Many moons ago I was walking with my then-not-yet-ex in Yorkville when we stumbled across a tiny Tibetan restaurant nestled in the basement nondescript building. Intrigued, we went in and our love affair with the Himalayan nation’s food began. They had the best lentil soup in the world, plus a fantastic dish called shapta (a beef and onion dish), chick pea salad and the delightful Tibetan version of potstickers called “momos” all if which became a regular part of our dining repertoire. The restaurant was called Little Tibet and run by the absolutely lovely Gongya family who added calm, gentle and often giggly* service to the menu. One sad day we discovered that the little gem in Yorkville was closed, but a short while later we discovered the new location on Queen West and the love affair was resumed. Sadly for us the owners eventually retired and we entered a momo desert. Some years later, when the Ex really was an ex, he moved to the Parkdale area which was earning the moniker “Little Tibet” but could he not find a place that rose to the level of our first experience with the cuisine.
While traipsing through some of the event sites that I frequent I found a listing for a “Momo Crawl” which promised a sample of the plump little darlings from eight different restaurants in the Little Tibet neighbourhood. The event was hosted by Students for a Free Tibet, so it was for a good cause plus the chance to find the best new restaurant to fill the dining void. I bought two passes, invited the Ex (both for sentimental and practical reasons as Long was unavailable) and got ready to dumpling down.
The event was scheduled to start at 11:00 AM on a Sunday. Past experience has taught me to show up at these things as early as possible to catch everyone while supplies and energy levels are still high. The day before the event I received an email asking the participants to arrive at noon rather than 11:00 so we adjusted our schedules accordingly. My co-eater and I arranged to meet at the designated start, which was literally at the bottom of his street. It was there that I got my first hint that things might not go off without a hitch. The gang seemed entirely frazzled and had not really started to get things set up. As I had signed up at first note we were given some “prayer shawls” as an expression of gratitude. I tucked these away as it was about 30 degrees centigrade and too hot for a scarf of any description, prayer or otherwise.
We were also given some fun passports to be stamped at each of the destinations
The passport also gave a description of the neighbourhood and a summary of what a momo is.
Passports issued, we started to crawl. I took a number of photos of the restaurants and their samples but my camera was on the wrong setting and they were all overexposed. One did turn out. Rest assured, they all look pretty much the same.
We decided to start at the easternmost restaurant but poked our head in to Norling on the way as it had been recommended to us by the original Little Tibet owners. The gentleman behind the counter looked genuinely startled when I asked him if I could have a momo sample. He told me that the organizers were supposed to have sent two staff to help him set up and let him know when to start cooking. It was about 10 minutes past the noon, so past the revised start time and fully over an hour from the originally advertised commencement. I advised him to get some started as he would likely be inundated by dozens of hungry patrons in the next minute or so and he scooted off to find the organizers. Slightly wary we made our way to Lhasa Kitchen where a very earnest young man told us that they would be ready to serve in about fifteen minutes, and he suggested we try across the street at Loga’s who he thought were probably set up. We made our way over and in to a place that looked like someone was renovating their living room.
After a minute or two a young boy emerged who looked frightened by our presence and called his father. The dad placed an order for us and told us to return in 10-15 minutes. It didn’t look like he knew there even was a momo tour, so we decamped back to Lhasa Kitchen where we reasoned we could at least sit indoors and have some water while we waited for their dumplings to cook. I was getting disgruntled. It seemed like no one had a handle on what was happening, there was mass confusion and by this time the other tour participants were arriving in droves. My companion gently reminded me that what we were taking part in was NOT really a food tour but rather a charity with a food experience adjunct to it. This seemed reasonable – I couldn’t really expect Students For A Free Tibet to have any experience putting something like this together but I am glad they did. Duly chastened, we split up and The Ex when back to Loga’s to retrieve our order while I waited on Lhasa Kitchen. With a momo in each hand we began in earnest.
As I do not have photos of each place and all momos look pretty much the same I will limit myself to a dissemination of the offerings:
Lhasa Kitchen: Both meat and veggie options had a thick, sticky shell. The vegetarian version was made up of carrot, onion and cabbage with subtle flavours. The meat had a ground beef textured filling with rather bland spicing.
Loga’s Momo Corner: The beef was dense and well spiced with a lighter firmer shell. This was one of my top meat votes. At the time they had no veggie options but we looped back. It was also good and densely packed but the meat was the winner here.
Om Kitchen: They offered both meat and vegetarian momos with a fresh brightly coloured and mild sauce. The veggie option here had bits of mushrooms and perfect spicing. This was my favourite veggie option and we came back for a second round.
Norling: We had high hopes for Norling, it having been given the stamp of approval from our Little Tibet friends. Unfortunately they had run out of the vegetarian version but the meat was big and stuffed fat with well spiced meat. They offered a sesame oil drizzle which was delicious and also had a wicked hot sauce. This was one of my favourite meat options – maybe a coin toss for the winner with Loga’s.
Himalayan Kitchen: Both mild and spicy sauces were on the offer. The meat option had big chunks of onion (favoured by the Ex, not so much by me) and the vegetarian had a more traditionally Chinese taste than the others we had sampled.
Tsampa Cafe: The had also run out of veggie options by the time we arrived – problematic as it seemed like many people on the tour were vegetarians and several were getting irked about the dearth of product. The beef option had a distinct and slightly overwhelming cumin flavour.
Tibet Kitchen: Again, beef only option to be had with a sesame oil drizzle. This one was right up the middle. Not bad, but not extraordinary
Shangrila Restaurant: This was the Westernmost and last restaurant on the tour and also to my mind the lowest in rank. The vegetarian dumping was mushy and cabbage heavy while the beef tasted slight gamey and undercooked. Neither option had been effectively drained so they spurted juice when bitten.
We had 10 stamps apiece so we looped back for a vegetarian momo from Om and a meat dumpling from Loga’s to fill out the passport requirements (plus we are gluttons). I think in the future I will get take out from Loga’s and try both Norling and Om for a sit down meal. Despite its shaky start I hope the crawl was a roaring success for the students who organized it. It was a good cause, I got newly indoctrinated in Tibetan love and I even got a shawl to show for it.
*All the Tibetans I have met have loved to laugh. Check this video of the Dalai Lama and his fantastic giggle https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fYTsM1KSxk