Main Course

Mo’ Momos, Mo’ Popular

Long a staple of Tibetian and Nepalese cuisine, the momo dumpling is having a momo-moment.

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Hailing from Kathmandu, the momo — similar to a Korean mandu or Chinese baozi — has been brought to the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens with recent waves of immigrants from Tibet and Nepal. Jeff Orlick, a resident of the neighborhood, fell in love with them, and now runs an increasingly popular momo crawl. He met up with Brendan to get down and dumpling about this special snack.

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Jeff Orlick: There are 17 places for momos within about a half mile of where we’re standing.

Brendan Francis Newnam: How did you discover momos?

Jeff Orlick: You can’t miss them. If you walk near the train station over here, every other store is serving momos around here.

Brendan Francis Newnam: You know, I’m talking to you because you really got into momos, and you started to do an annual event. So, can you tell me about that?

Jeff Orlick: So, the annual event is the Momo Crawl. We’ve been doing it for the last three years. The first year was about 30 people. It was just my friends and some other freaks, and then last year it was 80 people. Everyone had to go to a different place, to every place, and at the end we voted on the winner, and we presented this giant golden momo for the winner last year.

Brendan Francis Newnam: And how did the event go this year?

Jeff Orlick: This year, the event exploded. It was crazy! It was about 800 people. Everyone loves the momo!

Brendan Francis Newnam: I love the momo and I haven’t had one yet, and part of the reason I love it is because I like the word.

Jeff Orlick: Exactly! That’s totally it. It’s not intimidating at all. It’s just a dumpling, and also, it’s called a momo. Like, everyone just wants to say that.

Brendan Francis Newnam: You gave me this address, 3750 74th, but I do not see a dumpling store. I see a mobile phone store.

Jeff Orlick: Right, so we’re in front of this year’s winner of the momo trophy. It’s locally called Tibetan Mobile because it’s inside of a mobile phone store. The actual name is Lhasa Fast Food, but no one really knows that. There’s zero signs in the front.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah. I did see like, you know, “Ultra Mobile,” “Free Phone 4G LTE,” and lots of dudes inside buying phones.

Jeff Orlick: Well, they feel like people that are walking past, they’re not really going to care about a momo place yet. Like, everyone that goes there, they’re all in the network. They all know each other.

Brendan Francis Newnam: They’re not in the mobile network. They’re in the momo network.

Jeff Orlick: Definitely. They are in a momo network, yeah.

Brendan Francis Newnam: It says, “You and Me Wireless, Providing Excellent Services.”

Jeff Orlick: Exactly. Every time.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Alright, well, let’s go munch some momos.

Jeff Orlick: Yeah, deal. Alright.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Alright, so we are walking into You and Me Mobile.

Jeff Orlick: Here’s the only sign for the restaurant. It says, “Tibetan Restaurant is Open.”

Brendan Francis Newnam: It’s like a piece of paper torn from a legal pad.

Sanjay Guragain: This is the best place, momo place, you know?

Brendan Francis Newnam: Can I just get your full name?

Sanjay Guragain: Sanjay Guragain.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Why is it hiding behind your store?

Sanjay Guragain: Well, because they were established over here since, you know, many years, like eight, nine years, I guess, and they’re the first Tibetan restaurant in New York. They started in this place, you know. Back then, it was very hard to find a place in the front. They don’t have that opportunity so they establish it back there. They are running very, very well.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Are you Tibetan?

Sanjay Guragain: I’m not Tibetan. I’m from Burma.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Oh, okay. What do you think of the momos?

Sanjay Guragain: Momos, they are the best. Yeah, you know, when you’re addicted to it, you have to eat every day.

Brendan Francis Newnam: We’re going to check it out. Thank you. Alright, so we’re stepping behind the mobile phone store in this top secret momo place. People are eating. There’s a picture of the Dalai Lama. Hi, how are you? My name’s Brendan. What is your name?

Lapsong Jayah: My name is Lapsong Jayah.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Oh, there it is, your golden momo trophy. Are you proud?

Lapsong Jayah: Yeah!

Brendan Francis Newnam: Could we get one order of momos? And so, you’re just stuffing the dumpling. So, it’s a veggie momo and then that’s also beef?

Lapsong Jayah: And this is beef.

Brendan Francis Newnam: It looks pretty good. And you’ll steam them?

Lapsong Jayah: Yeah.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Okay, great. Alright, they’re already here. And so, as far as you can tell, what’s the difference between momos and regular dumplings?

Jeff Orlick: What we see here, most of the Tibetan ones are, it’s just beef and maybe onions or chives and oil and garlic and ginger, maybe. They’re pretty simple and soupy. But it’s up to everyone’s interpretation of what they are. The Nepalese ones usually have more curry in them, but again, it’s everyone’s mom’s cooking. It’s all different.

Brendan Francis Newnam: You have any momo eating strategies?

Jeff Orlick: Try not to pop it open, yeah.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Alright, we have an actual momo expert here. Sir, what is your name?

Jadso: My name is Jadso.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Jadso, okay, and you’re going to give us a little momo eating workshop. So, you have a regular spoon.

Jadso: Soup inside’s very hot, so when I eat, I cool a little, like this, and then I take to slowly, put in the hot sauce, whatever.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So, you take it, you inhale some of the broth to cool it out, and then you fill it with hot sauce. Alright. Thank you for that help. You just went to momo school.

Jeff Orlick: Last time I was here, I saw someone shotgun it like a beer.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Well, I’m going to follow the rules here. These are really good.

And, so, you’ve become so enamored of this culture, you’re visiting there this week, right?

Jeff Orlick: Yeah, I’m actually leaving tomorrow to go to Katmandu. I would never have gone if I hadn’t moved to this area.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Do you have momo places on your list?

Jeff Orlick: It’s hard to find them. People recommended them, but they’re all like, “You go down this road and it’s across the street from this temple,” and it’s like, I don’t know yet, but it seems like there’s no actual addresses anywhere.

Brendan Francis Newnam: It’s kind of like the mobile phone store here. It’s hiding.

Jeff Orlick: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. It’s like totally informal momo geography there.