When Bend resident Pema Sherpa went home to Nepal during the pandemic, she was once again exposed to the difficult realities that are a part of being from a developing nation struggling with poverty. Nepal is home to about 126 ethnic groups, each with their own languages, and each with a ranking as part of the country’s Hindu caste system. While Sherpa such as Pema and her partner Nurbu are in a minority-ranked ethnic group, Sherpas have benefited financially from tourism in the northern Buddhist Himalayan area. Some other tribes are viewed as outcasts, and are shunned and suffer significantly from poverty. On Pema’s last trip to Nepal, she learned about an ethnic group in southern Nepal whose people were working fourteen-hour days, surviving off eating field mice and unable to afford things such as clothing or being able to send their children to school. She was motivated to do something.
In summer 2022, the couple opened High Camp Taphouse in Sisters, a taproom and Himalayan restaurant that sends proceeds to Nepal to help the struggling Nepali people she learned about back home. “We weren’t really planning to open a brick and mortar restaurant before this,” Pema said. Pema and Nurbu had previously operated Bend’s Himalayan Bites food cart, which they opened in 2016 and gave to relatives from Nepal to operate during the pandemic. Pema knew it would take something more significant than a food cart to generate the type of income to make a difference for the people back in Nepal.
High Camp Taphouse took over a location on the south end of Sisters previously occupied by pizza and beer stop Hop & Brew. Nurbu led the way on updates for the space, including removing the drop ceiling, tearing out a hallway that divided the interior and adding a roll up, glass garage door for seasonal access to the patio and fresh air when needed. Outside, there is space in the parking lot for High Camp to house a few food trucks in the summers.
With remodeling underway, the couple got to work crafting a menu of Himalayan recipes, drawing from their mutual love of cooking and feeding others. Pema said that her mother had owned a restaurant in Nepal for a time, and was a good chef who shared her knowledge with Pema. “I got to work with her in her restaurant and learn all the tricks,” she said.
On a visit to High Camp Taphouse, Nurbu was eager to cook and serve a sampling of dishes from the restaurant’s simple but mighty menu. A highlight among starters is the vegetable samosa, a warm pastry filled with spiced potato and vegetables, served with mint chutney. A popular entree is the chau chau noodle dish, which is a mix of udon noodles, fresh vegetables, chicken and savory spices. One of Pema’s favorites is momo, a dish of Sherpa dumplings stuffed with ground beef and pork, vegetables and spices and served with a tomato-based sauce. Pema explained that in Nepal, the cooking of momo often happens for a special occasion, and several people will come together to make it, each taking on a specific task such as forming or rolling dough or making the sauce.
All of the dishes on the High Camp Taphouse menu are packed with traditional spices used in Nepal, some of which are hard to come by in Central Oregon. Pema said she makes regular trips to Portland to get the freshest versions of some spices, and she also brings back suitcases full of ingredients when traveling. The well-spiced, warming meals pair well with High Camp’s twenty taps, which include local beers, ciders and seltzers.
In addition to helping the people in Nepal, Pema sees the restaurant as a way to nourish and connect with people in Central Oregon through the food, which is made with care and love. “My main goal is to make our food just like it is at home. In Nepal, we heal with food,” Pema said. “And the flavor of our food comes from our thoughts. Which is why we cook with gratitude, joy and love.”
High Camp Taphouse | 523 E Highway 20, Sisters | (541) 904-4694 | highcamptaphouse.com