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Yug Thapa, 40, former software engineer and Nepal-native, has drifted from the path of computer coding to share with East Lansing the humble pleasures of Himalayan cuisine.
ChiChi and Papa, co-owned by his wife, Sarjuna, which opened in June, offers dishes based on recipes from Yug Thapa’s family back in Nepal. The name refers to meat, bread or anything sweet — it’s a phrase usually used by children.
After a complete overhaul of the building, Thapa adorned his restaurant with paintings of small villages with the Himalayas looming in the distance.
Thapa noted the paintings are an accurate depiction of his home village, but, he said, Michigan is still colder.
“I had never seen snow in Nepal, because even though we have a lot of mountains, they are far off from where we live. So this is the first time I’ve seen snow.”
What makes Himalayan cuisine different from its regional counterparts is mainly a “spice thing.”
“It’s just the way we prepare our food.
We are more into garlic, ginger and so on. Theirs is more like a soy sauce kind of thing,” Thapa said. “We are not so much into big spices, other than my secret spices. The basics are garlic, ginger, cilantro and cumin.”
Thapa said Himalayan cuisine also employs both rice and noodles equally, so the choice between the two is really up to the customer. He does not require his chefs to be intimately experienced with preparing Himalayan cuisine. Rather he relies on his own “taste profile.” If it tastes right to him, according to his memory of his mother’s cooking, the dish is good to be served.
“I am not a professional cook, but I am a professional taster,” Thapa laughed. “I have 40 years of experience tasting homeland food.”
ChiChi and Papa’s menu was constructed to give a wide sampling of what is offered in small villages along the Himalayas.
“I wanted to put every single thing that I like. All the street food — every single thing that I ate back home. But we have a small set-up here, so I had to pick best of the best.”
Thapa’s personal favorite dish on ChiChi and Papa’s menu is the barbecue ribs, which employs his own blend of spices.
The new restaurateur has no interest in returning to coding.
“It’s in my personality to enjoy meeting new people. My dream job is bartending and having my own bar. Let’s say I’m a multimillionaire. I’ll still want to do that.”
ChiChi & Papa 1105 1/2, E Grand River
Ave, East Lansing (517) 708-0217 Monday, Tuesday Thursday-Sunday 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. Closed Wednesday www.chichiandpapa.com