07 Oct 2017
4 min read
Tucked under the Sankhamul bridge--on the Baneshwor side, among a cluster of small shops and houses--lies Michael Baje Ko Sekuwa Corner. It's where sekuwa lovers flock to every day, after two in the afternoon, to indulge in Michael Baje's offerings. As for those who chance upon this place, they become easy converts, as have I.
People really do call the owner of the establishment Michael baje. Michael Baje is a man of few words, and has a way with grilling sekuwas--a skill he picked up in Punjab, where he spent his youth grilling meat at a local joint. His wife, who helps him run the place, let us in on that backstory. She has a warm smile, and can calculate your bill faster than the time it takes to pull up the calculator app on your phone. The two started out almost more than a decade-and-a-half back, first from a makeshift shop around Baneshwor Chowk, and now from their current location, away from the crazy traffic, the bustling noise and the never-settling dust in Baneshwor.
Their current place was actually reconstructed from what remained after the 2015 earthquake struck. The joint houses a grill-station and a cash-counter up front, behind which is a condiments table. The space extends all the way back, and fits five tables that can accommodate at least four people each. There are two more tables on the roof, but the joint's seating capacity usually proves to be insufficient every day, right after two in the afternoon, which is when they open. So you might have to wait a bit. Also, make sure you order your seconds along with the first order itself--unless you want awkward, hangry stares from people waiting to place their first orders. And mind you, the owners are past their prime and don't have a third helping hand. So conjure up some patience before you decide to pay a visit.
The wait is worth every second spent, though. The sekuwas--which cost Rs 40 per skewer for buffalo meat, and Rs 70 for chicken--come out sizzling, but that's not the end of the story. A single serving includes two skewers with five pieces of meat each, and an unlimited supply of bhujiya or murai, a mixed salad, tomato pickle and ginger pickle, and to really heat things up, a green chilli pickle. As the elderly owners put it: 'Sekuwa ko matra paisa parcha, baaki sappai f-e-ree.'
Go easy on the pickles, though. The crushed tomato pickle is tangy, and leaves a lasting, spicy aftertaste. It might be tolerable, but the pickled chillies definitely aren't. The vinegar in them may work up your appetite, but try to avoid them--unless you're a daredevil of a foodie. The ginger variant is pickled in vinegar too, but it's just pungent and salty, and adds a rather nice flavour to the whole experience. The mixed salad may look harmless, but it too has a fair amount of diced chillies tossed with cucumber, radish and onions, and salt and cumin.
Navigate your way around those chillies and avoid some more chillies in the pickle, and you're in for quite the sekuwa-experience. The meat is seasoned for two hours before being skewered and put on the grill. Usually, Michael Baje mans the grill, and cooking on it is a two-step process. He first grills the skewers over a large pit, so that the spices are well-cooked. Then he grills them over a small charcoal burner, fanned by a handheld electric fan. The sekuwas are cooked over high heat so that the insides aren't left raw. The good thing about the buff-sekuwas is that you can pick between more-fatty and less-fatty meat, whereas chicken sekuwas don't come with that option. The chicken-sekuwas have an unusual smoky flavour that's more intense than the buffalo-sekuwas.
There's no harm in having both, though--which is what most people seem to do here. Also, it might be a strange sight to see everyone with a Coke or a Sprite instead of alcohol, but that's how it is at Michael Baje's joint. No alcohol and no smoking. There are even proper ventilators in place so that the smoke from the grill doesn't mar the customers' sekuwa-eating experience.
It's a happy place with a homey setting, and even more homey sekuwa recipes. Everything they use to create the spices--which include nothing more than the traditional Nepali spice mix of 32 individual spices (battis masala), salt, ginger, garlic and chillies--is homemade and unadulterated, which makes all the difference in the taste and the overall experience. And let's not forget the hard work and hospitality of the old folks who run the joint.
Rs 40 per skewer for buffalo
Rs 70 per skewer for chicken
Each portion has two skewers of five each, with bhujiya and
Michael Baje Ko Sekuwa Corner
(Below Sankhamul Bridge)
(Photos by Aayush Shrestha)