Explore the world one delectable bite at a time.
It’s not often you get the chance to eat a delightful meal and do good at the same time. But at Upohar, that chance is available.
Upohar started as a catering company and then opened its present location on West Roseville Road in April. Owner Srirupa Dasgupta gives the gift of food to the community, while giving the gift of a new chance at life to the women she employs.
Dasgupta, who is from India, serves food from all over the world. She hires resettled refugee women and graduates of Milagro House – a shelter for homeless women and children – in order to provide them jobs and a sense of security. Coming from Nepal, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, these women cook what they know, creating truly authentic meals straight from their native cultures.
“It’s absolutely exciting,” Dasgupta says. “New people are coming all the time and like what we are serving. We are getting great feedback.”
Dasgupta serves an international buffet so customers can sample different foods from several cultures at once.
“We go with what the market wants,” Dasgupta says. “They like when we feature a variety.”
The world buffet was on full display when I visited, with about nine dishes to choose from. After a brief summary from my happy server about what Upohar was all about, I filled my plate with Congolese peanut stew, masoor dal, Moroccan vegetable tagine and Nepali cabbage tarkari.
I’ve tried many different foods from all over the world, but never before have I sampled Nepali, Congolese or Iraqi cuisine. I was curious and excited.
It seems all cultures have some salty dishes, some sweet dishes and – always – a unique version of comfort food. The food paired well together. The peanut stew was smooth and slightly sweet, made with onion, tomato, eggplant and peanut butter. The cabbage was soft and salty, a perfect accompaniment to the other entrees. Masoor dal is a brown lentil stew, cooked with onions and aromatic spices. I could see this being a soothing comfort food on cold winter days.
My favorite dish was the vegetable tagine, which Dasgupta says is one of her top sellers. Full of color, several different kinds of vegetables and black olives, this dish alone could have been a complete meal. Dasgupta likes to use local produce and makes her dishes according to what’s in season.
“It’s always changing,” she says. “Right now, it’s corn and tomatoes. I’m always going for what is fresh.”
Sides included Nigerian fried rice, cumin rice, Congolese kale and couscous with onions and thyme. All the food prepared at Upohar is vegetarian. Dasgupta says serving meatless meals is easier for her staff and keeps things simpler when creating new dishes.
For beverages, Upohar offers chilled Masala chai, which in the winter is served warm. This creamy, sweet drink tasted like a chai latte with hints of ginger and spices. Another drink option is sharab al-leymoun – an Iraqi-style lemonade, flavored with orange blossom water and mint. Both were equally refreshing on the hot July day I visited.
After eating a full plate of the appetizing options (and seconds of the tagine), I didn’t have any space left for the coconut kheer – a coconut milk pudding my server recommended. I bought one to go. It was a thick pudding flavored with cardamom and rosewater and sweetened with palm jiggery – unlike any pudding I’ve ever tried. The cooks were working on a German plum tart in the kitchen while I ate my lunch. I didn’t get a sample, but I was told it’s worth coming back for. It certainly smelled worthy of a second trip.
Beautiful photographs taken by Dasgupta’s husband adorn the restaurant walls. They were taken on the couple’s travels around the world and include photos of markets from India, Germany and Mexico. The calm atmosphere is enhanced with pale yellow and orange colors, and small jars and plants enrich the global feeling of the décor. There is a small deli case which features to-go offerings. The day I visited, you could buy hummus, coconut pudding and alu aachar, which is a spicy Nepali potato salad.
The restaurant seats 40 people, and outdoor picnic tables can accommodate another 12 customers.
To get customers in her restaurant, Dasgupta uses several marketing strategies. She’s on Facebook, sends out emails and regularly updates the website. And most importantly, she makes sure people can try her food.
“Samples are the biggest thing,” Dasgupta says. “When people are able to reach out and experience our food, they want more.”
This summer, she’s been a part of the Second Sunday Flavor Fair, held at BUiLDiNG CHARACTER’s parking lot in downtown Lancaster. Upohar will be there September 14 from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Dasgupta is also experimenting with dinner, serving a buffet from 5:30-9 p.m. every Saturday. She hopes to expand her dinner offerings based on the success she has seen so far.
While Dasgupta doesn’t have as much time to travel now as she did before opening the restaurant, her vision is to bring the wider world a little closer to her own world. In the future, she wants to offer more cuisines from even more cultures.
“You can travel the world,” Dasgupta says. “One spoonful at a time.”
• 241 West Roseville Road, Suite 2, Lancaster; 569-2782
• Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and Saturday, 5:30-9 p.m.