While Jin Jin Cheung and I were being treated to a lavish breakfast at Hotel Shanker, the manager, Mr. Bijay Krishna Shrestha, casually mentioned that they also had great Chinese cuisine. Jin Jin was quick to take him up on that, and said that she would like to taste some of the dishes before she left for China. Apparently, her fertile mind had come up with the idea to do an article on Chinese food in some of the swankiest hotels in Kathmandu. We decided on three popular ones, namely, Hotel Shanker, Hotel Yak & Yeti, and Hotel Annapurna, which we thought would be enough to get a good idea of what was on offer in the capital.
We started with Hotel Shanker, where they invited us to a Chinese dinner in the cozy Kailash Restaurant. We were requested to order what we wanted from the big menu. (The hotel hadn’t yet made a separate Chinese cuisine menu, although they had a separate chef specializing in Chinese food. This was something common with the other two hotels, too; that is, no special menu.) Speaking for myself, I thought this was something worth considering, what with the increasing number of Chinese tourists visiting Nepal. However, when I shared this with Jin Jin, she said that most Chinese going abroad first preferred to try out more of Western cuisine, since they were now getting more used to it back in China. An interesting aside here is that, when I took Jin Jin to an Indian tandoori fast food restaurant in Jawalakhel, she really loved the butter naan and chicken tandoori. We visited the place a couple of times, since she relished the Indian dishes.
Anyway, Jin Jin took her time going over the menu at Hotel Shanker, and made the following selection: Kong Pao Chicken, Sweet and Sour Fish, and Roast Duck (Cantonese style). The Executive Chef, Mr. Keshav, joined us at the table along with Mr. Bijay Krishna, and we spent an interesting 20 minutes or so over pleasant conversation and iced latte coffee. Finally, two waiters came carrying our food. As you can imagine, we were in a pretty famished state by now, and immediately, we dug in. At this point, Mr. Bijay Krishna politely pointed out to Jin Jin that there were chopsticks on the table if she wanted them. Laughingly, she exclaimed that if she stayed some more days in Kathmandu she would forget how to use chopsticks, the fork having become more of a familiar implement since her arrival two months ago.
The Executive chef and manager looked on expectantly, waiting for her pronouncement on the dishes. The first thing she noted was that we were served long-grain rice along with the other dishes, and she told her attentive audience that, back home in China, people preferred to eat sticky rice. The roast duck, she said, was excellent, and had the authentic Cantonese taste and flavor. The Kong Pao Chicken and Sweet and Sour Fish, too, received her high commendations. We ended our nutritious and tasty meal with delicious ice cream. The Executive chef and the manager, in the meantime, had bid us adieu, and we two sat for a long, long time in the cozy restaurant, just mulling over things in general, feeling sated and relaxed.
The next day, we went to Hotel Yak & Yeti in Durbar Marg, at the invitation of Associate Director (Marketing) Mr. Surendra Singh Thakuri, for a Chinese lunch. He received us warmly and introduced us to the head chef, who explained that they had all the raw ingredients prepared and ready for cooking. This time, we had left it totally to the hotel to decide on the selection. We were taken to the kitchen, where Jin Jin and I surveyed the neatly cut vegetables, meat, and other ingredients. The head chef asked us if we would like to watch the cooking, and we did so for some minutes, before excusing ourselves to go back to our table where we enjoyed some cool drinks in the restaurant adjoining the lobby.
The food arrived shortly; there were quite a few varieties, and all looked appetizing. As we started tasting the different dishes, including noodles and rice (again, long grained), the general manager joined us. He is an interesting character with an international flair, having come from overseas a year ago to manage the five start hotel. The food was delicious, with the different dishes having distinct flavors. The pork dish was particularly outstanding, in my view, while Jin Jin loved the pickled cucumber side dish. She was happy with the other offerings, as well, and perhaps gave the most suitable compliment by saying that she felt like she was eating in some restaurant in China. (She used the chopsticks more often this time, and tried very sincerely to teach me how to use them, saying that it was ‘simply physics’.) After the meal, the two of us took a stroll around the garden behind the hotel, and visited the organic garden there, which actually wasn’t much. We thought that what we saw grown there would fall far short of the hotel’s daily demands. Anyway, all those delicately prepared Chinese dishes gave us a pleasant glow for a long time afterwards.
We could visit Hotel Annpaurna, also in Durbar Marg, for dinner only after a few days, on account of the Nepal bandh over two consecutive days. The marketing officer, Ms. Suarpana Shah, welcomed us with a warm smile and led us into the Arniko Room, a restaurant with an oriental décor in which the color red predominates. The table setting was exquisite, with elegant looking chopsticks inside paper coverings. Ms. Shah introduced us to the restaurant manager, who presented us with sophisticated looking menus. He suggested fresh strawberry juice to start off with, while Jin Jin cast an expert glance through the menu. However, she decided to ask for the manager’s advice, and he suggested Runner Beans, Who Fish Fried, and Singapore Chicken, along with steamed rice.
Another marketing lady joined us, and soon, we had a pleasant conversation going, with the focus being on relationships (three women at the table, remember? and a guy always on the lookout for newer relationships!). Anyway, it was enjoyable. The food arrived soon enough, and the fish looked especially impressive, but Jin Jin, our Chinese cuisine expert, said that it didn’t look to be a Chinese dish. Ms. Shah explained that the Arniko Room actually served more of oriental fare, rather than strictly Chinese. It didn’t matter much to me, since I found it to be pretty tasty stuff.
At the end of the fulfilling meal, we ordered iced litchi for dessert, which was of course fantastic. To the query as to which dish she had liked best, Jin Jin took a few moments to ponder before answering that the Running Beans was what had pleased her the most. Elaborating on this, she explained that she had liked its freshness, that it was not oily, and that it had been only slightly cooked, which made it very nutritious. Her choice made us all think, I think. I doubt if I would have chosen a vegetable over meat and fish, if I had to make a similar choice.
So, all said and done, Jin Jin was quite happy with the Chinese cuisine at all the three hotels. As for me, it was great to have had the opportunity to be a gourmet of exotic cuisine with such a pretty and knowledgeable expert at my side. She will be writing her reviews in the Chinese edition of ECS NEPAL.