To understand the peculiar power of the momo, we must retrace our steps.
Bristol, the early 1990s. The Bristol of Dummy and Maxinquaye and Blue Lines, of shared houses in Easton and Eastville, Fishponds and Downend, of Wednesday nights in the hull of The Thekla, the weekly indie club night losing its collective shit at the perfectly timed trifecta of Sodajerk, Screamager by Therapy? and Animal Nitrate, the sweat dripping from the walls of the 19th century iron hulk and the fortifying 2am fries honking with garlic mayo. Days when you could do all that and still be in work twenty miles away by 8am.
It was in Bristol I first found momo, you see. Someone who looks like your guide, is massively leaner and grey-free, but coincidentally exactly the same height and eye colour, comes across these little steamed dumplings at the long-gone Natraj on Gloucester Road.
A chance encounter. They leave an impression.
In case you’re unfamiliar with momo- in his series on India, Rick Stein said they were new to him- they are little dumplings, indigenous to Nepal and Tibet, most often found steamed or fried. Their just-doughy-and -glutinous-enough wrappers stuffed with everything to cheese to chicken to pork to yak, and usually served with a chilli paste to clear the sinuses. In any iteration, they are essential: more than just a must-order, more a dish whose presence has been the sole reason for booking this restaurant above that one.
Gallingly, they have proved hard to find locally. Whether it’s the street food version from Momo-Bar at Abergavenny, or Bristol’s Namaste Nepal and Kathmandu, or that Gurkha Corner in Brecon: I have put in the miles to feed my obsession. There are probably still scorch marks in the tarmac from the emergency stop we pulled when, returning from Liverpool’s 2012 League Cup win, we spotted Wembley’s Momo House.
An invitation to try the the menu at Samye it didn’t take an awful lot of pondering, then. I daresay I would have missed the place altogether if they hadn’t contacted me: it’s a little café in theproperties which what they
There’s a moment of confusion when I arrive, when I am ushered into a cosy little therapy nook. It’s very pleasant but feels distinctly un-café-like. The penny drops after a few minutes: two of us have arrived with the same first name, so I move quickly to ensure my promised momos are safe.
The entire menu is both vegan and gluten free, and leans toward Nepal, though more pedestrian options are available. The drinks menu is much longer, features modish things like MCT and bulletproof coffee and CBD, again all without any animal products.
The room is picked out in bright primary colours and feels as if it’s a little oasis from the world- you’d think you were miles from the noise of Cowbridge Road- and substantial dishes to feed you well.
The day’s curry is a hearty bowl of spiced potato, bright yellow with turmeric, flavoured with onion, garlic and a hint of fenugreek, with sweetness provided by whole tomatoes cooked down until they have collapsed into the mix, skins and all. It’s a lot for £3.50.
The Buddha bowl loads quinoa with an assortment of vegetables. Sweet corn, green beans, bamboo shoots, peas, peppers are served hot. If you’re not already a fan of quinoa this probably won’t convert you, but it’s a popular choice with regulars and staff at £4.50, if the number of orders is any guide.
The momo themselves, though? Usually served with riceThey are built very capably so they hold together and provide a bite, but never seem stodgy. This is exactly the texture I was looking for, but as they are handmade on site by a Tibetan member of staff, you’re in safe hands. Steamed and filled with a well-seasoned mixture of finely shredded vegetables- carrots and white cabbage today- and served with a sweet chilli dressing and a brisk soy sauce, they put a smile on my face. I have my momo. They make me happy when skies are grey.
Another quirky little place to eat in Canton, easily missed by many, but worth a look. Don’t be tempted to colour this place with some dreary ‘niche’ prejudices, but go all-in and enjoy what’s here. If by January you are more ham than human, then it strikes me this would be a charming little place to redress the balance.
And yes, we now have momos on tap. Café, takeaway, it’s up to you. You don’t get unnecessary noise: it’s a café where you collect your own cutlery, not fuss and flounce. It’s all about restful moments to eat well and to enjoy simple pleasures, and that’s something we can all do with more of. More, perhaps, now than ever.
Mugs and Momos
Samye Foundation Centre
248 Cowbridge Road East
MON-FRI 10.00am- 2.00pm and 5.00pm-9.00pm
SAT & SUN 10.00am-10.00pm
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.