Nepali Times
A place in the sun


I'm an incorrigible "bhaatey", but I've always believed the soul of a culture lives in its food. Going phoren at a time when Thamel meant beer and burgers and Jhamel was still "St.Mary's ko baato", my first memory of Australia is of a humongous bratwurst I enjoyed in the fulsome sunshine of a summery January. "This is the life," I remember thinking.

Alas, mainstream Aussie cuisine had little more to offer: it was only when I moved to France that it struck me how superficial similarities could conceal profound differences. Amul Cheese seemed juvenile in the land of Brie and Roquefort; Krishna Pauroti wasn't bread at all after all; and canned cocktail sausages bore no actual relation to ham and salami. Back in Nepal, I was happy to discover "international" cuisine had moved up a few notches. But it was the weekly Farmers' Market at 1905 that finally made it possible to get the raw materials for fine organic dining at home.A regular delicatessen, where local products could vie with the best from the rest of the world, was only a matter of time.

"I felt there was a distinct lack of quality foods, of the type that I myself like to eat and cook with," explains Sophia Pande, owner of Sol Delicatessen. And who better to advise her in setting up Nepal's first deli than François Driard, local fromagier extraordinaire?

Nestled in the warren of outlets that make up Babar Mahal Revisited, Sol is a pocket of culinary verity. In this small larder of delights you'll find packed in a range of gourmet foods to sate the most refined palates. If you're familiar with the Farmer's Market, you'll be pleased to find François' Tomme goat cheese, Harmut's olive oil, and Sandro's mozzarella. But there's much more at hand: Moroccan olives, Parma ham, Porcini mushrooms, fresh herbs,a range of condiments and dry foods, and yes, impressive cylinders of foie gras.

The best thing about Sol is the warm welcome you can expect. You consider it your right to browse through a book before you buy it; here too you can dip into your desire before you commit to it. "I wanted to create a space where people can walk in and taste what they're curious about, and walk out with good fresh ingredients for a nice dinner," says Sophia. If a bottle's been opened, you can even sip some chilled white wine with a slice of Brie or ham, on rustic white bread. How's that for an appetiser?

It's tempting to assume that like much else at Babar Mahal, an upmarket delicatessen will appeal only to expatriates. Sophia calibrates my perception. "Yes, we do have expat customers. But a lot of Nepalis come in as well – those who know what they're looking for as well as the simply curious." This is not so surprising perhaps: Nepalis are in the midst of a culinary revolution of sorts. Having moved from daily dalbhat at home to dining out, it's to be expected that they'll expand the range of foods they bring home. Nepali customers quite fancy Francois' goat cheese and the ghee, but also plump for imported cheeses (the easygoing Beaufort is a favourite) and the luscious hams. This is of course good news for Sophia, who orders 100 kilos of products a month from a Paris supplier.

Ultimately, it's all about "bringing good food to people", says François, before launching into a tribute to Newari food. We compare Newari kachila and French steak tartare, and I promise to take him to my favourite eatery in Kirtipur. But before that I decide to order a picnic hamper from Sol, complete with a bottle of wine, for one of these sunny days in some corner of the Valley. Sol will also be dispensing gourmet sandwiches, with appropriately sunny seating, and a collaboration with Chez Caroline is in the works. In the gray area between over-familiar home cooking and hit-or-miss dining out, Sol's a bright spot.

Sol Delicatessen
Babar Mahal Revisited
10am-6pm, closed Mondays

1. r
What about the Vienna Inn that used to be in Thamel in the 80s and 90s ?- it had The Austrian Delicatessen. Sol is not the first deli.

2. Sarath G
You better have at store that saucisson sec you are showing in the pic when i come next week or else I am suing you...!

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)