Nepali Times
Mahabir's Centre for Nepal Connection


On 4 March 2012, Mahabir Pun announced through Facebook that he was opening a restaurant in Thamel to fund the Himanchal Higher Secondary School and Nepal Wireless Networking Project. He appealed to his friends and well wishers to help him collect Rs 1 million, but made it clear he wasn't asking for donations. He would return the loans in three years at 10 per cent interest. Money poured in from across the world, and six months into the campaign Pun revealed that Mahabir's Centre for Nepal Connection had opened its doors.

Located on the first floor of Sagarmatha Complex in Mandala Street, if all goes according to plan, the Centre will become a hub not just for those looking to bring about real change in Nepal, but also for those looking for a good meal. It is a commendable thought that every single rupee from the restaurant's revenue is used to educate youngsters who could someday grow up to be the next Mahabir Pun.

The place came together very organically. Kathmandu's mayor, Keshav Sthapit, financed the furnishings. Architect Sanjay Shrestha designed its interiors for free with ceiling light which mimic a circuit board. Shrestha also used environmentally-friendly LED lights that utilise no more than 33 watts at a time. Lavazza donated an espresso machine, the projector is a gift from Chaudhary Group, and WorldLink is providing free wifi. Binod Shrestha, who has worked in the Gulf was hoping to start his own restaurant, but didn't have the financial means. He has joined the centre as the head chef and receives training about food preparation, storage, hygiene, and cooking tips from a chef in San Francisco, virtually, every day.

Moving on to the food, we had nachos with mango salsa for starters. A cheesy plate of refried beans and jalapeno peppers served with a knock-out salsa. The dish was fiery, tart, sweet, and crunchy all at once. We followed this with chicken marsala, a grilled chicken seared in olive oil with mushrooms, onions, and port wine. The port adds a rich welcome flavour to the dish. I will definitely go back to the Centre, for there are many dishes on the menu that I want to try, such as the beef patty melt and the red wine chicken which are said to be heavenly. Also the farm-house salad already has its long list of admirers and I can't wait to join the list. And most exciting of all, the dessert menu will be out in about a fortnight.

For someone who eats out so often, I like the idea of indulging myself without feeling guilty because I know my money is helping improve someone's life even if in a very small way. I really love the message that Pun is promoting through his restaurant: we don't have to wait to make a big difference, together all our small contributions will amount to a big change eventually.

On a separate note, we have decided to remove the rating system because we feel our readers base their judgments only on the number of 'forks' we award rather than what we say about the food. The 'forks' also don't do justice to my entire gastronomic experience. Besides, eating out in Kathmandu is like taking part in a lucky draw: one day I might love the food served by a restaurant, but the next day the same place might disappoint me.

How to get there: In Thamel, get to Mandala Street and Mahabir's Centre is on the first floor of Sagarmatha Complex.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)