A Madison Landmark
Mr. and Mrs. M visit the landmark Himalayan dining oasis Himal Chuli, located on State Street in Madison. Plus: Mr. M's recipe for classic dal soup.
Many years ago, a Nepali immigrant sold Himalayan food out of a push-cart on State Street in Madison. In 1986, it had become so popular that, she moved the operation to a permanent-restaurant location at 318 State Street, just down from the state capitol building. This ethnic restaurant, Himal Chuli, is now a Madison landmark. Most of the family has helped over the years, expanding the family’s dynasty to three restaurants in Madison. Chautara Restaurant, located at 334 State Street, serves a Tibetan-Indian mélange of flavors, and eclectic Dobhan restaurant at 2110 Atwood Avenue serves Indian, Nepali/Himalayan, American and other favorites.
Introduced to the restaurant by a friend years ago, Mr. M. remembers spending a snowy evening in this cozy and crowded little wardrobe cuddled up to hot bowls of vegetarian Himalayan specialties. It has been his favorite place to grab some grub in Madison ever since, no matter what kind of weather. He successfully converted Mrs. M. to the same opinion!
Inside: A few Himalayan-culture pictures and posters decorate the otherwise Spartan walls while people dine in a very small space crowded with many small European-style tables and café chairs under ceiling fans and the Nepali flag. Outside: Weather permitting, people dine in a small space on the sidewalk crowded with a few more European-style tables and café chairs under a sparse shade tree next to State Street.
But the food is what one comes for, not super-awesome ambiance. Mr. M. ordered the very spicy “Tuk-pa” for $8.99 which is sort of a Himalayan version of clear, Thai-style tom-yam soup loaded with fresh vegetables and little, Asian-style steamed dumplings called “momochas” which are filled with a unique, vegetarian-peanut stuffing. It, like most dishes on the menu, comes accompanied by one’s choice of steamed rice or freshly-made, Indian-style flat bread. Washing it down with a Madison micro-brewed beer for $4 made it a complete meal!
Other exotic, vegetarian options (among LOTS) on the menu:
- For $7.79, there’s Rice and Chef’s Choice Tarkari which consists of steamed, long-grain rice (white jasmine or brown), served with a blend of fresh vegetables simmered in turmeric, coriander, cumin, fresh garlic and ginger.
- Roti and Chef’s Choice Tarkari consists of freshly-baked, flat bread (white or whole wheat) leavened with homemade yogurt and a blend of fresh vegetables cooked with turmeric, coriander, cumin, fresh garlic and ginger. Also $7.79.
- Momochas (four for $7.79, six for $8.99) are steamed, vegetable dumplings filled with a peanut paste blended with Nepali herbs and spices, and served with tomato-coriander sauce.
- Khichadi is a fresh and light stew made of mung beans (a type of lentil), jasmine rice, fresh ginger, cilantro, tomatoes, peas and ajwano seeds. Apparently favored for its nourishing and healing properties, it’s cooked lightly and served with choice of rice or roti (Indian-style flat bread) for $8.79.
- Tofu Buff ($14.99), a mild dish of marinated, organic tofu sautéed with onions, garlic, mushrooms, broccoli, and carrots in a blend of Mediterranean spices. It’s served with rice or roti, and choice of dal (lentil soup) or tossed salad.
- Katahar Kabob is green jackfruit marinated with a special blend of Nepali spices and sautéed with onion, tomatoes, and cilantro. Jackfruit, they report, is a rich, vegetarian substitute for meat, commonly served at Nepali weddings. It comes served with choices of rice or roti and dal or tossed salad. (Jackfruit, RIGHT?) Also $14.99 .
- $9.99 buys you Himal’s Combination Platter with two momochas, one samosa (little Indian-style, stuffed and deep-fried pastry), roti and a cup of dal.
Mr. M. does not recall that there used to be meat options on the menu here years ago, but they’re there now. Mrs. M. ordered “Chicken Sikar” from a sizeable list of meat-eater’s options for $15.99. This dish was made of white and dark pieces of chicken – on the bone – simmered in a blend of Nepali spices and cumin, fresh ginger, garlic and onions. We must have this recipe! Her Heineken beer was also $4. Other meat options include:
- The Chili Chicken (served cold, but is “Very Spicy!”) for $14.99 . This is a barbecue-style chicken salad with red-hot chilies, tamari, fresh ginger, garlic and Himalayan herbs, served with roti and dal
- Also for $14.99 is Palungo Chicken which consists of a generous slice of white meat simmered with fresh spinach leaves and potatoes in Himal’s own, mild tomato sauce. It comes with rice and one’s choice of dal or salad.
- Beef Buff is a dish of lean beef sautéed with green peppers, mushrooms, onions and tomatoes in Mediterranean spices. It’s served with rice and choice of dal or salad. $14.99.
- Getting up there in price at $16.99 is the Lamb Sikar, lean and tender leg-of-lamb meat cooked with potatoes and peas in a special blend of spices. It comes with rice and choice of dal or salad.
- Hyala is a soup they make from steamed, organic minced bison meat (buffalo) which is blended in a vegetable broth with yogurt, ginger, cumin seed and special herbs. It’s served with rice or roti. $11.59.
Himalayan desserts? Yes indeed! A variety of sweets is available for just $3.99 each.
Try Lal Mohan (gulab jamun), light, fluffy flour-and-milk-powder balls blanched and drenched in light sweet syrup with cardamom.
Gudpakh is a typical Nepali homemade sweet with dates, almonds, ricotta cheese, honey, nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom seed. It’s touted to be especially good for nursing mothers!
Himalayan cuisine is not quite Indian curry, but it’s pointed in that direction. It’s more mild and gentle than full-on, Indian-spiced cuisine. We love it – stop in at Himal Chuli the next time you’re in Madison and try some!
Himal Chuli, 318 State Street, Madison, WI Tel.: (608) 251-9225 No plastic accepted – cash only.
There’s a lot of dal served at Himal Chuli. Here’s Mr. M.’s recipe for classic dal soup (leave out the Indian garam masala in order to make it more akin to the Himalayan version). This recipe serves four.
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh garlic
- 2 tablespoons garam masala (sold at Indian groceries)
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 cup chopped tomatoes (we use a 14-oz. can of Italian San Marzanos, crushed by hand)
- 1 cup lentils – any variety will do
- 5 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon each salt and freshly-ground, black pepper
- Crushed, red pepper flakes, to taste (optional, but authentic!)
- A few, fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves/sprigs, roughly chopped for garnish
- Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until it begins to get hot. Add the garlic, garam masala (if using it), cumin seeds, and turmeric and cook for 20 seconds. Add the tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add the lentils and water, then bring to a boil.
- Turn the heat to low and cook until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the type of lentil used (most kinds cook up quite quickly – 30 to 45 minutes).
- Serve in a bowl garnished with a good sprinkling of the fresh, chopped coriander and accompanied by warm, Indian-style flat bread, like naan.