Mount Everest Deli may appear, to many of its customers, interchangeable with its neighbors – Globe Smoke & Convenience, Seneca Deli Corp., or any of the dozens of Ridgewood bodegas that are instantly familiar to any New Yorker. Passersby on Myrtle Avenue dash in for a pack of cigarettes, a tube of off-brand super glue, or a turkey bacon-egg-and-cheese on a roll.
But inhale deeply while shopping there and you’ll smell masala. Peek behind the deli counter and you’ll see momos – Himalayan dumplings – tumbling onto the griddle. Mount Everest isn’t just a corner store. It’s a distinctive, tradition-bending urban Nepalese restaurant.
“I never thought I would do a restaurant,” says owner Madhab Parajuli. “But honestly, I love to eat. I like to experiment and play with the food. I put in a lot of effort, and do it my way.”
Some of Parajuli’s creations are in keeping with the dairy-loving spirit of contemporary street food fusion experimentation in South Asia, where grated Amul cheese piles up in dosas and parathas, and atop Mumbai-style vada pav. At Mount Everest, he folds grated cheddar in with chili-fried momos and tucks the entire melty mass into two puffy, griddled parathas, creating the deli’s signature homage to the burrito, the cheesy momo paratha wrap.
Though the deli has been under Nepalese ownership for at least 13 years, Parajuli, who took it over in February 2021, was the first to serve Himalayan prepared foods. In fact, he is a restaurateur by trade, and had “zero knowledge” of the grocery business before buying the place.
Originally from Sindhupalchok, a high-altitude district along the road from Kathmandu to the Tibetan border, Parajuli has now lived in Queens for more than a decade. When he first moved to the United States in 2012, he settled in South Ozone Park, and got a job bussing tables at Seva, a long-running Indian restaurant in Astoria.
“Like everyone who comes to the United States, you have to figure out a lot of things,” he says. “The first thing you have to do is where to live, what to eat, how to survive.”
The restaurant industry turned out to be rewarding. Seva’s owner brought Parajuli along with him as manager when he opened a new place in Manhattan, and soon, Parajuli started experimenting in the kitchen and building a team to start his own restaurant. His wife’s uncle Narayan, who now works at Mount Everest, has been one of his closest collaborators. He opened Sathi, a straightforward northern Indian restaurant with a small column of Nepalese menu items, on 3rd Avenue in 2018.
“My practice was basically in Indian cooking, but I love food and Nepalese food is in my blood,” Parajuli says.
During the pandemic, Parajuli scouted around for a place in Ridgewood, which has long had a sizable Nepalese population – though it pales compared to Jackson Heights five miles to the north. He recognized the neighborhood was also quickly becoming a destination for young people looking for affordable rents past neighboring Bushwick, and thought his Nepalese fusion could find a new audience here.
He was right – the cheesy momo paratha wrap has become a late-night staple on Myrtle Avenue. But Mount Everest also offers Nepalese classics like jhol momo, whole steamed dumplings floating in a spicy orange broth, a dish more common than pizza in Jackson Heights but not widely available elsewhere in Queens. Another fusion dish, albeit not one of Parajuli’s own inventions, is chili momo, an invigorating stir fry of momos with green bell pepper, onion, chili paste and soy sauce that straddles the Himalayas with its flavors. “In Nepal, you have the privilege of Chinese and Indian food together,” Parajuli says.
Mount Everest makes its own momos and samosas, though some of the preparatory cleaning and chopping is done at Sathi’s much larger kitchen in Manhattan. That’s also where Parajuli’s cooks make chili pastes and the flavor base for biryani. The Ridgewood space is tiny, and has no gas lines, so everything must be accomplished with a cramped electric grill.
Parajuli plans to open a new Midtown restaurant next month, sure to be more well-appointed than Mount Everest. But the humble deli gives him the chance to experiment with unexpected flavors and quick bites, and Ridgewood gives him a receptive and gleeful audience.
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Published on March 30, 2023