Welcome to Movers & Shakers; a series where we look deep into PNW life for people who are making moves, doing big things, and who are just - in general - being rad. Seattle is full of multi-talented and multi-faceted people, many at the intersection of technology and the arts. How do they find the time? What's their secret? Well, friends, we're here to find out. Meet Movers & Shakers; aka Seattle Refined attempting to capture the not-so-secret lives of impressive locals. Have a recommendation for us? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The mountains are calling, but it'll be a while before we can go. While travel is still a rose-tinted dream on the horizon, chef-owner Roshita Shreshta of Annapurna Cafe ensures that we can feast on some authentic Himalayan fare right here in Seattle. Their maharaja samosas and spiced chai martinis are truly transportive, and let's face it — that's the closest we'll get to being teleported to a warm cabin in Kathmandu soon.
The menu is all about Himalayan specialties and encompasses the intercrossing culinary traditions of India, Nepal, and Tibet. Dining in Annapurna's dimly-lit, charming underground space with its walls covered with Nepalese murals and colorful Buddhist prayer flags is like eating a meal that comes woven around a cultural narrative.
"I come from a family of doctors, engineers and professors. I wanted to do something different, to create something with my hands. That's when I decided to share my love for food with the world. I had a vision for Annapurna, to maintain the sanctity of ingredients, fresh flavor, crunchy veggies, to be able to taste every ingredient and know its place in the dish. I'm all about minimal use of processed food," said Shreshta.
The food draws from Shreshta's life, the places she's called home and the food she grew up eating. She was born in a small Indian town, nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas.
"I was born in Raxaul, an Indian town near the Nepal border. As a child, I traveled to different parts of Nepal due to my father's job. When schooling demanded a less itinerant life, I stayed with my grandparents, who lived in Nepal, close to the Indian border. I grew up watching Bollywood movies, reading Archie comics in Hindi and eating street food; the best childhood any kid could ask for," she said.
Shreshta brings all these people, places, cultures and experiences to her restaurant.
"My food is a mixture of different cultures, dishes and flavors that blend together," she said. "Seasonality is a big influence. I almost wait for the season to change to make a particular dish."
Eating hyper-local food is all the rage in the culinary world right now, but for Shreshta, it has always been a way of life. Her grandparents inculcated a love for fresh, seasonal and local food in her early on.
"My Aji [grandma] was a foodie. I remember her kitchen, dark and wafting with delicious smells. My earliest memories are eating simple food in that kitchen - rice, black lentils with ghee, and boneless meat," said Shreshta. "Every season, her kitchen table would be loaded with new delicacies like bamboo shoots, wild mushrooms, edible flower buds, wild boar and wild game. There would be deer meat getting smoked over a fire. I was taught to eat what was served. Every Saturday, my grandfather took me to the local farmers market, where we gorged on chat, panipuri and special handmade ice cream."
At a very young age, Shreshta was introduced to delicious and complex flavors, but she only honed her taste buds after leaving her home country. She garnered inspiration from her travels.
"When I started to travel the world, I learned a lot more about food, and people's relationship with food. An epiphany struck me, use what you find around you. I like seeing what grows in different geographic locations and how locals use it. In both Tibet and Rajasthan, there aren't a lot of vegetables, but people use lots of dry vegetables like daikon and Ker Sangri. From drying spices to preserving to jarring, I find pleasure in learning new ways to make full use of available ingredients," said Shreshta.
At Annapurna, Shreshta serves a mix of Nepalese-Indian fusion and somehow manages to bring the best of both worlds. Her cuisine can be best described as Himalayan, with influences and flavors from India, Nepal and Tibet. Think tender chicken tikkas all smoky from the charcoal grill, spinach momos — a kind of Nepali dumpling, flaky samosas filled with a spicy pea-potato mixture and creamy, smooth mango lassi.
Shreshta's food is approachable without being Americanized. When she rustles up her native delicacies, the exotic food imbibes a kind of homespun quality. The regional soups and curries aren't spice bombs or daunting. The beauty of Shreshta's food is in its simplicity. It's wholesome, rustic and very approachable.
"Nepali food is very simple and easy to make," said Shreshta. "It is very healthy and does not require lots of ingredients. Nepali food sticks to its flavor profiles. You don't mix chicken broth in a fish curry."
For women in the F&B industry, a huge challenge is striking the right balance between work and family. It is a rigorous business with unrelenting demands. There's produce to be sourced, a kitchen to be constantly lubricated for smooth functioning, customers to keep happy, licenses to be procured and now, a raging pandemic to be navigated. Shreshta strikes a beautiful balance.
"There's unending hours of work, almost 24/7," Shreshta said. "The rewards are plentiful too, be able to be a part of the community, and always have access to great food. Being able to make your schedule and have your own time is a blessing. It has taken a lot of work to build up the restaurant to what it is now so I can spend more quality time with my family."
Shreshta talks about her own comfort food.
"Chicken Methi soup with daikon radishes is my to-go comfort meal. This dish is not on the menu at Annapurna; one would have to visit my home to try it out," she said.
If not in the food business, what would Shreshta be? Pat comes her reply, "Gardener. I like to talk to my plants and watch them grow."
Want to support more small businesses like Annapurna? We're proud to collaborate with Intentionalist, an online guide that makes it easier for you to find/connect with diverse local businesses owned by women, people of color, veterans, members of the LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities.