Off the Beaten Path: Finding a Bit of Kathmandu at Merit Farms
Merit Farms might just be one of the strangest eateries in Jackson Heights. Despite the name it’s not a farm-to-table type place, though I’ll bet it was once an old-school greengrocer. For years I passed by the storefront display of greasy fried chicken and other scary looking food products always wondering who would eat in such a place. As you can see from the bizarre mishmash of signage, these days the answer to that question is lots of Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Tibetan, Nepali and Bhutanese people. Think of it as a smaller, South Asian version of Flushing's regional Chinese food courts.
Once inside I breezed by the first stand, which seems to deal mainly in samosas, pakora and the aforementioned fried chicken. It took somewhat more willpower to bypass an immense steam table packed with dozens of South Asian specialties, but I steeled my nerves and soldiered on to the Tibetan/Nepali/Bhutanese restaurant at the back of the narrow space. It goes by two names: Namaste and Dumpling Palace. The gents you see here are tucking into a Nepali thali.
That thali looked really good and it was hard not to order momo at a place named Dumpling Palace, but the dropa khasa beckoned with the siren call of spicy organ meats. I’ve been longing for this Tibetan take on beef tripe ever since the nearby Shangrila Express food cart stopped serving it months ago. The owners of this tiny restaurant are Nepali, but they make a mean dropa khasa. The honeycombed bits of chewy beef guts do a great job of holding the sauce, which consists primarily of chili oil and black cumin seeds.
Mom always told me to eat my vegetables, so I also got some mula ko azar, a fiery pickle of daikon radish and cucumbers. It had tons of heat, but also an equivalent amount flavor, thanks to turmeric, garlic, mustard oil and loads of other spices. That disk in the background looks like a flapjack, but it’s not. Wo, is a black lentil cake made by the Newa people from Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley. Spongy, gingery, slightly salty and handy for mopping up excess sauce.
I could spend a week exploring all the South Asian food at Merit Farms, but the first thing I’ll try when I return is the momo from Dumpling Palace and some of their Bhutanese dishes. Incidentally the restaurant’s other name, Namaste, is a traditional greeting that literally means, “I bow to you.” Very apt given how tasty their food is.
37-67 74th Street (near Roosevelt Avenue, map)