Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Best momos in Thimphu, Bhutan?

But where's the red sauce?

Here's my rundown of top momo spots in Thimphu, Bhutan.

Now, of course, it is impossible to say who has the best momos. It's always a case of personal preference. I made an effort to try as many different momos as I could while in Thimphu and these are my top four (two each for cheese momos and beef momos). I would very much like to hear the opinions of Thimphu dwellers about their favourites - please add your picks to the comments! It is also worth mentioning how much of a dork I felt as I was taking these photos of my cheap momo meals - there are no food bloggers in Bhutan yet.

Beef momos from Zombala Restaurant
Zombala is, like, the momo hub of Thimphu. Usually, all the seats are full and there's a line-up for take home orders (i.e. "packed"). They even have their own specially printed take-out boxes (not at all common in Bhutan). The small shop is located in the Hong Kong market. The beef momos are tender, slightly greasy in a good way, with a lively flavour. The eezay (chili dipping sauce) is quite thick and tart which offsets the beef's oiliness.  I have noticed that the shops that make great beef momos tend to make rather ordinary cheese ones and vice-versa. Indeed, Zombala's cheese momos are not too special. If you order beef momos for table service, you will also get a bowl of beef broth to savour on the side.
UPDATE: As of January 2014, there is now a second location, named Zombala 2, at the main traffic circle in same space as the former Plum's Restaurant.
Zombala Restaurant
Zombala Restaurant momos
take-out momos

Beef momos from Zhiday Restaurant
Apparently, Zhiday used to be located on the main street and it even got a write-up in the first edition of Lonely Planet Bhutan. However, it is now located away from the centre of town, across from Changangkha Lhakhang on the second floor of a residential building. The beef momos here, served with a spring of cilantro, are definitely more sophisticated than Zombala's. The dough is more delicate and the beef is more finely diced. Sadly, I did not see any other customers at Zhiday the times I went there although Changangkha Lhakhang is an important place of worship for locals and also a popular tourist stop. Send them some business, will you? The beef shabalay are also excellent and not greasy at all.
UPDATE: Bad news! My sources tell me that Zhiday has closed for good! Sad.
Beef Momos

Cheese momos from UMS Restaurant & Bar
Okay, I freaking love UMS Cafe. It's in the hard-to-find centre of the Zangto Pelri Complex and it doesn't look too clean but I ate there at least twice a week anyway. I was never in there when there wasn't a table of monks chowing down, too, not that monks are known for being picky about food. One of the first times I went there, I randomly ordered 'vegetable noodles' from the menu and was served a bowl of the most fantastic tomato-based noodle soup. I should have begged the proprietor for the recipe. As for the momos, the cheese ones are served too hot to eat but it's tough to wait to taste them. They are just plain delicious. The cheese momo filling is predominantly finely diced cabbage so it is really moist. For the uninitiated, the cheese is more like paneer than cheddar. Their eezay is mild and creamy, a good match to these lighter flavoured momos. One day when our regular lunch canteen was closed, I dragged a group of co-workers to UMS. None of them had been there before but everyone agreed that the cheese momos were excellent so I felt vindicated about my opinion.
UMS Cafe, Thimphu
UMS Cafe, Thimphu

Cheese momos from Ugyen Hotel
Lastly, I must mention Ugyen Hotel which is a hotel/bar/restaurant/drayang (cabaret). I only went to Ugyen Hotel once, on my last night in Thimphu while in search of beer and Dzongkha tunes to soothe the heartache of departure. We ordered beers and a plate of momos, then more beer and another plate of momos. All the while, the ladies swayed and sang on the stage. These cheese momos looked cold and rubbery on the plate but they were actually really tasty. The eezay was almost like a salsa, with the fresh ingredients diced and tossed together instead of blended. It just goes to show how many variations there can be on chili dipping sauce. In summary, these are very good momos which also come with a stage show. Two thumbs up!

Side notes: there is at least one wandering momo selling man in town, and probably many more. He hauls around a large tub of momos, a stack of paper plates and a jug of eezay. The momos from the bottom of the tub tend to be lukewarm and mashed together but hey, you can buy them without even leaving the office building so that makes up for a lot.
wandering momo seller

Also, the small kitchen at VAST Bhutan at the Clock Tower Square sometimes serves ema datse-stuffed momos, which is a very peculiar invention of extreme Bhutanese-ness.
UPDATE: The VAST studio is not there any more, either. Things change so fast in Thimphu.
Ema datshi momos from VAST cafe

PS: I stuck these four restaurants on a Google map, here.


Debbie said...

ah, my nieces inform me that their favourite place for beef momos is zombala, and for cheese momos, a place called "daichee"...more family opinions to roll in once DHN and sis-in-law get home from the office, i'm sure!

foto passion said...

really,interesting,,the zomala have beef moms..only!:(
i am veg,,but its a busiest momo,,restaurant.

Nice Blog!

Debbie said...

follow-up! DHN says he likes his elder sister's cheese momos the best. i told him that's not really applicable to this post, so he clarified that he doesn't usually order cheese momos while out, because he thinks restaurants usually use too much onion in their filling for his tastes. :(

Lara said...

My mouth is watering! There's nothing better to me than dumplings, raviolis, pierogies... so comforting!
I've had crab rangoons w/ cream cheese but not an actual steamed cheese dumpling. Sounds delicious!

PaSsu said...

Upon your recommendation I visited UMS with my family, and guess what- I am thoroughly satisfied with the taste of momo there. You seem to know far more than any least in momo lol

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