Ask most well-rounded ethnic eaters about Tibetan food and the one item that usually comes up is momo, the beef dumplings that are the country's national dish. It's almost impossible to imagine entering a Tibetan restaurant and not ordering a plate of them, but that's exactly what I did the other night at the Himalayan Yak, a joint that serves Tibetan, Nepali, and Indian cuisine. The restaurant had its grand opening just a week ago, though grand reopening might be more accurate. The Yak, which is the oldest restaurant of its kind in the area, had been closed for renovations since late 2007. It's a safe bet that I'll never climb Mount Everest, but finding the Yak open for business after such a long absence filled my heart and taste buds with a sense of impending discovery.
Part of the reason I didn't order any momo at the Yak is that there are tons of other things I've never even heard of, like sandeko bandel—a Nepali dish of about a half dozen slices of boar leg ringed with rich fat and coated with some kick-ass red pepper. The meat is served cold and seems like something a sherpa would give a weary mountain climber. Don't get me wrong—it was quite tasty and at $4.99, not a bad deal.
Next up was cheura tareko ($4.99), which the menu describes as beaten rice fried with peanuts, potato chips, and spices. How could I not order such an intriguing sounding dish? It's like Himalayan trail mix: crunchy bits of beaten rice, peanuts, cashews, coriander seeds, soy nuts, and whole dried red chilies. I could put away a platter of this stuff while knocking back a few cold beers. Since there was no beer around, I spooned some of the crunchy salty goodness over the saag raayo. It made the $7.99 order of fresh sautéed mustard greens even better and went nicely with the fatty boar.
When I saw pork or beef sausage on the menu for $11.99, I jumped at it. I was amazed when the waitress brought it over and saw that it was blood sausage. I guess all cultures make blood sausage and the Tibetans are no exception. Every bite was crispy crunchy and singing with ginger and garlic. Even though I ordered the pork variety I'm told it also contained yak blood.
Dinner ended with a nice hot bowl of bhartsa markhu ($4.99). The menu describes it as handmade pasta lightly rolled in roasted barley, sugar, butter, and grated sauce. I'm not sure what "grated sauce" is, but this stuff was utterly delicious. The steaming bowl of pasta comes to the table redolent of butter and sugar. A closer look revealed that the pasta is a dead ringer for the cavatelli of my youth. It reminded me of a comfort dish my Mom used to prepare: pasta with ricotta and sugar.
I'm looking forward to making it back to the Yak. In the coming weeks they plan to start serving erna datsi, Bhutan's national dish, a fiery concoction of green peppers and cheese. Maybe it'll be like a Bhutanese version of Frito pie.
72-20 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights NY 11372 (map) 718-779-1119