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More on the Indian (Nepalese) truck stop in Bartonsville (long)


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More on the Indian (Nepalese) truck stop in Bartonsville (long)

Tom Brenholts | Mar 29, 2002 02:57 PM

It's an interesting story. I am a little hard of hearing, and the truck stop is noisy; I did the best I could.

As you walk in the front door, there is a sandwich counter on the right, and a convenience store on the right. There are some tight booths in the middle, with a drink bar to the left of them. The prize is the unattended counter along the back wall.

I walked to the back. On the counter was a row of steam trays. I lifted the hood of each one, and the scent of foreign spices wafted toward me, and I smiled, because I knew this was going to be good. I stood there for a few moments, and a woman came over and asked if I needed help. I smiled and said yes, and she reached over and hammered on a little bell on the counter. "Sometimes he's in the back", she said, and a fellow came hustling out of the back, wiping his hands on a towel.

Understand, this food is foreign to me. I don't know what it is called, I don't know the names of anything. I've never tasted Nepalese food in my life, and I've only had Indian food on a few rare occasions in my 47 years. So I smiled, said hi, and told the man that I'd heard that he had good food!

His eyes lit up, and he picked up a plate and a ladle. "What would you like", he asked, "Some of everything?"

"Sounds good", I answered smiling. "I don't know what any of this is, I just heard that it was excellent!"

He ladled some rice on the plate. "This is ground chicken with peas in spicy sauce", he said. "A little more? Good. This is spinach and potatoes and green tomatoes, in an onion sauce." (He ladled some on another third of the plate. THAT looked really good.) "This is black beans in sauce. Here you go." He rang up a plate that would serve two people; a little over eight bucks, with drink.

"I read about you on the internet." I told him.
"At Chowhound."
"Oh, the newspaper?"
(Here is where I didn't hear everything, I answered yes to some stuff I wasn't sure of.)
I took out a pen and piece of paper, and wrote, "". He took it, and looked at it, and stuck out his hand and said, Pleased to meet you. My name is Sherpa."

(I had to ask him to repeat it; I wasn't sure if he said his NAME was Sherpa, or that he IS Sherpa; it's his name.
"I am from Nepal. Do you know where that is?" I nodded and smiled, and said, "Himilayan food", and pointed, and he laughed and nodded. I took my tray to a booth, and he came over and sat with me, and we talked while I ate. I asked him how he came to be at a truck stop in the Poconos. It turns out that Sherpa is no rustic savant.

"I have 3 restaurants in Manhattan", he said. "Classy place. Three stars." I'm not sure if he said three restaurants or one three star restaurant, but he stressed "classy place" several times, so, he has at least one three star restaurant in NYC.

"I'm tired of the big city. I let (garbled) run that, me and my family move out here, it's beautiful. We've been here about one year. Good skiing", and he made side-to-side slalom motions. "You ski?" he asked me. I laughed.

"No, I'm too big and too old to ski", I said. And then he laughed.

"These are hills, not mountains", he said. You know Everest?" I nodded. "I climbed Mount Everest, 1984." I stopped eating for a moment and looked at him. He was smiling. Wow. It's not every day that you get to meet someone who'd climbed Mt Everest, so I reached over and shook his hand, and told him so. I was struck with the thought that Sherpas don't look like I would think mountain people would look like; I chalked up another stroke to my ignorance. I just couldn't imagine him in that bitter cold, wind, and snow. I asked him about the equipment, and the oxygen.

"Oh, you have to use it, you can't get up there without it. I started using it over 10000 feet", I think he said, but again I was straining, what with the ambient noise, and my partial deafness, and his accent. I asked him about the food; there is a backlit Coca-cola menu board, better suited for hotdog/cheeseburger/wings etc, behind the counter, listing things that I have no knowledge of.

"I make everything fresh, every day. What you have is the special, I just decide what I want to make."

"So, this doesn't have a name?" I asked.

"It's ground chicken and peas in spicy sauce, and spinach and potatoes and...." He listed the ingredients in each dish again. I nodded and smiled as I finished the last of the black beans. It doesn't have a name, I thought. It's just whatever he decided to make.

It was time to go. "Thanks, Sherpa. That was awesome", I said, and I shook his hand again. I figured it's not every day that the owner and chef sits and talks with you while you eat, too. Maybe he thought I was some fancy restaurant reviewer? I dunno. But it was kinda neat. Sherpa seems to be pretty well known and liked in the neighborhood. Regular customers came and went as we sat and talked, and he and they greeted each other by name. I got up, dumped my styrofoam plate and plastic fork in the trash can, and put the tray on top, and gave Sherpa "thumbs up" as I left. He gave me "thumbs up".

The food? Well, remember that I have no frame of reference. Spicy, but subtle and balanced. Curry, and something else? Cumin? Some pepper, enough to know it's there; warm, to be sure. Nicely textured, especially the ground chicken. The spinach and potatoes I could eat three times a day. He kept saying "tomatoes", but there was nothing red; green tomatoes maybe? I didn't see any seeds.

The best description I could give it is Nepalese soul food. I felt like I was eating Sherpa's home version of hoppin' john, or jambalaya, except it was prepared by a Nepalese Paul Prudhomme.

OK, now let's eat.

Tom Brenholts

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