Queens has so many ethnic eateries that it’s hard to keep track of new prospects. Sometimes I return to a restaurant only to find that it’s disappeared, as if I’d imagined the whole thing. Such was the case with Himalayan Fast Food in Jackson Heights—I was on the right block, yet there was no sign of the place. A quick visit to a neighboring halal butcher provided a reality check and the opportunity to gawk at some expert goat butchering. Turns out HFF was closed for a few days. Since the nabe has become quite the Little Nepal, it took no time to find an alternative. Shangri-La Kabab & BBQ Palace lies just a few storefronts to the left. The awning touts fare from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as well as a cuisine more in line with its legendary namesake: Nepali.
The extensive Nepali Kitchen menu hangs above a standard-issue Indian steam table. I’m used to seeing two types of momo at such joints. Shangri-La offers four, including c-momo, or fried goat dumplings with chilis. The latter sound quite tempting, but in the spirit of adventure I chose two Nepali dishes that I’d never had from the 31-item roster.
First up: gundruk sandeko, which the menu describes as Nepali-style dried spinach and offers as a soup or just straight. I opted for straight up, no soup chaser. Soon I was presented with a cold greenish heap of vegetal matter. The brown and green stalks were incredibly fibrous and had a sour-hot flavor that was amped up by a dressing of cilantro, onion, garlic, tomato, powdered red pepper, green chili, and ginger. It was like no spinach I’d ever tasted and for good reason: They were mustard greens that had been fermented into a Nepali kimchi. Further research revealed that sun-drying is part of the process, which explains why it’s so fibrous.
That golden-brown halo looming over the plate of spicy fermented veggies is a sel roti or rice doughnut. It’s more of a sweet snack than a bread to be eaten with a meal, but the lady at that counter insisted that I try one since it was fresh and hot. Nothing wrong with a crunchy ghee and sugar-laden treat to balance out all those greens.
Next up: gidi fry, or fried goat head. Allow me to repeat that: fried goat head. Brings to mind picking a mixture of crispy and succulent bits from the actual head doesn't it? The reality looked more like a veggie curry causing me to question whether it was the right dish. After being assured that it was gidi fry, I dug in. Slicked with mustard oil, it was spicy, creamy, gingery, and shot through with toasted methi, or fenugreek seeds. Within a few bites, I realized that the delicious mixture I couldn’t stop eating was, in fact, fried goat head. Specifically goat brain. And, yes, I did dip the remaining portion of that sweet Nepali doughnut into those spicy goat brains. After all, unless you're hanging with Chris Cosentino how often does the chance to combine sweets with offal arise?
Shangri-La Kabab & BBQ Palace
74-15 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights NY 11372 (map) 718-424-8900