A Taste of Nepal: Columbus’ Hidden Dumpling, Momo Ghar
If you’ve never heard of momo, you’re not alone.
Before I visited Momo Ghar — a little Nepalese eatery inside the Saraga International Market on Morse Rd. — my knowledge of Nepal and its culture was limited to the movie Everest and a brief and unrequited love affair with throat-singing. I’d certainly never eaten the food.
But I was eager to be educated, so, after reading all the rave reviews on Yelp, I set a date with my partner in food crime, The Russian, and we stepped up to the tiny bar at Momo Ghar. We hoped to be rewarded with wonderful spices.
And the spices are, indeed, fabulous — almost too fabulous for my dinner companion. But I’ll get back to that in a minute.
First, an obligatory explanation of momos: they’re little dumplings filled with spiced meat or veggies, and served with a spicy sauce. At Momo Ghar, they’re made completely by hand in front of customers.
And let me tell you: watching the staff assemble momos by hand is worth the price of admission on its own. They roll out individual little spheres of dough with a wooden rod, plop them full of meat and veggies, then pinch them closed so rapidly and precisely we couldn’t look away. It’s like watching a professional potter make identical soup bowl after identical soup bowl — you know what you’re seeing is real, but you still don’t quite believe it’s possible.
“We’re running dangerously low on veggie dumplings,” owner Phuntso Lama explained wryly, as she started on her second row of dumplings. She’s so practiced at sealing the little momos that she carries on conversations with customers while she does it, and interacting with her and her staff while we ate was one of the unexpected joys of our visit. (Recommendation: if there’s room, sit at the bar.)
But the taste of the momos? I can see why they run out of them regularly. Those babies—which were described to us as “no-holds-barred Nepalese food”—are seriously delicious.
We tried two main dishes: the Chicken Chhoila (a dish of chicken, potatoes, and rice, served cold) and their bestseller—the #1 Jhol Momo. The latter was our favorite. It’s eight chicken dumplings served in a generous portion of roasted tomato sauce, and it’s spicy in a way that warms the bones — it tastes deep more than hot.
Still, the spice builds quickly: even I, a professed lover of heat, had to slow down a bit when I ate the Jhol Momo. And The Russian, who recoils at any salsa above medium, took a break halfway through, during which he turned a lovely, subtle shade of rose and went absolutely silent. We drank two glasses of water each. (Then we spilled one down the entire bar, just for good measure.)
So if you’re one of those people who panics if someone asks if you “like spicy food,” I recommend looking a bit further down the menu at the Nepali Momos. They’re the same dumplings, but the sauce is served on the side so you have a bit more control over the level of heat.
And the baara— a bread made from lentil flour which isn’t even on the menu — is worth ordering, if you can cajole them to make it (it takes valuable stovetop space). It’s fried on the stove and has a soothing, almost creamy interior that provides a good counterpoint to the spices in the rest of the meal.
All in all, we emphatically agree with the vanity plate we saw on the way out of the market: “EAT MOMO.”
Just make sure they pour you a glass of water first.