new recipes. They even have a date on them and a ‘Special of the Day’. Her menu depends on what’s available as well as on the season. For summer she has lighter food and for winter, heavy meals that give you warmth.

Some of the specialties include: coulant au chocolat (some people come for just that), nougat glace (popular ice cream), sandwich Mediterraneen, sandwich du chef (Club sandwich), salade Caroline (mixed salad). “If people want a special preparation, we can do that too. We can cook to suit peoples’ needs and they are not disappointed,” informs Caroline.

“It’s a combination of me and the people I work with,” Caroline tells us, and even when she is away for three months, they manage quite well. “Clients have never complained,” is how she puts it, as proof that her staff is capable and reliable. A lot happens at Chez Caroline, as they smoke their own salmon, make their own tofu, ice cream, etc. No wonder Caroline is so successful.
Contact Ph: 4263070

Delicias Gourmet: Jaya & Gladys Thapa
Many will remember ‘La Marmite’ in Durbar Marg from the early ’80s. It was a French restaurant run by Jaya and Gladys Thapa. But then they disappeared, much to the disappointment of regulars who thoroughly enjoyed their delicious concoctions. The clients’ favorites were their chocolate mousse and pepper steak. The couple had moved to Gladys’ home country, Chile. There they remained for seventeen odd years, until in 2003 they decided to return with their two grown up daughters.

Much to the delight of their old customers, the Thapas opened ‘Delicias Gourmet’ at Bhatbhateni in February 2004. When they decided to return, they had no idea how much Nepal had changed. They found that Nepali-eating habits had changed drastically. Whereas in the ’80s few people ate out, now they were eating in restaurants all the time. Eating out had become a way of life for urban Nepali people.

Jaya was born in Naxal, Kathmandu in 1953 while around the same time Gladys Burgos was born in Osorno, Chile. They first met at a party organized by the Chilian community in France and were later reunited at the University of Bordeaux in 1979 where Jaya was on an HMG scholarship. Two years later they were married in Chile. In 1982, the Thapas came back to Nepal with daughter Edna and opened La Marmite. It was a popular eatery until in 1987, they decided to move back to Chile. In Osorno, the couple opened a restaurant called ‘Shangri-la’ where they served a blend of Chilian and Nepali foods. “Our Daal Bhaat Tarkari was a big hit there,” says Gladys. They were blessed with another daughter, Carina and when they returned to Nepal once again, they were a family of four. Watching her parents churn up culinary delights over the years, elder daughter, Edna finally decided she wanted to study culinary management and joined the Silver Mountain College of Hotel Management and has recently completed her internship at the Hyatt Regency. As Jaya likes to say, “She has become my right hand in running Delicias.” Edna is also studying B.Sc for a degree in environmental management at Schems. Gladys on the other hand teaches Spanish at the Bishwa Bhasha Campus in the mornings and joins her husband and daughter in the afternoon. They make up a great team.

Along with homely Chilian food, their menu includes continental delicacies. Their chocolate mousse is still popular and they serve a wide variety of pies, patties and quiche.

They also have takeaways, selling frozen vegetables along with frozen chicken, fish and other dishes, which are quite often sold out. “Some of the popular dishes are Chilian Empanadas, Chicken A Lo Pobre, Fish Cancato, Cazuela (soup) and Chicken Escabechado,” remarks Edna. They also use goat cheese from Chitlang to make salads, sandwiches and quiche. “It’s unusual and people like them,” remarks Jaya with a contented smile. To top it all, Delicias Gourmet also serves Chilian wine to go with the food.
Contact Ph: 4433607