If anyone in the Maidstone area hears reports on the grapevine about a couple who ruined the meals of a whole restaurant full of people by having uncontrollable giggles for about an hour solid, we apologise. That was us.
Jude was out working for the night, so we took the opportunity for a romantic dinner for two at a relatively new Nepalese restaurant that I’d read good reports about. It doesn’t look like much from the outside. But the few Tripadvisor reviews had been great. Authentic they said. Delicious they said. The photos of the food looked beautifully presented and tempting.
When we arrived we were shown upstairs to a rather cramped little room, but I was pleased to see it was crowded – always a good sign with restaurants, and some Nepalese locals – another good sign. We felt so spoiled for choice looking at the menu, we could hardly decide which of the interesting and delicious sounding things to order. So we decided on sharing a couple of starters and a couple of mains, the second of which came with a tempting sounding ‘buckwheat mash’ and range of side dishes (unspecified) which we hoped would give us an introduction to the wonders of Nepalese cuisine.
The extent of my experience with Nepalese food was the street food cooked up by the Ghurkas at Jude’s former junior school on fete days. These snacks were always so delicious and tasty, so we had high hopes.
The first dish was called something we couldn’t pronounce but was described as a spiced crispy potato dish with buffalo meat and snacks. I don’t eat red meat but we thought I could try some of the vegetables. We were both very hungry by the time it arrived, so despite our surprise to receive a large bowl of what can only be described as Bombay mix, coco pops, peas and chili, we bravely and willingly tucked in. I was more hesitant, as I couldn’t identify what was the buffalo meat in order to avoid it. Andre deduced in the end it was these almost black chunks that were easy to spot and for me to avoid. After nearly cracking a tooth on one of them, Andre wasn’t too sure if it was buffalo meat or in fact lumps of mahogany, perhaps a Nepalese delicacy. I asked him what it tasted like, but his lips and tongue were burning a bit too much from the bombay mix with peas and breakfast cereal to be able to detect any flavour. We remained upbeat and hopeful that a less challenging dish would arrive soon after. And not wanting to be beaten, Andre kept working at the lumps of wood/meat – working out that by sucking them for a long time they leached all moisture from your mouth, slightly softening the wood/meat to a slightly splintery texture which made forceful and determined swallowing more achievable.
The second starter arrived much to our delight, looking to all the world a welcome relief from the spicy woody cereal mix. It was described as a fried soft shell crab roll with avocado, and that was a pretty honest description. It was beautifully presented and certainly edible, although in truth neither of us could taste it after having had our tastebuds burnt by the chili in the first dish. What I would say is that this palatable second course lulled us into a false sense of hope for dish number three.
Dish number three was vegetable moomoo. Nothing to do with cows but in fact dumplings! I am a dumpling connoissure. I love a good dumpling and delight in their little plumptious forms, accompanied by dipping sauce. By all appearances these dumplings and their accompanying sauce looked like they would satisfy in every respect. Eagerly we both speared a dumpling each on our forks and dunked them into what looked like a rich peanut sauce and stuffed them in our mouths. I can’t remember which one of us or both of us said the rude words of horror first. I’m not even sure I know how I even managed to say, ‘Holy fucking crap!’ without spewing bits of minced vegetable dumpling at Andre. I saw Andre’s poor face shrivel up in pain as he grasped for his drink. A dumpling that manages to burn you in both senses of the word simultaneously is a thing of cruelty, to be sure. Hotter than lava and spicier than the devil’s own arsehole, these little fuckers seared the remaining taste buds from our tongues serving only to inflate our lips up to Angelina Jolie proportions. For some unknown reason, possibly just hunger, we persevered – not really understanding how the sticky skinny little dumplingy jackets they wore served as thermal insulation for the nuclear contents within, and making it to dumpling number 3 before realising that despite waiting and blowing like a pair of trombonists in a jazz club, they were never ever going to cool down. Andre was the first to realise, however, that the other kind of heat, the spiciness, was in fact coming from the accompanying sauce and not the dumplings themselves. I tested this theory by eating another dumpling without dipping this time, Getting burnt only in one way rather than both and feeling relief and a sense of triumph over adversity – if only partial. The fact that they were bland without the evil sauce didn’t seem to matter. We were paying for this dinner and we were hungry. To be able to eat it at all seemed like a bonus prize. And Andre very swiftly asked the pretty Nepalese waitress to please bring us a milder sauce, which she kindly did, when we explained sauce number one was way too hot for us.
Imagine then, our amusement, when same said waitress brought us yet another dish of the same lip-swelling devil’s arsehole sauce with our next and final dish. The first dish of rejected sauce still sitting on the table, pushed to one side and spurned, only to be replaced with a fresh serving of evil.
I’m not even sure when the laughter started, to be honest. Somewhere between the mahogany and the swearing in pain perhaps. But all I can tell you is that once we get the giggles, almost nothing can stop us. Not the concerned/annoyed stares from fellow restaurant goers. Not the regular visits from the dutiful waitress. Not even the pain in my gut which I couldn’t tell if it was from laughing too hard or having my intestinal tract perforated with acid. But the final course was more than either of us were prepared for.
