In Nepal when you think of food connoisseurs the first name that comes to mind is that of Dubby Bhagat. When you sit down with him he will talk to you about the good things in life, food and travel with so much zeal that you would want to hop on a plane and explore the food in your new destination like there’s no tomorrow.
Hailing from an army background he first started his career with Desmond Doig, Jug Suraiya and a few others in the late sixties and early seventies with Junior Statesman. He first came to Nepal to cover King Mahendra’s coronation in 1975 and it has been an eternal love affair ever since. He knows of a Kathmandu before Nanglos was conceived and where it still reeked of calm and old world charm. He’s seen those times when Gundruk (dried, fermented greens) would be hung in little bunches on the doors of people’s homes to the present day restaurant frenzy especially in those little lanes of Jhamsikhel.
Lukla holds a special place in his heart having invented a dish out of yak meat and wine on that terrain. Another reason could be that the region is home to his mountain loving adopted son Rick Dorje Sherpa. He’s also co-written few books on Nepal and its intricacies all of which reflect his love for his adopted country.
His love for food stems from the time he spent with Behram Contactor aka Busybee , noted Indian journalist and food writer who would take him to the little eateries producing delicious fare behind the Taj Hotel in Mumbai and Parsi ladies making Dhanshak(a confluence of veggies and lentils)and other traditional dishes. He has had an extensive career in hospitality starting from when he came long term to Nepal with Desmond Doig and started in sales in the then Everest Sheraton. There he conceived many restaurants such as the Indian themed Far Pavilions, a bar called Bugles and Tigers, a barbecue restaurant called Ropes and so on. He also helped design the Malla hotel, baby of Rama Malla. He has worked on the conception of Wimpys in Durbar Marg. He also worked on the design of the Hyatt Hotel at the behest of Angur Baba Joshi, well known educationist and social worker. Through it all Desmond Doig, the journalist and Renaissance man had been a friend, mentor and guide. They also worked on Hotel Shangarila at the request of a friend where Caroline of the now famous Chez Caroline also trained many a young hand.
He has seen Shyam Kakshyapati hang glasses on the bar when Nanglos had just started his journey and remembers the time when Hashish shops were legal and Hashish cookies were in vogue in the Basantapur area here Yin Yang and Third Eye had Tibetan carpets and Hukkah before its rebirth in Thamel.
He also speaks of Boris a Russian gentleman who started The Chimney at Yak and Yeti with delicacies such as Chicken Ala Keiv and he still considers it the best fine dining restaurant in town. Deichiling and Chez Caroline also list in his favorites
He says that a larger cuisine often takes over its smaller counterpart and this is why Indian cuisine is taken as Nepali food many a times .He recommends Wunjala Moskva run by Gayatri Kansakar as one of the finest fusion restaurants with a mix of Nepali and Russian food. The now defunct Thamel House according to him maintained the ethnicity of traditional Nepali food the best. He also has an interesting recollection of Rana Khichdi made of rick and black lentils and rice along with ghee made by one of the army men’s wives a different take on the Jaulo.
Dubby has an adventurous streak as far as life and food are concerned so give him anything from Hermann’s baked goods to traditional Rajasthani Lal Maas , Tasneem’s Bohri Muslim Cuisine to a simple pizza and he will not refuse. It is his ever positive spirit which tells him that unless a restaurant shuts down it is a success which is maybe why he hasn’t ever written a negative review in all his time as food critic for The Himalayan Times. He is an inspiration for sure.