Friday, January 21, 2011

Dechenling @ Thamel, Kathmandu

One of the issues that I'd observed in Kathmandu was electricity rationing or load shedding, as they call it. As the demand for electricity increases, this is important for distribution to all parts of Nepal without having to face a meltdown at the hydropower plants. A commentary in one of Nepal's English newspapers debated on the need for such deprivation when a better solution may be as simple as building more hydropower generators or investing in alternative energies. Reading this at the cosy Pumpernickel Cafe on a lazy afternoon had me thinking of how much I was affected by the shedding. During my short stay here, most of the time, blackouts would begin in the evening and continue until midnight. On some days, it extended to the next morning. The hotel did provide lighting powered by their own generators but I'd say that it was minimal and insufficient. The bathroom, for example, was still dark. So, I'd hung my torchlight on the shower curtain's rail to enhance visibility. The water heater had to be turned on 15 minutes in advance, a lesson that I'd learned the hard, freezing way. It still brings a smile whenever I think of the mishaps related to the shedding, but it may not be so funny for the people enduring this problem on a daily basis.

Reaching here after a 15 minutes walk out in the cold, the warmth of Dechenling was welcoming. Somewhere between the soup and main course, we'd had a blackout. The shedding had begun. But that didn't last long because the established restaurant had a power generator. Luxuries like the background music were gone though, like how Windows would operate on Safe Mode. Only two tables were occupied that night - the long table at the center and me at a corner next to the coal-fueled heater. At the long table sat a few well-dressed locals that spoke a mixture of English and I guess, Nepali. They seemed oblivious to the blackout.

Although Dechenling offers an extensive menu ranging from Nepali to Tibetan to Western dishes, I was here mainly for a taste of Bhutanese food. My knowledge of this country nears zero. I'm only aware that it's mountainous, clean and where Wong Kar Wai choreographed Tony Leung and Carina Lau's wedding.

The set consisted of a soup, 2 main dishes and a dessert. The soup was a tsampa or ground roasted barley flavoured with bits of meat and vegetable. Served thick, it reminded me of the Cantonese peanut congee. It has a sublty earthy aroma that grew on me in Kathmandu. The wait staff asked if I wanted my mains served just spicy or very spicy and I chose the latter, unknowing of the Bhutanese definition of what's (hot and) spicy. The two mains in the set were phaksha paa (pork stew with chilli and radish) and kewa datse (potato curry with cheese). Both came piping hot, so that was good. The pork cuts were surprisingly tender, despite the half centimetre range thickness, and the radish slices were still crunchy - not overcooked. The stew itself was well-seasoned. It didn't take long before the tongue numbed and beads of sweat began forming around the forehead. I thought the kewa datse would be able to mellow down the burn but it didn't. Instead, it added to the intensity, thanks to the loads of local green chillies, akin to our cili padi. At that point, the nearby heater seemed more like a curse than a blessing. The sweatman, in a sweater, unleashed. The folks from the long table each stared my way for a while, as I wiped the continuous flow of sweat off my face. If I could use the whole tablecloth, believe me, I would. Things got better after gulping half a bottle of the Everest beer. Back to the kewa datse, it was a stunner. Usually gratinated, never had I thought that chillies, cream cheese and potato could be curried and taste so wonderfully. And to think that it's a staple, not a special dish, that Bhutanese have been enjoying all their lives! The cream cheese, with its richness and slight tang, was the force majeure here, and to me, tasted even better when lumped with the stew and white rice. I downed the rest of the Everest Beer before dessert was served. The beer was a limited edition, dedicated to the legendary mountain climber, Mr. Nima Gombu Sherpa, who scaled the Everest 12 times. The words were definitely more interesting than the taste, I must say. Dessert came as...a dessert, as the menu simply stated without any description. I believe it was a parfait of sweetened semolina with cubes of fruits (peach, perhaps) and topped with a plastic cup.

The few streetlights were still out as I made my way back to the hotel from Dechenling. That must have lasted until the next day. The dropping temperature made the walk even more challenging. Thank goodness I was now loaded with some heat from the dinner.

The introduction to Bhutanese food was both interesting and delicious. I fondly remember the newfound kewa datse and am looking forward to tasting it again. In Bhutan, hopefully.

Do click on this link for some words on Dechenling the restaurant.


minchow said...

Waitaminute... WKW choreographed Tony & Carina's wedding? That should definitely go somewhere on list of things to achieve NEXT lifetime!

choi yen said...

The last photo is curry? Looks so pale & more looks like a potato salad :P

Life for Beginners said...

We do take simple things in life for granted, don't we? Water, electricity, light, heat... It's only when it's gone do we appreciate how good we had it when we did.

Oh, and do take me with you to Bhutan! I swear I can fit into your luggage! :P

tastebudtalk said...

Your travel stories make for a very enjoyable read. Lovely, lovely photos. You've made me want to visit Nepal now.

HairyBerry said...

minchow, their wedding pics were exceptional. here's a link to the story:
and some pics:

choi yen, haha, you are right! i was also tricked into believing that it was a cold potato salad!

kenny, i share your view on the lack of appreciation of the basic utilities that we have. with all that we have, we should contribute more to the society. and on Bhutan, it'll be fun if we can organize a group trip there! it'll be great to travel with a group of friends to an exotic location!

tastebudtalk, thanks for the compliment! glad you liked the stories and photos. :) Nepal, to me, was an eye-opener. It's a really beautiful country.