Greenery, calm, tranquillity and hygiene—the ambience of Utpala is unmatched if you are looking for a place where you can relax and be at peace. Nature is the kernel on which Utpala bases its ambience. One glance around the cafe, and you’ll find wooden furniture, trees, pebbles, and flowers. It is also reminiscent of a monastery, and you might even find Buddhist discussion groups, and artefacts on display within the complex.
The cafe started as a canteen for Kathmandu University’s Rangjung Yeshe Institute which teaches Buddhism to a foreign majority. They opened up the canteen because of a lack of feasible accessibility to vegetarian diet for students who often ended up having digestive problems because of local food.
The canteen that initially was just the students’ resort for hygienic food now hosts farmers market, breakfast buffets and regular meals with 150 to 700 people per day depending on what day of the week it is. The servers are dressed in buddhist clothing which contributes to making the ambience even calmer.
Deepak Bohora, the manager of Utpala Cafe said, “We want to create a hygienic environment for people to enjoy vegetarian food because even one vegetarian meal they have is one act of violence avoided and we believe that is an act of merit.” He also shared that Utpala got their idea of breakfast buffet from the COVID-19 outbreak where they gave free food in the buffet to the locals after which they made buffets a custom at the cafe.
Pineapple juice is one of Utpala’s most acclaimed fresh juices. The juice tastes like freshly picked pineapples—acidic with a hint of astringently fizzy tarty sweetness but the presentation is arguably more alluring. The glass was spiked with a slice of pineapple containing leaves but also that they had paper straws instead of plastic ones which shows how committed Utpala is to their goal of creating a clean environment, in every sense of that phrase.
Crispy fried oyster mushroom salad
The first food on the table was Crispy Oyster Mushroom Salad which, according to the chef, is also Utpala’s most lauded Salad. The salad has three main ingredients—oyster mushrooms (which as the name suggests is crispy fried), onions and pomegranates (replaced with oranges based on the season). The dressing has hoisin sauce, Asian flavoured soya, lemon and olive oil which create a tangy, tangerine taste which blends with the three different types of lettuce they put in the dish to create for a refreshing summer experience.
Since Utpala is a vegetarian restaurant that also strives for hygienic food, you are bound to find a variety of special salads. The next dish on the table was Caesar Salad. Now the name of the dish might ring a bell because Caesar Salads are often permeated with meat, fish or some other non-vegetarian delicacy but at Utpala, they use a vegetarian alternative—ggs. Scotch egg, to be more specific.The dish further has homemade mayonnaise, pepper, cheese, Worcestershire sauce and parsley for dressing which combined with croutons and beetroot (Utpala’s substitute for bacon) creates a creamy tangy vegetarian flavour improvisation of Caesar Salad.
It seemed like Caesar Salad was not the only dish Utpala does a vegetarian improvisation of because the third dish on the table was cauliflower popcorn—a vegetarian alternative to the popular chicken popcorn. You notice a very heavy creamy taste at the very first bite which goes on to mingle with the tangy spices in the dish. The creamy taste is because the cauliflower base is blanched in milk which with spices is coated with breadcrumbs and later sauteed with additional aromatic flavours. The speciality about this dish is the admixture of the creamy taste with the piquant spices which is further emulsified with the dip—composed of tofu and mayo dip. The acidic creamy nature of the dip makes the popcorn experience even more mouthwatering. If you recently quit meat and are missing the taste of chicken popcorn, this dish is definitely for you.
Pasta Alla Norma
‘Alla Norma’ translates to eggplant so the next dish on the table is a scrumptious pasta of pomodoro base mixed with eggplant, cheese and sauce. The cheerful creamy flavours of this dish will leave you wanting for more and the pasta tastes every bit as appetising as it looks in the picture.
You can treat yourself to a gelato on your way out from Utpala’s own Italian gelato maker, which moulds up freshly made gelatos right before your eyes. The finger-licking chocolate gelato for the perfect dessert after your healthy vegetarian meal at Utpala.
Text By:Saaid Koirala
Photo Credit: Bidyash Dangol