Sixteen years on, Pimbahal Fresh Potato Chips Corner continues to serve a wide variety of crispsIt is 10:30 in the morning on a week day at Patan’s Pimbahal Pokhari. The narrow roads surrounding the ponds are filled with honking vehicles, people rushing to work, and storefronts opening for the day ahead.
It is 10:30 in the morning on a week day at Patan’s Pimbahal Pokhari. The narrow roads surrounding the ponds are filled with honking vehicles, people rushing to work, and storefronts opening for the day ahead.
“Can I have some non-spicy chips for Rs 10?” asks a woman carrying her little daughter.
Damodar Shrestha, standing behind the counter at the Pimbahal Fresh Potato Chips Corner, beams at his customer, selects a small amount of crispy, fried, non-spicy potato chips from among the wide variety of flavours he offers, and places it into a plastic bag. He then tightens the bag, making certain he doesn’t crush up the chips, and hands it over.
“It’s relaxing to be an independent businessman,” says Shrestha, shopkeeper and innovator behind the over-a-dozen potato chip flavours that the Pimbahal institution has been serving for nearly 16 years.
Over the years, the Pimbahal Fresh Potato Chips Corner, located right opposite the Pimbahal Pokhari, has become a Patan landmark. Hardly anyone who visits Patan goes away without a bagful of chips from Shrestha’s store. Unlike the vast majority of potato chips that can be found in stores across the Valley, Shrestha’s are unique—in that they come in flavours unexpected like pineapple, banana, cheese, hard chilly, and mango. These are not your factory-cut, mass-produced and packed-in-a-bag chips. They are rough, unevenly flavoured and misshapen, but that is precisely their attraction. These are chips that have been flavoured and fried by Shrestha himself.
Shrestha worked for 13 years for a tour-and-travel company before deciding to branch out on his own. Armed with a degree in management, he longed to do something that he could dedicate himself to.
“I felt like companies were only looking for their own benefit,” says Shrestha. “So, I was willing to focus and be dedicated to anything as long as it would be productive.”
Making potato chips wasn’t something that came naturally. On a business trip to Hyderabad, Shrestha learned how to make potato chips. When he came home, he began experimenting with a batch, trying new flavours. He’s experimented with a wide range of flavours and while some make it to the front of store as prized showcases, others go into the discard pile of flavours that just don’t work out.
Shrestha’s innovative approach to something as prosaic as the potato chip is what keeps his customers coming.
“I love the cheese flavour,” says 22-year-old Leena Rajbhandari, who has been a regular at Shrestha’s store since she was a child. “As I live nearby, I’ve been coming here since I was old enough to collect money little by little to buy chips. Now, the chips make me reminisce about the old days.”
Many of Shrestha’s customers are regulars, who just can’t seem to get enough of his flavouring. There’s something for everyone, whether it is the hard chilly for spicy heat lovers or the mango, for those who want a little sweetness to their chip. Shrestha welcomes all customers alike—those returning after years, those with new taste buds, and those who visit him frequently.
“I love the mix chips. I think I was five when I started coming here to buy chocolates, but later when I tasted the chips I started coming here often,” says 12-year-old Aarush Shakya. “Now, I come here at least twice a week.”
Along with the distinct tastes, Shrestha’s potato chips are affordable and available to buy for as cheap as Rs 10. They can also be bought as a mixed bag, where all available flavours are thrown into a grab bag. For those who can’t decide on a flavour, Shrestha is always ready to offer a tasting.
Shrestha doesn’t know how many customers he serves regularly but it is certain that his chip store has become a Patan institution—a place that is known to everyone in the neighbourhood, and celebrated.