Water buffalo jerky

Drawn to Houston by its broad educational and entrepreneurial opportunities, three ambitious young people from Nepal encountered a dilemma shortly after they met here a few years ago.

In a city full of international restaurants, the new friends from the Himalayan high country that borders India could not find an authentic Nepali restaurant. Sure, there were a few that advertised Nepali food, but their menus leaned heavily on Indian cuisine.

So the trio — Geet Lama, Sajani Prajapati and Ashesh Rai, all in their 30s — did what they had to do: They opened Momo House, 6121 Hillcroft Ave., an authentic Nepalese restaurant, in the Gulfton Area Management District.

To them, an authentic Nepalese restaurant would offer fare for traditional holiday celebrations as well as the food their families cooked for them at home every day.

One look at the Momo House menu leaves no doubt about authenticity. Right there along with seven varieties of the namesake momos — the delicate handmade dumplings filled with ground meat and vegetables — and rajshahi, which is stir-fried goat testicles served with beaten rice.

There are also chatpate (Nepali street food made with  puffed rice), wai wai noodles tossed in tangy raw spices  and Bhutan (stir-fried goat intestine, liver, heart and kidney served with onions, tomatoes and Nepali sauces).

While newcomers to Nepali cuisine may find the experience a bit intimidating, when broken down into its base flavors, textures, sauces and seasonings, Momo House provides a sometimes simple, sometimes exotic, palate-pleasing dining adventure.

Embracing the fare at Momo House also is an invitation to learn about the culture, traditions and customs of Nepal. For example, you won’t find any prime cuts of black Angus beef on the menu.  Nepal is primarily a Hindu country where cattle are revered and
not eaten.

And out of respect to the country’s Muslim population,  pork is also absent from the daily fare. But water buffalo and goat are savored, and they are well represented on the menu at Momo House.

In addition to Nepali and Indian diners accustomed to the food, Lama said, Houstonians who have visited Nepal or plan to visit also are frequent customers.

At Momo House they will find Nepal thali, the traditional dish and staple food of the country, consisting of rice, lentil and vegetables and served with chicken, mutton or fish. Sesame, tomatoes,  herbs, onions and garlic are mixed together and blended to make the sauce.

Another popular menu item for newcomers as well as Nepalis is the fried momo chilly dumpling, which is stuffed in a rice wrapper with ground chicken mixed with cilantro.

“When Nepali people – students and working people – come into  the restaurant, they look for thali, they want to eat like they do at home,” Lama said. “They want the flavors and food that they grew  up with but they don’t have time to do it at home.”

Exotic menu items include the stomach parts of a goat.

“Whenever we have a festival, we will always have a whole goat and we will clean and prepare the  goat ourselves,” Lama said.

Another popular exotic food is jerky prepared from a water buffalo and served as an appetizer. It’s dried and served with red chieura, a crunchy, easily digestible beaten rice.

Dried and beaten rice is also eaten straight as a  snack in Nepal.

Geet Lama

“It is like a cereal, an oatmeal, you  can put it in milk or you can eat it straight up,” Lama said.

Head meat from a neutered goat, popular in Nepal and India, is also available.

“It has to be a neutered goat. We do not like a smelly goat even after it is cooked, Lama said: “When a neutered goat grows up, it doesn’t smell.”

The restaurant has added a liquor license in recent years and offers a full bar. Available are Khukhri rum from Kathmandu (Nepal’s capital city), a  molasses spirit aged in a wooden vat for eight months, and San  Miguel, a beer brewed in the Philippines and Europe that is popular in Nepal.

A meal can be topped off with a rice flour dumpling dessert called yomari that can be served stuffed with chocolate or coconut, and a cup of Nepali chiya, a milk-based spiced tea.

Lama, 35, grew up in Kathmandu. She came to Houston in 2017  after hearing that it was a great place to start a business. She has a brother and two sisters in Nepal and her family is in the clothing business.

When she first came to  Houston she thought she would go back home after a short stay.  But that changed.

“Now I am so used to it here. When I go  back to (Nepal) to visit, I think about Houston.”

Co-owner Prajapati, 34, came to Houston as a student and now works in human resources for a restaurant chain.

Rai, 35, is the full-time chef at Momo House. He learned his culinary skills in Nepali cooking for his family.

While the trio were about to select another site for the restaurant, a small cafeteria, they came upon the Gulfton location, a  former Indian sweets shop, in the United Plaza strip shopping  center. The location includes other international restaurants and a Pakistani grocery store.

“People come shopping here and they  see us,” Lama said.
The Gulfton restaurant also is only a few blocks away, just across the Southwest Freeway from the Mahatma Gandhi District, a center of Indian and South Asian restaurants and culture in Texas. India borders Nepal and Nepalese specialties are popular with its neighbors.

“A lot of  Nepalese live in the northeast side of India,” Lama said. “That is probably why the momo is popular there.”

The colorful decor of the restaurant —  with a domed ceiling, colored lights, prayer flags and water buffalo mounted on the wall — reflects the energy and passion that the owners have brought to the enterprise.

Asked about other exotic international foods that she has discovered after arriving in Houston from Katmandu, Lama didn’t hesitate:  “I like tacos in Houston. When I am too lazy to cook at night, I eat tacos.”


6121 Hillcroft

Open 11 a.m. to midnight, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

— by Phil Shook