Tenzin Sherpa threw a handful of noodles in a stir-fry pan, tossed them, methodically added a reddish sauce and added a handful of spinach leaves into the mixture. Only two feet away, Kristie Miller was telling a customer about the vegetarian options through the food truck’s window.

A gap in customer orders allowed Sherpa to turn his attention toward a ball of dough he was using to make dumplings, the signature dish at Himalayan Bites.

“Back home it’s different because everything is made by hand,” he said, referring to his former home in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Himalayan Bites is a food-truck business opened by Sherpa and his family in May 2016. Now parked outside of Spoken Moto, it is the sole business in Central Oregon serving Himalayan food, which incorporates chicken, beef, vegetable, noodle and dumpling dishes.

Unlike most food truck owners in the area, Sherpa opened the truck without any prior restaurant experience. But don’t let that deter you. The recipes have been passed down for generations and have kept customers coming back again and again. Bend local Bill Taylor eats at Himalayan Bites about once a week and orders the dumplings. Taylor said that what keeps him coming back is “the novelty of it, the hand-crafted, the novelty of this exotic feel of the Himalayas, an outdoorsy feel, and some of the thoughts we associate with the Himalayas and that culture.”

Food from the mountains

The word himalayas means mountain range in Nepalese. The mountains represent natural beauty but also take on a spiritual meaning for many of the people of Nepal. “I love the mountains. I mean back home we treat the mountains as a god and as a pure one. We pray to the mountains,” Sherpa said.

Himalayan food, Sherpa explains, encompasses food from areas at the foot of the Himalayan Mountains, including Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal. “It’s like a whole bunch of countries come together, and so the food is a mixture of all the countries,” he said.

He has traded his proximity to the Himalayas to live in the Cascades.

And being the first of its kind in Bend, curiosity about the type of food has been a draw for customers at the truck. “(First-time customers) ask a lot of questions: What are the spices? What is Himalayan food? What is the way that you cook it?” Sherpa said. “I explain it to them, and they try it for the first time, and they came back for more.”

Most of the dishes are cooked with an oil base, and staple ingredients include onions, garlic, ginger and turmeric. The spices are shipped to Bend from Nepal.

Himalayan Bites’ menu consists of sha momo (dumplings), a stir-fried noodle dish, masu bhaat (slow-cooked chicken and spices), sabj bhaat (seasoned vegetables with coconut milk), shaapta (Tibetan-styled sauteed beef) and a Himalayan platter (any of the aforementioned dishes topped with dumplings). There is also a rotating specials menu with items such as goat and Himalayan-style tacos. All of the entrees are $9, except for the Himalayan platter, which is $12. Dishes are accompanied by a spinach side salad and rice.

A touch of spice

Opening a food truck had been Sherpa’s dream for a while, and with his family’s support, he and his uncle, Nerbu Sherpa, decided to make it a reality. Before opening, he didn’t practice cooking the meals on the Himalayan Bites menu because they are foods that he cooks for himself and his friends on a regular basis.

Sherpa’s introduction to cooking happened when he was a child attending boarding school. The food was bland, so he and his friends would take oil, onions, garlic and spices from the kitchen. They would stash the ingredients in steel geometry boxes and buy candles to heat the ingredients inside the box. Then they’d take the concoction to their meals and add it one spoonful at a time. “That was how I started eating hot, spicy stuff,” Sherpa said.

In addition to his boarding school experiences, Sherpa’s cooking is largely influenced by his grandmother, who owned multiple restaurants in Nepal. In many ways she embodied traditional Nepalese culture. “My grandma spoke all the languages and she would say stories of how stuff was done in the villages,” he said. “She wore the cultural dress at all times.” The recipes for many of the items at Himalayan Bites have been passed down from her, including the dumplings.

“My grandma made the best dumplings in the world, I think,” Sherpa said, as he cut circles in a long, flattened piece of dough. He was making dumplings during a recent visit to the food truck, by holding one circular piece in his hand and filling it with a ground beef mixture. The filling, made up of ground beef, ginger, garlic, sauteed onions, cilantro and a seven-spices blend, marinates overnight with the spices to enhance the flavor.

Quick and with precision, he folded and pinched the dough at the ends, shaped the dumpling and placed it on a sheet before it went into the steamer.

“My favorite thing is that they’re handmade by Tenzin, and the seasonings are very unique,” Taylor said. “You know the Himalayan seasonings are amazing.”

On average, Himalayan Bites makes at least 200 to 250 dumplings daily.

The stir-fried noodles, which have a kick, are another popular pick.

Dale Tuvey, of Langley, Washington, ordered the noodles on his first visit to Himalayan Bites and was pleasantly surprised.

“It was good, very good,” he said. “I told (Miller) I didn’t want a lot of spice — but some — and that’s the way she fixed it.”

The food-truck life

“I call this life 8-by-20,” Sherpa said. “It’s kind of magical; you can do so much stuff inside this box.”

His 8-by-20 foot vehicle is equipped with three sinks, a stove, a refrigerator, a steamer, two rice cookers, an oven and a boxed area holding all of the spices and sauces that he uses.

There are two Himalayan Bites food trucks: The first is stationed at Spoken Moto and manned by Tenzin. The second is managed by his uncle and serves food at special events and festivals.

“It does have its drawbacks. We are limited with space, and I think the weather has a huge impact on the food trucks,” Sherpa said. Most food trucks are small businesses, and poor weather can discourage customers.

Miller also noted how hot the inside of the truck gets in the summertime, but explained that the work is rewarding and makes the difficulties small in comparison.

Initially, his goal for opening the food truck was to introduce Central Oregonians to Himalayan food. Since the truck’s success, he has considered opening a restaurant serving Himalayan cuisine. However, he’s not ready to forgo the food truck just yet.

“I’m living one more year of the food-truck life,” Sherpa said.

In the short term, Sherpa plans to extend the menu to include more American-Himalayan fusion items and hopes to begin serving butter tea, a Nepalese specialty.

— Reporter: 541-383-0351, mcrowe@bendbulletin.com

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