For Vikrant Thapli, a resident of Dehradun and a food entrepreneur, opening his new restaurant Mitho Thakali is his bid to give the people of Uttarakhand, tourists or locals, the “experience of authentic Nepali food”.
Although it opened this year in Old Rajpur, the idea to open such a restaurant first came to him back in 2012, during a visit to Nepal.
Being a half-Gorkha and half-Garhwali Rajput, Vikrant, who works as a government contractor, understood both cultures pretty well. “We have relatives in Nepal and I have always been interested in exploring the region’s food and culture. I visit it to explore a variety of food and spices almost every second month,” he says.
Beyond sharing the region’s food and culture, Mitho Thakali is also an ode to Vikrant’s mother, who is Gorkha. “My mother, a social worker, always had confidence in me that I could do this. So, I saved money and laid the foundation of Mitho Thakali by first opening a small cafe – Purkul – by the name of my village in Dehradun, where I was born and brought up,” he recalls.
At the restaurant, hungry visitors will be treated to a variety of delights — from traditional thakali platters to jhol momos and thukpa.
The two-storey restaurant with a seating capacity of nearly 100, opens into a large courtyard, with workers mostly from West Bengal’s Siliguri and Darjeeling wearing dhaka topi (hat) attending to diners serving authentic hot Nepali cuisine cooked by two Nepali chefs on bronze utensils.
The decorative metal items are put at the corners of the brick walls. While you savour an authentic Nepali platter, the folk songs of the neighbouring country playing in the background are a delight.
Mitho Thakali claims to be Uttarakhand’s first such Nepali restaurant.
“I wanted to give people the experience of an authentic Nepali restaurant in Uttarakhand, not only in terms of food but also its ambience. From decoratives, pillars (showcasing Newari patterns), stone lines, utensils, and crockery to chefs and spices, I have sourced everything from Nepal. There is no such Thakali restaurant in the state,” Vikrant tells The Better India.
“The building is a replica of a small darbaar (square). The restaurant gives a glimpse of Nepal and people enjoy it, both locals and tourists,” the 34-year-old adds.
Food beyond momos
The most loved street food in India — momos and chow mein — are widely savoured in the country. But these recipes have their roots in Nepal, with slightly different methods of preparations and herbs, and spices used.
“Nepali food is similar to pahadi (Himalayan) food. But the herbs and spices used in Nepal are more organic. Spices and vegetables such as timur (Szechuan pepper), gundruk (pickled green-leafy vegetables, also regarded as the national dish of Nepal) make the food authentic. Whenever I’d go to Nepal, I’d ravish it. I wanted to give that experience to the people who have not been to Nepal,” says Vikrant, who started the venture this year in November 2022.
He asserts that there’s more to Nepali cuisine than just momos and chow mein. The restaurant offers ‘Thakali Khana’ – an authentic Nepali platter comprising rice, dal, pickles, delicacies made with buckwheat, Nepali curries and a dollop of ghee.
From jhol momos (veg momos in spicy Nepali sauce), thukpa, wai wai sadeko (spicy wai wai noodles), gundruk sadeko (spicy fermented radish leaves), chicken sekuwa with flat rice (grilled chicken), and Tibetan herbal tea, the restaurant offers up to 20 food varieties under Rs 450.
The unlimited rice thalis, dhero thalis, and phaapar roti (buckwheat flat-bread) are served with curry, vegetables, dal, papad, salad, along with three authentic Nepali pickles.
“The food is pretty affordable. And we have up to 125 diners daily on a weekday and up to 250 on weekends. This is when we have not hosted a grand opening or done any advertisement. We expect to double this number after the grand opening. Recently, I bought high-altitude coffee beans from Nepal and am planning to set up a barista. Once the barista is ready, we will officially open it. Thereafter, we will be expanding the menu with more authentic Nepali dishes,” says Vikrant.
“Food in both Nepal and Uttarakhand is similar, but the cooking methods are different, from the way meat is roasted to the cooking period. Gorkha people cook with all our hearts and passion,” he adds.
What’s interesting is that the place where Mitho Thakali stands today was in ruins until 2019. Vikrant restored the building. “The place was a khandar (a building in ruins) until 2014. We brought it back to life in 2019,” he says.
Vikrant also notes, “Gorkha comprises nearly 20 per cent of the population of Uttarakhand. They understand this flavour better. The restaurant is a gift for them and my mother. The local Gorkhali and Garhwali communities are pretty happy to have Nepali cuisine here. We get so many blessings and love, it’s beyond making money,” he says.
Edited by Divya Sethu.