Chirag Delhi, a congested neighborhood in South Delhi, is where many Nepali Momowallahs live. They make the momo, half cook and take to different parts of the city to sell.
Two days ago a woman identifying herself as a reporter with Time Out Delhi called me at my apartment number. It was not unusual though. Many Indian reporters call me to satisfy their queries: What are the Maoists doing in Kathmandu? Who is this General Gurung? Dinesh, do you know where the [visiting] President is staying in Delhi? What is Nepal’s expectation from India? This woman didn’t talk about politics. She wasn’t interested in Maoists or the Army. She asked me if I knew any Nepali restaurant in Delhi that served Nepali cuisine. Not entirely an unexpected question from a reporter of TOD but I didn’t have a quick and short answer. There is no Nepali restaurant in Delhi that serves Nepali food. At least I don’t know of any. Today I called up a Nepali national who has been living in Delhi for the last 12 years and works at an electronic equipment company to ask if he knew any. He didn’t know of a Nepali restaurant in Delhi either. The ‘fact’ could be astonishing given some other figures like these: Delhi is a city of 15 million people where, according to one estimate, 5,00,000 Nepalis live. So, the question is, do Nepalis go hungry in Delhi?
Of course, not. The answer is Nepali and Indian foods are so similar that perhaps Nepalis in India do not feel any need to have a separate eatery in Delhi. That’s not the only and the most important reason. Overwhelming majority of Nepalis living in Delhi come from the poorest parts of Nepal and do some of the least paid works in the Indian capital. There are around 20,000 Nepalis who work as chowkidars alone, according to one research. For them going to a restaurant to spend Rs. 50 is a luxury.
“So what do Nepalis do when they really feel like eating Nepali food?” the reporter asked. “What do they do if they miss the Nepali taste?” What does a person have to do with the taste when he is struggling just to eat. Eat anything. Bhok meetho ki bhojan? There’s a saying. Bhok anytime. They eat to survive, really, not to take any taste (of course, meetho nameetho bhanne ta huncha nai).
Did I mention that we have similar foods in Nepal and India (north India, that is)? What we call bhat is known as chawal in India. [In Nepal, uncooked chawal is called chamal.] That is eaten along with dal and sabji (popularly known as tarkari in hilly Nepal). Heard the slogan dal bhat tarkari, mero jeevan sarkari? Our achar is theirs chatni.
But, this is a big BUT, there are some significant differences between our foods. The taste. “Dal, chamal is same but the taste that our food has is very different (from the Indian),” said the man. He added: In Nepal, home cooked food is not very different from food made in restaurants. Here, food cooked in dhabas are too spicy and oily. They create digestion-related problems to new Nepalis coming to Delhi.”
I think I replied the same to the TOD reporter in terms of spice and oil. I also asked the man about his food habit in Delhi. “Dal bhat khana payena bhane dinvari khana nakhayeko jasto huncha. दाल भात खान पाएन भने दिन भरी खान नपाएको जस्तो हुन्छ । So we take dal bhat tarkari achar- cooked in Nepali style- in the evenings. For breakfast and lunch, we take roti-sabji.”
For some reasons not known to me I am not a big fan of roti-sabji but the man spoke my stomach when he highlighted the importance of dal bhat tarkari! Ek thaal tanna nakhai hudai nahune! [Can't do without a full plate of DBT.] As the man put it, that has become a kind of habit.
There may not be a Nepali restaurant in Delhi but you will notice many many many Nepalis all over the streets of Delhi selling a popular food from Nepal and the Himalayas. Mo Mo. म: म: The momo sellers of Delhi are either Nepali nationals from various parts of Nepal or Nepali-speaking Indians from Darjeeling and the hills. If there’s any sector in India that is completely in the hands of Nepali ‘entrepreneurs’ that must be the business of selling momos. No Indians from Bihar or UP can compete with them. Though Nepali momo wallahs say they have been receiving the heat.
Nepali cooks are everywhere in India. In a restaurant in Anjuna beach, Goa in July last year, Nepali boys served us food that was cooked by a fellow Nepali. I met a boy in Jammu in September 2009 who worked as a cook in the eatery where I had accidentally entered into. Last week I was dining in the Chinese restaurant of the Taj Mahal Hotel and one of the chefs was from Nepal. He helped us order food by explaining the menu in Nepali. There’s a chef in Taj Mahal Mumbai too. If you missed recent news about Pune blast, the German Bakery was run by a Nepali (along with many other Nepali workers) in collaboration with an Indian.
But that is not same as having a Nepali restaurant serving Nepali cuisine like Gundruk, dhido, sakhulle khukura ko masu, aalu-taama, anda bara, chhoila AND chyura set. I know the TOD reporter didn’t get from me what she had wanted. Perhaps that is why she didn’t email me even though she had said she would: for further information!
1. The TOD reporter called back. She said she’s doing a story on the issue and will be sending a photographer to click my photo.
2. Another Nepali who runs bus service from Delhi to Pokhara told me yesterday that he has heard about an eatery in Paharganj where Nepali food is served.