The zen of Thai cooking

4 min read
20 Nov 2017
4 min read
802 words
Zen Bistro and Cafe in Bansbari is an up-and-coming eatery that serves authentic Thai cuisine created by a true-blue Thai cook

Zen's philosophy

The philosophy at Zen is simple: to provide the denizens of Kathmandu with authentic, classic Thai dishes. Zen's co-owner and manager, Nabin Thapa--who also owns Tamarind, Jhamsikhel, and Embassy, Lazimpat--wanted to establish a specialty restaurant, as both Tamarind and Embassy are multi-cuisine restaurants. Thapa's interest in the food industry got sparked during his time in Australia, where he was pursuing a business degree while also simultaneously juggling multiple part-time jobs in different restaurants. During his time there, he realised that there was a lot of potential in Nepal's food industry, especially when it came to high-end restaurants. So, in 2010, after his graduation, Thapa returned home and established Tamarind. As Thapa had predicted, Tamarind did well, and after a few years, Thapa--together with his partners--opened Embassy. Thapa, however, had yet to materialise his vision of establishing a speciality restaurant. But sometime last year, he met Thai chef Piya Pokopsap through an acquaintance and offered her a job as a head chef at his soon-to-open specialty (Thai) restaurant.

Decor and design

At first glance, nothing of the architecture of the place particularly nudges you into thinking that the restaurant specialises in Thai food. Upon entering the premises of Zen, you see a typical coffee-station overlooking a spacious outdoor lounge, complete with one-seater sofas--adorned with neon cushions--clustered around every table in the lounge. One side of the outdoor lounge has more tables with bigger sofas, suitable for larger groups. There is a lot of seating variety inside the restaurant too, ensuring that Zen can cater to a diverse range of customers. You can choose to sit on the terrace (both enclosed and open terraces are available), or use the hall inside if you have a large group of people accompanying you. There's a private lounge for private parties, and a well-maintained and well-stocked bar too. If you're lucky, you might even catch live acts (usually on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays). 

The chef

Chef Piya, currently the executive chef at Zen Bistro and Cafe, is a native of Thailand, and is the mastermind behind the Thai dishes available here. Safe to say, she's succeeded in bringing over the genuine taste of the cuisine of her homeland. She came to Nepal after Thapa, as mentioned before, offered her a job of the main chef at Zen. Back in Thailand, she had picked up her skills from her home's cook, and then she worked various jobs in a range of restaurants to polish her culinary skills. Today, chef Piya supervises a team of seven chefs, all of whom have been trained in Thai cooking. 

On her first visit to Nepal, chef Piya actually brought with her all the ingredients required for cooking authentic Thai fare. Today, the restaurant sources some of their ingredients such as kaffir lime leaves from importers based in Nepal, and other Thai herbs are grown in the restaurant's own garden. The dishes run the range from pure Thai affairs to fusion creations. And all dishes here come in hefty portions--easily more than enough for a single diner. 

Our recommendations

The fried pork ribs--which are tenderly cooked to the bone--are braised in a caramelised, sweet and spicy sauce, flecked with minced galangal and come with a thick sweet chilli condiment. 

The pineapple fried rice, as the name suggests, comes in a pineapple shell and is topped with a jumbo prawn. The dish comes with a robustly tangy and tart sauce that contrasts with the rice, which is tossed with shredded chicken, diced carrots and cashewnuts; all of these are cooked in a mix of curry powders. The pineapple shell provides a fruitiness, lending a Thai twist to the fried rice. 

We recommend the Mint Cooler if you want to order any refreshments; it is a chill concoction comprising mint syrup, lemonade and mint leaves. Other popular dishes include grilled pork satay, fish cakes and flaky sea bass. They can all be had with a variety of sauces--including panang, lemon and tamarind. 

Because winter's now here, we'd also recommend that you try the the restaurant's Tom Yum Hot Pot soup infused with lemongrass. The Zen Bistro also offers an array of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks as well as a fine range of caffeinated ones. Although the bistro is more popular for its collection of savoury Thai food, it doesn't disappoint when it comes to sweet desserts such as the mango with sticky rice pudding.