ISLAMABAD-Nadia coffee shop at Marriott, Islamabad was in for a special treat this week. A highly-decorated Nepalese chef, Shiva Roka, who flew from Nepal, was at work along with his Pakistani counterpart, executive chef of the Marriott Hotel, Chef Thomas, to bring on board the crème de la crème of the capital and tantalize their taste buds with exhaustive Nepalese cuisine.

Nepal, a relatively small country in Southeast Asia region with a 29 million population, is pregnant with various cultures, castes, and communities and offers a wide variety of cuisine based on the traditions, rituals and regions as per their ethnic diversity. However, it will not be incorrect to say that the Nepalese cuisine shares many similarities with Pakistani cultural values including the culinary taste.

Nepal is a landlocked country, but that is not what it is famous for. The earth’s highest peak above the sea level, Mount Everest, also known as Sagarmatha is Nepal’s claim to fame. This formal kingdom came of age after dissolving the monarchy and declaring the country as a democratic republic in 2008. Packed to capacity, a testament of Nepalese cuisines’ popularity, the 2-day festival at Nadia coffee shop attracted many foodies and music lovers to savor the flavor of Nepal’s gastronomic delicacies and swaying on the big drums beats of a Nepalese music band. Chef Roka, who has more than 20 years of experience in the culinary industry under his belt, was engaging the guests in a not-so-bad Urdu. “In Nepal, we use a lot of cumin and mustard in our food along with local spices and herbs”, he explained.

Asked on the difference in methodology in cooking technique, the chef, spilling the beans, said that Pakistani cuisine had more spices and fewer herbs whereas it’s just the opposite in Nepalese way of cooking. Also in Nepal, we use mustard oil whereas here the chefs use vegetable oil, he explained. An array of salads in likes of chicken, potato, corn, and wild herbs were on display and too appealing to be ignored. The starters’ alley had one soup called Thukpa on display. It was a Tibetan soup made with onions, lemon, and cloves. Gundruk, a form of spinach salad, which the chef claimed is one of the oldest of starter dishes, is made from seasonal herbs mostly and kept under the soil for 2 weeks in a container. Once pulled out, it is dried under the sun for days, and when ready, it is mixed in mustard oil, chili powder, lemon juice, and tomato. It is so popular in Nepal that many households preserve it in large quantities to enjoy it during the off-season as well.

Mashu Poleko is a lamb dish which not only looked and tasted like a namkeen lamb karahi but is also prepared the same way. It was as if one is eating at a Shinwari restaurant. It was moist, tender as well as succulent. Jimbo le Jhaneko Dal was full of flavors. The black lentils are cooked with wild mushrooms and other herbs grown on the Himalayas which the chef had brought with him from Nepal. It tasted way better than any daal we eat at a local restaurant or a design dhaaba here. Piping hot bread from the tandoor was icing on the cake. Karela Tareko, Alu Kauli, were the two vegetable dishes on display in the likes of cabbage and potato whereas Khashi ko Mashu was a mutton dish cooked similarly as mutton karahi we make.

Nepalese use mostly salmon fish with gravy but dry fish is also a novelty in the households. The fish on display had an aroma of mustard oil with cumin, ginger hint.