A Taste of Nepal at Jackson Heights, Queens’ Tawa Food

You can't go wrong with the thali
Lea Faminano

The goat thali is nothing short of a culinary adventure.

The amount of knowledge I possess on Nepal could easily fit in my pinky finger. What’s the best way to learn about any new culture? Do some extensive research — by eating their food, obviously.

Nepalese cuisine is harder to pinpoint on a New York City map than, say, Chinese or Korean. Those in the know head to “Little India,” a section of Jackson Heights brimming with South Asian eateries of all kinds — Nepalese, Indian, Bengali, Filipino, you name it.

Located right off the corner of Broadway and 72nd, Tawa Food is extremely tiny, with about three tables crammed tightly between two kitchen areas. In the front, hot food is prepared, and in the back, old ladies roll out fresh parantha. Adventurous eaters, dive in — if you aren’t familiar with Nepalese cuisine (or Indian, as they are similar in many aspects) the servers are happy to recommend dishes, but I say: thali.

We strayed from the typical chicken and vegetable choice and opted for goat thali, which arrived at the table as a beautiful, perfectly Instagrammable platter of - what, exactly? Save for the rice, I had no idea what I was eating, and this dish opened up my tastebuds to flavors I had never experienced before. Upon closer inspection, I was able to identify various vegetables, both pickled and not, potatoes, some sort of chutney, and a small bowl of extremely tender goat, still on the bone. There’s no right or wrong way to work a thali - play around with the flavors, mix them up, but whatever you do, make sure you taste a little of everything.

Roti sel (deep-fried rice flour doughnuts) are made fresh daily, and are perfectly appropriate as dessert, but they also make the perfect appetizer. Saving some for dipping is ideal, but it's so addictive, it'll all be gone before your meal arrives! No worries though, at only $1, you can get all the roti sel your heart desires. We also tried the samae baji, a dish divided up in a bento box-style tray, containing many of the same elements as the thali, plus hardened soy beans and chicken, and replacing cooked rice with the dry, pounded version.

The menu changes from time to time depending on what’s available, and other popular offerings include dosas, momos (dumplings), traditional butter tea, and more. As long as you’re willing to keep eating, your Nepalese food education will be never-ending, and Tawa Food is there to make sure that’s exactly what happens.

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