Being in Bhutan means adjusting how you celebrate March Madness. This year we filled out our brackets with momo restaurants instead of basketball teams.
Momos are the ubiquitous fast food of Bhutan. They can be found from high-end tourist restaurants to street-level hawkers. I’ve eaten them in hospital canteens, at picnics, off plates and out of plastic bags. They were even offered as a post-race snack at the Bhutan International Marathon.
Usually steamed, these little dumplings traditionally come in two flavors, meat (ground beef) or vegetarian (cabbage-cheese mixture). Occasionally fried, they always come 5 to a plate, with a good-sized dollop of chili.
Oddly, momos are not Bhutanese at all, but a Tibetan import. And like many things Tibetan, they flourish outside their Chinese-occupied homeland.
Having eaten hundreds of momos, and inspired by our friends Eat Your World, we decided to create a momo-lovers guide to Thimphu. So, for any future volunteers, or tourists who can escape the guide-approved trail of bland buffets, we offer to you the standouts of the Thimphu momo scene.
Please note, only veg momos were sampled during our research, as most were had during one of Bhutan’s meatless months.
#1 Momo Corner
Nestled next to the rice merchant’s area of the weekend market, these have to be our favorite momos in the capital. It is said the 5th king enjoys eating here. However, royal recognition is not the sole reason for their popularity. They seem to have the highest cheese to cabbage ratio (a bonus in our book) and both steamed and fried are on offer. Only open on market days, seating is sparse so be prepared to jostle.
#2 Zambala 1
Just above the Hong Kong market, don’t confuse this with the unrelated Zambala 2. The second iteration is an spacious second-floor restaurant near the traffic circle. Where as Zambala 1 is the quintessential momo dive, located down a small alley with plastic chair seating and camp-level hygiene standards. Locals agree this was the best momo in all of Thimphu until Momo Corner came to town. Many loyal adherents still claim they’re the best. An added bonus of Zamabala 1, is the option to wash down your snack with a cold beer.
A hip coffee bar for upscale Bhutanese, these guys offer the national dish, Ema Datsi, stuffed into a steamed momo. Consider ordering something to quench the fire, as Ema Datsi is strips of dried red chili floating in a cheese sauce.
Also in the Hong Kong market neighborhood, our favorite on the menu is the potato momo. These little morsels are pure comfort food. Imagine snacking on steamed packets of chive spiced mashed potato.
Having organized the first ever Thimphu momo crawl, byerswithoutborders was excited to hear that the coffee shop on the first floor of the ……… hotel offered a Nutella momo. Desert momo!!!! What a perfect way to end our gut busting tour. We should of known something was amiss when they brought the chili paste to the table. In a classic Asian twist of fate, Bhutanese translate Nutella as soy chunks. So consider the Busy Bean for a nice vegetarian snack, but sweet tooths should give it a pass.