At Phnom Penh restaurant Kathmandu Kitchen, Matt Surrusco and photographer Enric Català dip into and devour Indian and Nepali dishes, from chicken tikka masala to biryani and momo.
Before Shiva Raj Parajuli owned Indian and Nepali restaurant Kathmandu Kitchen he was ensuring restaurants and hotels around Cambodia’s capital were supplied with quality Indian spices.
For about two years, the Nepali restaurateur distributed around 30 varieties of spices, buying from wholesalers in Bangkok who sourced from India.
While Indian and Nepali food is similar, Parajuli says the cuisine in his homeland varies by region, with food in areas closer to China similar to Chinese food and Indian flavours coming to the fore in regions near India.
Kathmandu Kitchen, now approaching its ninth year, maintains the welcoming charms of a casual dining restaurant, with framed photographs of Nepali landscapes and landmarks hanging on the walls.
To start, the steamed chicken momo ($4) – a plate of 10 traditional Nepali dumplings – are filled with chicken, fresh coriander and garlic, with the wrapper folded over and pinched shut in a spiral pattern. Parajuli recommends dipping the bite-size, slightly sour and spicy dumplings in a tomato and onion sauce and eating in one delicious mouthful. You can also order them fried or with a vegetable filling.
Next, the chicken malaee tikka ($6.50) includes eight pieces of buttery, boneless chicken marinated in a cashew and cream sauce and served with lime and a cabbage and carrot slaw.
The chicken is pleasantly tender and creamy on the inside and slightly crispy on the outside.
The chicken tikka masala ($6) with a side of garlic naan ($1.75) is a close second to the same dish at beloved Phnom Penh Indian eatery Sher-e-Punjab. The roasted, boneless chicken is bathed in a sweet and spicy tomato curry, easily scooped up with a piece of oily, doughy naan, which is generously coated with diced garlic.
The chicken biryani ($5.50) is one of the highlights of the dishes we sampled. The saffron-seasoned rice is mixed with thin slices of tender chicken, raisins, fried onions and tomato, and served with raita, a yoghurt, cucumber and onion sauce, which lightens and cools the spices of the rice bowl. The variety of flavours and textures in each bite makes the dish a standout.
We ended the meal with a mango lassi ($1.75), a cool, refreshing smoothie of mango, yoghurt and ice, which balances the spices of the main dishes.
The Kathmandu Kitchen has a varied, mountainous menu, best traversed with fellow diners willing to share a few appetisers and entrees, from the more well-known Indian plates to what owner Parajuli calls “proper Nepali” dishes, such as momos and the chicken or vegetable thukpa, a Himalayan noodle soup. Most portions are enough to split among at least two to three people, depending on appetites.
Be well prepared for a flavourful, filling trek through the Indian and Nepali cuisines of the Himalayas, with all the authentic spices and none of the altitude sickness.