Traveling and Eating down the Silk Road

Features Issue 208 Mar, 2019

It’s just a minute or two from Patan Durbar Square, down a narrow alley, in a lovingly restored and charmingly decorated old building. Both the décor and the food draw inspiration from the combo of the Silk Road and Hippie Trail, iconic byways for travelers in two very different senses and eras.

Of Silk and Salt popped up on our radar shortly after it opened last year, and we’d both been there once individually before paying a visit for the purpose of this review.

Anne Chassaing and Jerome Imstepf, French-Swiss couple that started it, have taken dishes from the many Asian countries they’ve visited and loved and combined them with Nepali techniques and ingredients, resulting in a menu that is truly unique—and that’s not something you find that often in Nepal.

Anne explained that they wanted to connect the taste of the places they’ve been to on their travels; they tested their recipes for months before opening, and plan to have a rotating menu in the future, particularly making sure to include diverse vegetarian and vegan options—though there are meat based choices, too.

One of these, in fact, was our dish of the day – it even makes this issue’s must-eat list – and that’s the Papaya Sukuti Salad. This was delightfully tasty and ticked all the boxes: tasty meat and fresh papaya with other salad vegetables in there, too. A real winner for both of us.

Another salad we enjoyed was the Burmese Tea Salad; again, as with most things on the menu, it’s not a completely traditional Burmese dish, but rather a spinoff of it, with Nepali elements added. We were fascinated to learn that the restaurant ferments its own tea leaves to make this and it’s this ingredient that gives the dish its completely unique taste: combined with the crunch of the peanuts, sesame seeds and other ingredients, it all adds up to be so much more than the sum of its parts. Something very different, and if you’ve never tried eating tea rather than drinking it, well, what are you waiting for? Dishes like this are a real highlight of the menu here: it’s great fun to be able to skim down a page and think either “I’ve never heard of that before” or “Oh my god, I’ve never seen that in Nepal anywhere, how wonderful!”

Curry Pumpkin Gnocchi are one of the vegetarian menu items that will probably be a real hit amongst the plant-based eaters of the valley. Familiar flavors, but combined a bit differently, and definitely a heads up for all the vegetarians out there!

A recurring theme of the food—and drinks—here is spices, a likely nod to the Silk Road connection. Do make sure when you select your food that you read the menu explanation; the spice element might be stronger than you’re used to—perfect if it’s a spice you really like, but if it’s not your favorite, you might find it a little overwhelming, as we both did with the Thai Chicken Skewer in Betel Leaves, too much for us but probably heaven for a betel lover.

We also sampled the Timur Punch and Saffron Gin and Tonic—the first was our favorite, with the timur not strong enough to be spicy but just providing a delicate undertone to the drink.

Another dish we’d tried on a previous visit was the Mezze Plate, which provides a delightful selection of tastes and textures. The mango chutney that was served as part of it was so tasty we picked up a jar to take home!

Pratibha Rai, the young chef recently returned from five years in Dubai, worked with Anne for two months to develop the recipes, and like the rest of the young service team there, was professional and friendly—both the staff and the general ambiance of the place are really relaxed and welcoming.

If you come, make sure to visit the small shop attached to the restaurant; it’s filled with interesting curios and things that evoke the old hippie days, as well as some beautiful clothes designed by Anne with fabrics from all across Asia, and made in Nepal. As with the restaurant, this is a different kind of place—you might find the prices of both a little higher comparatively but the items are unique and high-quality. As Nepal continues to attract more and varied kinds of tourists, places like Of Silk and Salt will definitely be a draw, and if you’re someone who wants to try something different once in a while, make sure to stop by here.