The Sherpas of Ashford, Washington

With Bruce Barcott, Charlotte Austin, and Craig Roman By Allison Williams July 20, 2012 Published in the August 2012 issue of Seattle Met

In the bump-on-the-road town of Ashford, which starts just outside of the Park’s southwest gate, there aren’t a lot of things: No McDonald’s. No stoplights. Definitely no fine dining. But there is a Nepali restaurant serving the specialties of an ethnic community some 7,000 miles away. Call it Ashford’s own International District.

Pawan Lama Sherpa took over Wildberry Restaurant just three years ago, and half the menu echoes the American grill offerings that dot State Route 706: burgers, trout, blackberry pie. But then there’s the traditional Sherpa menu, similar to what Pawan served at his lodge in the town of Lukla near Mount Everest base camp. They don’t serve nearly as much yak down the road.

The fare is what Pawan calls “spicy but not really,” reminiscent of Indian food in the curries and naanlike bread, but heavier and milder. Chyau ko tarkari is a mushroom curry served thali-style on a divided tray, the warm yellows of lentils and pickled mango contrasting the brown rice and side of carrots. Sherpa stew is a thick, dark-brown mixture of beef, veggies, and dumplings. “Sherpas use it in cold weather for getting warm,” says Pawan, though the Sherpa tea, a belly-toasting brew of cardamom and cinnamon, is almost as effective.

The Nepalase culture bonanza actually makes a lot of sense, even in this town of exactly 217 people. The mountain next door is popular among Mount Everest–bound climbers; mountaineers looking to hone their glacier skills stateside can’t get much closer to a large metro area. Hang out in the Paradise parking lot, just 30 minutes up the road, and you’ve got a good chance of seeing a Sherpa who holds the speed-climbing record for Everest but guides on Rainier as a day job. 

Like Pawan, many Sherpas are identified by their common last name. The ethnic group comes from high in the Himalayas and are best known for their work as high-altitude porters and guides. They know a little something about warming up in cold weather—but then again, so do wet Washingtonians. 

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