Many writers on Yelp describe their visits to Himalayan Yak as departures from the usual, Nepalese and Tibetan food not having penetrated American culture the way Indian and Chinese food have. But after a short walk around the stretch of Roosevelt Avenue between 72nd and 74th Streets, the Wendy’s down the block will seem more unusual than Himalayan Yak. Most conspicuously, a Tibetan restaurant faces Himalayan Yak from across the street in what must be an interesting rivalry. There are also two trucks selling Tibetan momo on this block. There is even a Tibetan hairstylist a few doors down, not to mention the two Tibetan shops awaiting you in the bowels of the 73rd Street subway entrance.
The menu here is large, with Nepalese, Tibetan, and Indian sections. I ordered yak momos. I would have been very impressed if they had found a way to spoil momos, but the yak meat was something of a variable for me—and it was delicious.
Himalayan Yak is owned by Nepalese. “And everyone is Nepalese—kitchen, waiters, busboys,” the bartender told me. “Everyone has lived in Kathmandu. I am from near Kangchengjunga originally, but, yeah, lived in Kathmandu.”
As promised by many a Yelp reviewer, the restaurant has interesting décor. I faced a mask—I think portraying Padmasambhava, complete with an offering scarf (khata) draped over it. An elaborate arrangement of Buddhas was portrayed in metalwork hanging on the wall, echoing another arrangement of Buddhas carved into a large wooden panel hanging over a table. Toward the back, a photograph of the Dalai Lama occupied the place of honor in an elaborately carved wood panel.
The highlight of my meal was a cup of Tibetan cha (tea) that I ordered after dinner.
“Have you had it before?” the bartender asked me, doubtfully. I had. I took an immediate liking to it, unlike every other westerner I met, when I frequented Tibetan shops in Nepal and India many years ago. If you have never tried it, it is made with milk, butter, and quite a bit of salt.
I expected a tiny cup of the stuff, the way I remembered getting it in Nepal. Instead the bartender brought me a large mug. The cha was milkier than I remember cha in Nepal and India being, but it still had that very surprising salty bite. I drank the whole cup.
The restaurant has been open for twelve years and was quite busy tonight, so they do not seem to have anything to fear from the Tibetan rival across the street.
That said, I hope to try that Tibetan rival soon. Stay tuned.
Update: Second visit on June 15
I went again and ordered phapar ko dhendo. This is essentially the same dish I ordered at Mustang Thakali Kitchen, consisting of a great mass of buckwheat dough with spicy side dishes arrayed around it. The dishes included curried chicken, fermented bamboo shoots, spicy yogurt, and radish.
I asked the bartender if she ate this where she comes from.
“No, I am from the city. They only eat this in the Himalayas. Because it takes a long time to prepare, and because buckwheat is expensive in the cities. It only grows in the mountains. Dhendo has to be pure buckwheat.”
Our discussion of foods incidentally threw some light on class in Nepal. She explained that she also did not eat samaybajee because it’s Newar food. To me, Newar denotes an ethnolinguistic group, but that is not how she explained it.
“You know Nepal has castes? Like Kshatryas—they are the warriors. And Brahmins—they are close to God. The Newaris also are a caste. And in Nepal all the castes have their own foods.”
I did not ask her what her caste was. But I heard her addressing a customer as hajur (हजुर—at least, I think . . . I know about three Nepali words), which I have read is used by Brahmins and Chhetris (Kshatryas). So perhaps, given also that her explanation of castes began with Kshatryas, she is a Kshatrya. In any case, Newar food is almost as foreign to her as it is to me.
The dhendo was very good, though the bartender was probably right to make sure I understood what I was ordering before sending the order to the kitchen.
72-20 Roosevelt Ave
Jackson Heights, NY 11372