At this point you might be thinking we are like that dreadful couple in the film ‘Shirley Valentine’ going to Greece and asking for ‘chips and egg’ and poking fun at the fresh octopus. But no, we have adventurous tastebuds and love to try new foods from around the world. We have spicy food quite regularly and enjoy a range of worldly cuisines. But I don’t think our fellow restaurant-goers would have believed that from the look of abject horror on our faces when presented with the final dish of the day. Described as A Nepalese Curry with Buckwheat Mash and Side Dishes. It’s not much of a description but we were grateful for that small bit of detail …the buckwheat mash…to help us identify the large gelatinous blob of excrement that took up half the plate, despite the chef’s attempts to conceal it behind an uprighted poppadom.
By this time we were crying with laughter. Those of you who have visited our home in the last few years know that there used to be a hole in our kitchen ceiling which I filled with that squirty expanding insulation foam in a can, that sort of expanded out to form a brown gelatinous blob of excrement on the ceiling which I stuck googly eyes on and lived with as a pet for many years. Well…what sat on our plate was clearly the last living relative of the blob on my kitchen ceiling. I swear it was breathing. Ever hopeful, we both scooped into it with our forks , knowing that sometimes healthy but tasty ‘whole foods’ can be somewhat homely in appearance. Slightly taken aback by the …unusual…texture, similar to congealed dung and shredded tractor tyres, we ploughed on, shovelling it into our mouths.
To say it tasted of nothing would be doing it a disservice. It tasted of minus things. That is, it actually sucked all flavour out of life itself for the valuable seconds we wasted chewing it and swallowing it. While I was busy worrying that the blob on our plate was expanding faster than we were eating it, Andre was experimenting by dunking it in the accompanying ‘sauces’ that came with it. The first of which was a yellow greasy looking sauce which was uncomfortably a bit sweet but lacking in any flavour other than that of rancid dusty oil. ‘That was a mistake’ he said, warning me off that little pot of custardy strangeness. Then he tried the curry – which was thankfully and remarkably delicious. Our gratitude could not be measured on any known scale for the discovery of that small tea-cup sized portion of nice that came with dinner. The ‘here’s what you could have had if you’d had the foggiest idea what you were ordering’ teaser dish. But the gelatinous blob didn’t seem to shrink despite Andre’s determined and brave attempts to politely down as much as he could stand. At one point I noticed it had a face, it looked angry. It was slightly writhing. We poked it with forks from two different directions, trying to squeeze it smaller. It resisted. It pushed the forks away. It spread out.
We moved our chairs back and looked at the other ‘side dish’. In this last little round dish were a small cluster of green things. I wondered if they were kimchi – Asian pickles I’d had in Hong Kong. I bravely hooked one up with my fork. I chewed. I winced and swallowed. To this time I still haven’t identified what it was I ate. I warned Andre off but by this time he was so keen for respite from the brown blob that he was willing to risk all. He tried a few of the green things and shook his head, cartoon style. By this time the meal had gone out the other side of bad into positively a thing of marvel and adventure. We were in it together till the bitter end. And the green things sure had a bitter end. The more you chewed them the more poisonous they tasted. We wondered what kind of culture considered the green things and the gelatinous blob a ‘treat’. We felt genuine compassion for the lives of people that must be so rubbish that parting with money for such ‘food’ substances would be a thing of choice rather than unlucky happenstance as in our case.
At this point the spicy breakfast cereal entrée seemed like a distant happy memory. Seeing like he had nothing left to lose, having burned off his lips, tastebuds, tonsils and then filled his gut with expanding insulating foam, André decided he would dunk the flavour-leaching blob into the tongue-raping chili sauce of lava. As miracles would have it, they completely balanced each other out! He could taste nothing at all. I couldn’t help but marvel at his determination to reduce this mountain to something less embarrassing to hand back to the waitress. I can only guess it was an act of selfless gallantry and self-sacrifice to protect me, his lady, from the meal from hell.
But no matter how much he attacked it, the buckwheat mush didn’t shrink a centimetre. We debated grabbing a handful each of it and smearing it under the table to hide it from the waitress. Or just lobbing it very hard at the ceiling above or the wall opposite and making a run for it. We imagined the police line up as they picked us out as the guilty parties. Tears rolled down our cheeks. We had to be very careful not to wipe our tears of laughter with the same napkins that were smeared in chili-laden snot from course number one. We felt awful, but could not hold in the laughter. Much to the relief of the waitress we didn’t stay for pudding. We paid, leaving a very generous tip by way of apology for our raucous and untethered mirth at the terrible food and also in thanks for the best belly laughs we’ve had since we walked around Mote Park pointing out bits of trees that look like human genitals.
We won’t be going back. But we have no regrets. Other than to apologise to the people in the restaurant who probably thought we were high, while they seriously and quietly ate their probably very nice dishes that they ordered with possibly more insight and experience than we had of Nepalese food. Lucky bastards.
Note: The reason we decided NOT to publish the name of this restaurant was because, much to our confusion, everyone else in the restaurant seemed to be really enjoying their meals – at least they were before the two mad, insanely giggling people ruined their evenings for them. We put our unfortunate meal down to our poor ordering choices and complete inexperience with the cuisine we tried. In case you are wondering – there are two Nepalese restaurants in Maidstone, the other has a great reputation…so take your pick. It’s a 50/50 gamble. Buckwheat mash roulette..if you are brave enough to risk it!