by Jennifer Miller
What do buffalo meat and Snickers bars have in common? They're both fillings in beloved Nepali and Tibetan dumplings called momos. The dearth of Nepali restaurants in the US has kept the momo under the dumpling radar, but in Nepal it’s considered something of a national food. Traditionally made of thin flour pastry and filled with yak meat, the momo originated in Tibet, but became popularized and updated in Nepal. They've even made their way to neighboring India by way of the colorfully named fast food chain, Wow! Momo. Finding momos in their many forms requires an excursion through the serpentine Nepali urban center of Kathmandu.
Momo Center, a hole-in-the-wall near the city's central hospital, offers some of Kathmandu's few pork momos. The meat is seasoned with ten different spices and served with a thick gravy. The dumplings are prepared on an enormous steamer that sits right on the street.
Gangri Sui Mai
"Open momos" are the city’s most unusual. Available only at Gangri Sui Mai restaurant, located far from the city's tourist epicenter, these steamed dumplings resemble blooming flowers. Each one has four openings into which you can pour peanut sauce, tomato chutney and spicy chili. Beware of the buffalo filling: the juices will squirt up at you through the holes.
On Kathmandu's ritzy shopping street, Durbar Marg, you'll find Cafereena, which boasts 18 different momo varieties. With its glowing blue lights and contemporary-style bar, the restaurant doesn’t quite pull off the intended LA vibe, but the odd interior design choices add to the charm. Their specialty momos include unique varieties such as garlic cheese, peanut paneer and mushroom. The momo platter is too much not to share and at just two dollars, sharing has never felt so good. Choose between fried or steamed or have a combination of both.
In the garden oasis of Dechenling restaurant you'll find Tibetan-style momos. "Ting Momos" are the size and texture of steamed pork buns. They're empty inside, but arrive beautifully fashioned into Slinky-like folds. The restaurant also makes traditional Tibetan ravioli-like momo soup called Ruichheehhe, but you'll have to ask for this off-menu item by name.
For dessert, you can find momos filled with chocolate bars at small shops throughout the tourist haven of the Thamel neighborhood. Or visit the K-Too Steakhouse patio for their signature deep-fried apple momos. These are dusted with cinnamon and sugar and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Images by Jennifer Miller