I almost drove by Everest Ethnic Restaurant. On a main road of the Pittsburgh suburb Brentwood, it’s easy to miss among its neighbors, a Pizza Hut and the Nepali Bazaar. I make a hasty left turn and park and walk inside. The lunch scene is quiet—two teenage girls eat in a corner booth, laughing together; a family sits in the center booth. The toddler is wearing a tiny sweater vest and slips out of a young girl’s arms to run across the restaurant. I sit down and order a mango lassi and chicken momos. Daylight passes through the heavy red curtains and onto the decor: a framed picture of mountains, another of a country teapot, a miniature wreath.
Everest Ethnic Restaurant is one of several establishments catering to and run by the growing Bhutanese population in Pittsburgh. Several thousand Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugees have settled in the city; today Nepali is one of the top three languages spoken by students entering ESL classes here.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s Bhutan began a forced evacuation of the Lhotshampas, Bhutanese people of Nepalese origin, many of whom had lived in Bhutan for generations. More than 100,000 Lhotshampa were resettled in refugee camps in Nepal, awaiting more permanent homes coordinated by the United Nations. Some of these refugees started arriving in Pittsburgh in the spring of 2008.
Many settled in the Pittsburgh suburbs. The affordable housing and job opportunities in western Pennsylvania, as well as the familiar hilly terrain, have also attracted Bhutanese refugees who had resettled in other parts of the country. Driving through Carrick, Whitehall, and Brentwood, one finds cars with “I love my American car!” bumper stickers, American flags on every other lamppost, and pictures of American veterans lining the street. You can also hear the laughing voices of teenagers speaking in Nepali as they walk into the Gorkhali Store—a one-stop shop for lentils, cloth flowers, spices, vegetables, kurtis, and goat meat.
Rup Timsina co-owns Everest Ethnic Restaurant. He arrived in Pittsburgh in May 2012 after living in Arizona for four years. Born in Bhutan, he was expelled to eastern Nepal in 1992. He says that Pittsburgh feels like home now. The community has been welcoming, though jumping through the hoops of starting a business was challenging.
A dad with two kids, Timsina cooks and serves home-style Nepali food. At Everest Ethnic Restaurant the lassi is sweet and fresh and the momos are hot and flavorful with spicy sauce. As a Pittsburgher raised on pierogies, the thin dough filled with vegetables and meat feels like another expression of comfort and home. I eat half the plate and put the rest in a box to take home, paying and saying goodbye to Timsina. As the door jingles closed behind me, I am left blinking in the afternoon sun, back in the Appalachian foothills of western Pennsylvania.
For the wrappers:
4 cups all-purpose flour
Water as needed
For the filling:
4 cloves garlic
Thimble-size piece of fresh ginger
1 medium bunch parsley
5 green onions
1 large carrot
2 pounds ground chicken
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon coriander powder
½ teaspoon cumin powder
½ teaspoon cardamom
¼ teaspoon turmeric
To make the wrapper, mix the flour with water, adding the water slowly and kneading until you have a smooth ball of dough. Cover the dough and let it rest while you prepare the filling.
To make the filling, mince garlic, ginger, parsley, green onions, and carrot. Mix these with the chicken and add the oil, coriander, cumin, salt, pepper, cardamom, and turmeric.
Divide the wrapper dough into spheres with the circumference of a silver dollar and roll the spheres out into thin circles. Put a spoonful of filling in the center of each circle of dough. Dab a bit of water around the edge of the circles of dough and pinch the momos closed. Steam the momos for 15–20 minutes.