The momo, the Tibetan dumpling, could be considered the unofficial “spokesfood” of Tibetan Cuisine. You might feel inclined to dismiss these as merely ubiquitous dumplings within our fine metropolis but the difference is in the details.
Taking its name from Potala Palace, former home of the Dalai Lamas of Tibet, Potala Fresh Momo in Jackson Heights, Queens is a symbol of the fairly recent rapid influx of Tibetan, Nepalese and Himalayan people making the cultural blend even more complex. It’s one thing to see a sit-down restaurant in an area, but when something as casual as a food cart appears, you know that the culture has a stronghold in the neighborhood.
Eight momo for five bucks may not sound like much by non-Long Island City, Queens standards but trust me, these are filling. Momo skins are on the thicker side, though oddly thicker than Chinese soup dumplings, which hold actual soup along with pork filling. Instead, the momo contains a densely packed, savory beef meatball, while still retaining the juiciness.
A word on meat: Momo come in all kinds, but most popular, most traditional and notorious to those who know is the use of yak meat. Yak meat is not easy to come by here in the states, so in lieu, many Tibetan-American homes will use beef as an alternative. Yak is a bovine but it is a little coarser in texture than beef, with a slight sweetness and an extremely lean red meat. This is likely why the meat within the momo is so dense–using a low fat content ground beef to simulate yak.
It might be the general heaviness or the simple flavors that make these evoke a comfort food feeling. Salt, green onion, a little ginger and, unlike most dumplings, the natural savory quality of the meat goes unmasked. It really has that simple handmade, homemade feel.
The sauce is just about all red chili. From what I can taste, it has just a little bit of salt, oil, water and red chili. The sauce is pretty much designed for the momo alone, allowing for any balancing flavors to come from the momo itself.
An extra treat that goes well with momo and can cut the heat is Tibetan butter tea. Go down the block and up some stairs to Phayul and get one for a dollar.
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