There are dozens of Indian restaurants in Chicago, but few offer the food of neighboring Nepal. At Wicker Park's Cumin - one of the latest entries in the category - the menu encompasses both countries.
"Nepalese food less like at home, grandmom cooks food, something like that. We have less oil, not as spicy," said Rajesh Karmacharya, owner of Cumin.
But less spicy doesn't necessarily mean less flavor. Most dishes contain the namesake spice, but also a range of powders and chilies both fresh and dried.
"Cumin powder, coriander powder, ginger, garlic," said Karmacharya.
All are in abundance in the chicken bhutuwa, which comes with a side of Nepalese flattened rice, called "chewra." Black-eyed peas are slow-cooked with those spices, but also get fortified with potatoes, tomatoes and fresh cilantro, in a dish called tama ra bodi. "Momo" are simply steamed dumplings, but these Nepalese versions contain minced chicken, tomato, onion, ginger and cashews, which can be dipped into a mildly satisfying Himalayan sauce.
Paalungoko saa, or sauteed spinach, has a number of Indian influences, beginning with fenugreek seed cooked in a bit of corn oil, followed by earthy mustard seed and of course, cumin. Tomatoes and onions are blistered in the pan, while chile, coriander and ginger give the dish some depth of flavor. A large handful of spinach is added to the pan, and after a minute of wilting and steaming, it's plated and served.
Notice, unlike its Indian counterpart, there is no cream or added fat in this saag; that's one way they're differentiating their menu.
"Indian food you get everywhere actually, not as much Nepali food. So, I try to do a little bit new thing," said Karmacharya.
1414 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Other restaurants featuring Nepalese cuisine
630 Church St., Evanston
Chicago Curry House
899 S. Plymouth Ct.