Say what you will about 2017, but for Phuntso Lama, it was a pretty good year—a year of getting things done. The New York expat's successful Nepalese dumpling shop, Momo Ghar, not only celebrated its first year of business in Columbus, Ohio, there was an expansion, too, a rather significant one at that. She bought an old house in a historic section of this growing Midwest city, and if that weren't enough, she managed to find time to scout locations for that full-service spot she eventually wants to open.
Not bad for someone who was very recently thinking of becoming a school bus driver.
A talented home cook with no real interest in running a restaurant, Lama's Momo Ghar (translation: Dumpling House) is one of the most sought-after restaurants in Ohio's quickly-evolving capital; Lama estimates she sells several thousand dumplings a day at the first location, a tiny stall with nine or ten seats in the seafood section of the Saraga Market, a pan-global grocery store in a section of Columbus notable for its highly diverse population. Nobody has had any trouble finding the place—a visitor can typically expect to wait in line. That's fine, because the food—the food Lama has been cooking at home forever, she says—is well worth waiting in line for.
"This kind of happened by accident! Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would open a restaurant," says Lama, who came to the United States from Nepal as a teenager; she eventually went on to run a retail business in Manhattan's West Village, something she did for nearly twenty years.
When she left New York—for love, as happens—Lama decided to take some time off, but early retirement didn't necessarily suit her, and soon it was time to go back to work. Long story short, while considering a wide range of options (and yes, bus driver was one of them), Lama was doing her regular shop at the Saraga Market one day, when she noticed an empty stall, just past a busy taqueria, by the seafood freezers, sporting a "For Lease" sign. Four days later, it was hers.
The food was an instant hit, starting with Lama's own recipe for jhol momo (translation, basically: dumplings in sauce). Crammed with chicken, cilantro and other highly aromatic spices, these perfect dumplings (with from-scratch skins, always) come drifting in a sea of fragrant sauce, with a welcome heat that sneaks up on you.
This dish is a terrific thing to eat anytime—in the dead of winter, even more so. A generous plate of eight plump momos costs just shy of ten dollars. There is house made hot sauce on the side, a fragrant blend of Indian and Mexican peppers. Once you try this food, you will never have any problem finding your way back here.
Not that you need to slog out to that end of town—Lama's operation has been so successful, she was able to snag a spot inside Columbus' centrally-located North Market, famously the spot where Jeni Britton Bauer first started scooping her now nationally-loved Jeni's Ice Creams, way back in 2002. Columbus is clearly hooked on Lama's food—as if the crowds weren't enough, she's got the awards, the reviews and the #1 rankings to be hugely proud of—how does Lama feel about life in Columbus?
"When I moved here, I didn't expect too much, but people are so nice here. I like the diversity, I like that it's growing," she says. "My daughters came out for school, they weren't so sure about being here—now they're thinking about leaving New York, too."