At the risk of sounding like a page straight out of Mills & Boon it must have been fate when Jan from Rotherham, a young backpacker on a round-the-world trip, fell sick while trekking through the remote Himalayan country of Nepal.
But handsome trek leader Dev Gurung took special care of her and helped nurse her back to health. We can all guess what happened next. Cue hearts and flowers: reader, she married him.
Which is a slightly involved why of explaining how the Hungry Buddha, the city’s very first Nepalese café and takeaway, opened a couple of months ago in Sheffield’s Moor Market.
“We tried living together in Nepal but it’s a hard lifestyle. So I came over here,” says Dev, who after eight years leading treks set about retraining as a chef at Rotherham College as chef. Some people might say living in Rotherham is a hard lifestyle! Actually his first job was at a local call centre but his accent – Dev’s English is excellent – made people think he was talking to them from India. His catering skills have taken him from PJ Taste in Sheffield to the Bombay Bicycle Club in London.
The Hungry Buddha sells simple thalis – tin trays with compartments for meat or vegetable curry, rice, dal, pickles or chutneys – for between £4 and £4.50. It’s one of 11 food outlets in a row, next to Sallie’s tea and roast pork sarnie stall. Sallie’s boss Andrew Stein wickedly introduces me to Dev as a public health inspector. The poor chap doesn’t flinch before Andrew puts him right. As a self-appointed taste inspector I can attest the food is good.
Prayer flags bring a blaze of colour to the stall where curries change daily. Dev comes in early to prep and cook before nipping off to his other job with a marketing company, leaving the stall, on the day we visited, in the hands of a charming Nepalese girl, Abha, studying at Sheffield Hallam University.
My wife and I have chicken and potato and cauliflower curries. The chicken is mildly spiced in a tasty sauce with a lemony kick. Surprisingly, the vegetable curry is spicier. The rice is a generous portion, eaten with a pleasantly soupy dal. There’s a mixed vegetable pickle, flavoured with lemon and sesame, a fiery mango pickle and Abha lets me try some carrot pickle which the Hungry Buddha sells in jars.
Dev quickly learned he had to adapt to British tastes and is keen to get feedback on the degree and range of spiciness people want. Fenugreek seeds, when fried, give a nutty crunchiness which brings different reactions.
“Nepal is a poor country and the spices produced are limited. What is grown is used or preserved. Nepalese food is influenced by Tibet in the north and India in the south. It’s based on what we call dal-bhat, lentils and rice, to which is added curry, mainly vegetable but from time to time meat, chicken or buffalo . . . The spices are ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander and chilli and food is cooked in mustard oil which gives food a different taste to that cooked in vegetable oil,” he explains.
A distinctive flavour comes from tempering, frying whole spices in oil and incorporating it into the dish before serving, in much the same way as the Indian tarka dal is treated.
Hungry Buddha is still in the foothills of catering. Momos, steamed stuffed dumplings, have been offered experimentally. Other dishes will be tried. Dev hopes to expand into offering tiffin deliveries (lunchtime dishes) to local offices and outside catering.
“People may think we are similar to Indian food but our aim is to bring that authenticity which makes it special,” says Dev. He’s made a good start.
#Hungry Buddha is in the Moor Market. Twitter: @Hungrybuddha1. Facebook: Hungry Buddha Dev Gurung and Abhi