by Alice Levitt
212 Main Street, Winooski, 654-8000
Have you ever gone to an Asian market and seen beautiful ingredients you didn't know how to use? Bishnu Gurung had that experience over and over at her Winooski store, Namaste Asian Market. So she decided to take the guesswork out of her exotic foods and prepare them for diners herself. The result is Dharshan Namaste Asian Deli.
Gurung says that her current menu is only temporary and that more items are coming soon, but on a recent visit I was already a little overwhelmed by her deli's embarrassment of inexpensive pan-Asian riches.
The banana lassi and "mango pulps with ice" that I ordered to drink had both run out, but I was more than satisfied with a banana-flavored grass jelly drink. The usually vaguely sludgy soft drink had just the right amount of banana taste to conceal the grassiness and create an effect more like bubble tea in a can. I'm hooked.
The first dish to arrive at my lace-covered window table was a chicken banh mi.
It was a very well-balanced version, if you love cilantro, which I do. The leaves were practically pouring out of the crisp sub roll, along with pickled daikon and carrot. Rather than bird's-eye chiles, a slick of Sriracha added heat.
Butter, paté and soy sauce added fatty, salty flavor to the under-seasoned slivers of chicken. My dining partner, usually not a banh mi aficionado, liked this one more than any other, perhaps owing to that chicken, which reminded him of deli-sliced turkey. At $3.50, it could have been a meal in itself.
But we had more work to do. Since Gurung is Himalayan (Nepalese, to be exact), I was under the impression that her dumplings would be momos. Instead, they were mild little pockets filled with smooth ground pork and served with a Sriracha-hoisin sauce.
At $4.75, they were another steal, but I had hoped they'd have more personality beyond the sweet-and-spicy sauce.
I got my wish in an unexpected place: Nepalese-style "chaw mein."
It turns out that while Chinese chow mein inspired the Nepalese fast food, it leans just as much on Malaysian mee goreng. Where the Chinese version relies primarily on soy and oyster sauces for its signature taste, in Nepal, ginger and curry are more important. The result is a fresh, surprisingly subtle pile of noodles.
With the addition of some bean sprouts, scallions and cilantro, it was a refreshing homestyle dinner.
Another interesting — and delicious — fusion was Gurung's chef's take on Vietnamese bun.
The rice noodles with lettuce, peanuts and cilantro may look familiar, but the similarities ended there.
Instead of a sweet, highly acidic sauce, this one was an umami blend of fish sauce and garlic. Only a small lime added a bit off citrus, but the noodles didn't need it. The marinated beef therein was flavored with lemongrass and ginger, with a hint of spice, once again suggesting Vietnamese versions I've had, but still tasting wholly original.
Gurung said that since arriving at the restaurant an hour before I got there, she'd already had one bowl and was planning on another. I can relate. If I still lived in Winooski, I would probably never cook at home again. It's cheaper and tastier to let Gurung and her team cook for you.
Alice Eats is a weekly blog feature devoted to reviewing restaurants where diners can get a meal for two for less than $35. Got a restaurant you'd love to see featured? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.