It was a sweltering evening in late June, and our mission was to eat our way through all 16 momo joints in the “Himalayan Heights” section of Jackson Heights and Woodside, Queens. Outfitted with loose-fitting clothing, a bandanna and an empty belly, I was prepared to get momo-fied.
Our guide, veteran food blogger Jeff Orlick, handed us a hand-drawn map of the area (it’s a keeper) and nudged us along from one tiny storefront to another. With a spray bottle in one hand, Jeff graciously misted members of our unwieldy group of more than 20 momo lovers. Getting sprayed with cold water while eating in the heat was both refreshing and necessary.
We sweat and we walked and we ate. Plastic forks in hand, we jostled for access to plate after plate of steaming hot momos, which are similar to Chinese dumplings—but with fillings that reflect both Indian and Chinese influences.
In short, it was momo mania.
(Full disclosure: I only made it to seven of the momo shops we set out to conquer. Queens felt like one giant sauna that night, and all but four of us quit before the end of the three-hour-plus momo marathon. Can you blame me for choosing my air-conditioned living room over death by momos on a 90-degree summer night in New York?)
We started at Woodside Café, where spicy, Newari-style Nepalese fare from Kathmandu reigns supreme. The purse-shaped kothe momo were packed with minced beef and mixed vegetables seasoned with turmeric and garam masala. Steamed, then pan-fried and served with a spoon of vegetable broth ladled on top, these momos were some of the juiciest and most flavorful of the night.
A few blocks away, Tawa Foods was also making Nepalese momo magic. Aside from momos, Tawa makes and sells South Asian flat breads, like roti, chapati and parantha, and offers a small menu of hearty Nepalese and Indian snacks, like kati rolls, dosas and even a modest thali.
Tawa’s steamed beef momos were crescent-shaped and thin-skinned—much like Japanese gyoza. The folks at Tawa use store-bought wonton wrappers to make their momos, but those ordinary wrappers cradle a tremendous treat: ground beef seasoned with Indian spices, a generous helping of chilies and the crunch of fresh vegetables.
The expansive menu at Himalayan Yak caters to Nepali, Tibetan, Bhutanese and Indian tastes, but the steamed pork momos were pure Tibetan. In Tibet, momos have a milder flavor than the boldly seasoned, spicy Nepalese variety.
Still, Yak’s momos were a bit on the bland side. The meat, blended with sparing quantities of scallion, onion and black pepper, was enveloped in thick, chewy dough that had a distinctly wheat-y taste.
Steps away from Himalayan Yak is Gangjong Kitchen, where I had high hopes for mouthwatering momos. The air inside the restaurant was infused with the strong scent of chilies and Indian spices, so I anticipated especially flavorful momos. What we got, however, were more Tibetan-style beef momos that didn’t quite meet expectations.
The dough itself was dry, and the meat filling was compressed—almost hard—with only the tiniest flecks of scallion mixed in. Still, the owner was more than gracious, and I’ve read intriguing reports of off-menu, authentic Tibetan fare at Gangjong. So I’m willing to give this restaurant another try when it’s not overrun with 24 mouths clamoring for instant momo gratification.
Potala Fresh Food, the lone street cart on our tour, served up juicy Tibetan-style beef momos seasoned with scallion and ginger (photo at top of page). Potala’s purse-shaped momos had moist, thin skins with small, pinched openings at the top and thicker bottoms that securely held in the fillings.
Is there any flavor advantage to this purse-shaped, pinched-top momo? Short answer: No. Potala’s owner explained that in the Amdo region of eastern Tibet, his home, purse-shaped momos are the norm. Crescent-shaped momos are more common in Lhasa and other parts of central Tibet.
The beef momos at Bombay Chat (verdict: juicy but low on flavor) were overshadowed by the unexpected arrival of pani puri, a refreshing Indian snack that hit the spot on this oppressively hot night.
Pani puri is a round, hollow-centered shell made from deep-fried flour, which is stuffed with spiced chickpeas, bits of boiled potato and diced onion. The stuffed shells are then topped with a dab of sweet tamarind chutney and filled to the brim with spicy water seasoned with mint, ground cumin and black salt.
The trick is to get the entire thing into your mouth in one bite before the shell starts to leak. Allow the initial wallop of spicy water to flood your mouth; then bite down and enjoy the crunch of the onions and the burst of different textures and flavors.
I ended my abbreviated momo tour on a high note at Tibetan Mobile (aka Lhasa Fast Food). Enter this shop and you may think you’re about to make a mobile phone purchase. Amble farther back and survey the DVD-lined walls and baskets of incense. If you make it to the far back of this railroad-style store, you’ll discover a small food counter fronting an equally small kitchen that serves up momos, meaty noodle soups and other Tibetan fare.
Tibetan Mobile’s beef momos were moist and juicy, soft-skinned and packed with a generous amount of ground beef and scallion. The meat was tender, loose and fatty—unlike the other Tibetan momos, with their hard-packed fillings. (Insider tip: The momos stuffed with beef and wild chives are even better!)
Woodside Café’s beef momo was my favorite of the night. Among the milder, Tibetan-style momos, Tibetan Mobile’s version was easily the best.
Perhaps I would have reached a different conclusion if I had tried the rest of the momos rather than heading home to digest on my couch in the air conditioning. The few fearless folks who stuck it out to try all the momos on the tour raved about Bhim’s Cafe, on 37th Rd., and Lali Guras, on 76th St.
What does that mean for this curious, momo-loving meaty mama? Clearly, my momo mission isn’t finished yet.
Bombay Chat, 73-19A 37th Rd., Jackson Heights, Queens
Gangjong Kitchen, 72-24 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, Queens, 347-848-0349 (menu)
Himalayan Yak, 72-20 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, Queens, 718-779-1119, www.himalayanyakrestaurant.com/
Potala Fresh Food, Broadway and 37th Rd., Jackson Heights, Queens, 917-767-1777
Tawa Foods, 37-38 72nd St., Jackson Heights, Queens, 718-457-7766 (menu)
Tibetan Mobile (Lhasa Fast Food), 37-50 74th St., Jackson Heights, Queens
Woodside Cafe, 64-23 Broadway, Woodside, Queens, 347-642-3445 (menu)
Follow all of Tina Corrado’s culinary explorations at her blog, Tina’s Nom Noms.