I used to keep a running list of all the different species I’d eaten. Eventually, once I’d crossed off groundhog (on Groundhog Day no less!) and exceeded a count of 30, I slowly lost count. But even if it’s not my first time trying a new animal, I relish the chance to go beyond chicken, beef and pork whenever I can.
Even before I moved to NoVA, it was on my list to have some yak momos at Royal Nepal. That kind of planning usually can only mean disappointment. But when I dined in Alexandria last week, I was not disappointed.
The lived-in interior of Royal Nepal didn’t prepare me for the chef’s way with presentation. Five dumplings (it’s also an option to get twice as many in an order) are arranged artfully around a slate-colored bowl filled with a spicy, tomato-based dipping sauce colored and cooled with a splash of mint sauce.
It wasn’t my first taste of yak. That honor goes to some jerky my boyfriend at the time brought me from China in 2004. My first fresh yak featured in a stroganoff was served in a barn in Vermont. That’s a lot to live up to, but these momos, with their pan-seared bottoms burst forth with earthy spices and juicy yak.
What does it taste like? I would compare it most closely to bison—another red meat that doesn’t have that very particular musk of beef. It’s very mild, a great meat for beginners in the world of unusual cuts.
But that wasn’t the end of my feast. I followed up the momos with wild boar curry, served with crispy, salty okra on the side. Pork lovers won’t be disappointed by the boar. The meat, despite the word “wild” isn’t gamy. In fact, I would challenge most diners to differentiate it from high-quality pork (read: not that white grocery store stuff) at all.
But that’s not to say that you shouldn’t experience it. Even if you don’t keep a list of the animals you’ve consumed, Royal Nepal’s heavy hand with cumin and cardamom makes it a worthy stop, whether you’re trying Nepali for the first time or the hundredth. These are big flavors and they’re applied to dishes of chicken, lamb and goat too, for meat lovers a little less bold about embracing new species. But when given the option between chicken and yak in my lovably oily momos, I can’t resist a bite of the exotic. // 3807 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria
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