Restaurant review: Momo Ghar

G.A. Benton
Thukpa soup with chicken

In the Nepali language, "momo" is a kind of dumpling and "ghar" means "house." Link the words together, and you literally get "dumpling house."

Momo Ghar on Morse Road specializes in dumplings, but it's hardly a house. In fact, it's barely more than a counter inside the United Nations of Columbus food stores: huge Saraga International Grocery.

What Momo Ghar lacks in ambience, though, it makes up for in friendliness and made-from-scratch Nepali and Tibetan homestyle cooking. These attributes go a long way towards overcoming a setting that's not necessarily a selling point.

The no-frills operation occupies a space about the size of a walk-in closet and sports fake brick walls, two tiny tables and a five-seat counter. Visual stimulation comes from a busy little open kitchen and views into Saraga overlooking an olfactory system-nudging frozen-fish section plus a shelf containing so many cans of Spam and Spam knock-offs that a notorious Monty Python song came to mind. Fortunately, that was quickly displaced by the reggae music playing.

Within these spartan trappings are soulful Himalayan-style food and owner/chef Phuntso Lama. Lama, whose enthusiasm, cooking pride and bemused smiles at pesky questions convey that she likes her job more than most people I know, is an adept guide through a limited but potentially confusing menu.

"Momos go great with beer," she told me. Because Lama hasn't obtained a liquor license yet, diners can warm up with a simple but pleasant mug of milky "English blend" tea ($1.95) while deciding what to eat.

This should include homemade dumplings, which arrive eight per order. If you really want to warm up, try the Jhol Momo ($8.50), which appears to be this eatery's signature dish.

It's a big bowl of jhol — a tangy, delicious and seriously spicy sauce rife with roasted tomato flavor — topped with lovely, supple Nepali-style dumplings with an addictive filling of ground chicken, onion and cilantro. Dimpled and twisted around the tip, the dumplings look like miniature drawstring handbags.

Prefer a more controlled burn? An order of Nepali Momos ($7.95) is the same dumplings unsauced but with a small serving of jhol on the side. Going meatless? Similar dumplings are sold with a minced cabbage, celery, carrot and onion filling - either plopped into a bowl of jhol (Jhol Vegetable Momo, $8.25) or with jhol on the side (Vegetable Momo, $7.95).

Resembling Chinese potstickers, the Tibetan Momos ($7.95) are filled with ground pork mixed with celery and scallion. They're great steamed, but when pan-fried (Kothey, $8.25) to create a crisp golden-brown shell, they're especially delectable.

In addition to eight dumpling iterations, Momo Ghar serves a few famed Himalayan dishes such as the classic Tibetan noodle soup called Thukpa ($8.50). A soothing golden broth livened by black pepper and hints of ginger supports wavy, ramen-style noodles plus a slew of sliced and long-simmered cabbage, carrot, scallion and diced tomato. I ordered the chicken version and was rewarded with plenty of simply seasoned, boneless, skinless planks.

The most elaborate item is the Chicken Chhoila Set ($8.95). This can - and should - include Baara ($2 extra), a wonderful, ginger-scented, nutty-tasting bread component of a black lentil pancake fried to crisp in front of you.

The rest of the chhoila platter - which displays the overlap between Nepali and Indian food flavors - is very spicy. It's also served chilled and offers unexpectedly stiff textures.

The curry-like ensemble includes chicken in a tomato-based sauce cooked with leeks and fenugreek; potatoes seasoned with a similar sauce and cumin seeds; black-eyed peas; "beaten rice," which recalls crispy, toasted dry cereal; and a tuft of cilantro.

It's cold hot food, and it's delicious. And I mean that literally.

1265 Morse Rd, Northeast Side


Momo Ghar