In between all the planning, reading, researching, and making itineraries for Bhutan that I have been doing, I got hungry. I decided it was time for me to try some Bhutanese food before I traveled to the country. In Seattle, however, I could not find any truly Bhutanese restaurant, which is unfortunate. Instead though, I was told of a Tibetan restaurant, Ting Momo. The fact that I was about to partake in a truly tasty Tibetan meal didn’t matter too much because some Bhutanese food is Tibetan-style.
Making the Momo
Walking into Ting Momo for lunch, I first noticed photos of Tibetans along the side wall by the door. Next what caught my eye was the counter where you can watch the preparation of the momo, a type of steamed or fried dumpling, native to both the Nepali part of the Himalayas and to Tibet, but also a traditional delicacy in Bhutan. The momo can be filled with meat, vegetables, or cheese, and at the counter of Ting Momo, you can see the cooks carefully hand-wrapping each dumpling.
A picture and brief description of the Chef de Cuisine, a sweet woman named Dekyi Thonden, are on the wall above the momo preparation counter. I had the privilege of meeting this woman while I ate at Ting Momo. Ms. Thonden was born in Tibet, but mostly lived in India where she studied the culinary arts, including Indian and Tibetan food. Ms. Thonden has even cooked for the Dalai Lama!
After asking the hostess for some guidance on what to order, I settled on three dishes that felt like they would give me a great sampling of Tibetan (and Bhutanese) food.
Azag Azog Combo Plate
When I travel, I tend to eat vegetarian, but I chose to order the Azag Azog Combo plate, consisting of three variations of the momo dumplings, two of which were filled with meat. The yak momo is a small-sized soft steamed dumpling filled with yak, star anise, bay leaf, and cranberry. I figured I would try yak, as Bhutanese eat this type of meat. It had a mild taste to me, not a heavy meaty one, which I liked. The eggplant tingmo, a vegetarian dish, is a slightly larger steamed dumpling filled with curried crimson eggplant, Walla Walla onion, and red curry. The pork samo is a fried dumpling filled with pork, cumin, coriander, and apricot. All three were very tasty!
You can also order the entirely vegetarian versions of the momo, samo, and tingmo in the Garden Plate Combo. You get the same eggplant tingmo as above, plus the mushroom tingmo (shiitake mushroom, bamboo shoots, yellow curry, and currants), and the potato samo (potato, English peas, oyster mushroom, and orange zest). Another option is to order just order any of these three dumplings only, either with meat or vegetarian, via the Momo Plate, Samo Plate, or Tingmo Plate.
When you choose one of the combo plates, you can add on thenthuk, which is a soup made with thukpa (hand-pulled noodles), red pepper, shiitake mushrooms, and ginger broth. I decided to try this soup, because barthu, the Bhutanese version of thukpa, which may be fried or in a soup, is something that I will encounter in Bhutan.
Thenthuk Thukpa Soup
And if you thought that would be enough to eat, I also decided to try a Chicken Curry Salad, accented with grapes and cashews, and served on a bed of mixed greens. I liked that it was not too heavy on the curry flavor.
Chicken Curry Salad
After ordering all this at the counter, they call your name when the food is ready. Grabbing a pair of chopsticks, wrapped in paper decorated with the Ting Momo name, and napkins also decorated with the restaurant’s name, I began to eat this truly flavorful, healthy, and wonderful meal.
Towards the end of my lunch, Ms. Thonden came over to talk to me. She explained how all the food is fresh, made daily, and hand-prepared, and she even showed me a sample of the chickpeas that she uses. “They are not from a can,” she tells me. “They are fresh.” Used to make a side dish, Chickpea Salad, with red pepper, celery, and a nice sweet sauce, I ate not only the salad which came with my combo plate, but tried a few fresh chickpeas as well.
The Azag Azog Combo also came with two dipping sauces, one of which is named after Ms. Thonden, Dekyi Sauce, probably one of her creations. She told me the ingredients, but I did not write them down in case they are her trade secret.
The ambience of the restaurant was classy, but not overly fancy. Music played in the background. Some long tables seemed to be made of wood, and you can either sit on wooden stools or rattan chairs. Other photos decorate one wall showing the steps of the preparation of the dumplings.
Finally, to top off my meal, dessert consisted both of a star anise shortbread and two cardamom meringue, which melt in your mouth.
Of course there are other options on the menu at Ting Momo, but what I ordered seemed to be a great overall sampling of Tibetan food, and even Bhutanese food. While I could write a whole other blog on traditional Bhutanese food that I will eat during my travels, it seems like I will be eating some good food in Bhutan!
Sweet (and delicious) Travels!
Here is a link to a very nice article about Dekyi Thonden, her life and her cooking, and a video interview:
From Tibet to Seattle, the journey of an enduring chef, by Martha Kang
For more delicious food, check out WanderFood Wednesday.