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Momo Moments in the East Village

31 Jul

Cafe Himalaya

“What made you choose this place?” I asked Eugene as our group convened at the Cafe Himalaya in the East Village.

“We’ve never had Himalayan food before,” was his response.

“Himalayan food?”


“You mean, Tibetan and Nepali food,” I said, pointing to what was written under the restaurant’s awning and on the menu.

“No Himalayan,” Eugene corrected me.

“But isn’t Himalayan food from Tibet and Nepal?” I queried.

“It is?”

“And didn’t you, several years ago, choose a place called Himalayan Yak?”

Eugene was perplexed. “I did?”

“Yes you did,” I said. “You don’t remember?”

He was lost for a moment and then waved his hand derisively. “How do you expect me to remember these things,” he snapped before quickly proceeding to bury his face in his menu.

This was our second attempt to get to the Cafe Himalaya. Our first, the previous week, was cancelled due to flooding on the Westchester roads. Everyone but Rick was available the following week so rescheduling was easy.

Seating was tight at the Cafe Himalaya. Zio was wedged so tightly between Mike from Yonkers and Eugene it was as if he was encased in a swarthy sausage casing. It didn’t help that the humidity was high and the lone air conditioner was struggling above the constantly opened front door.

Not much help there.

Not much help there.

Business was brisk, both outgoing and at the tables. Our harried waitress didn’t waste any time arriving at our table with pencil and pad in hand ready to take our order. Though we did visit a “Himalayan” place several years ago, Himalayan Yak (Yak Under the Tracks) did not have momos (dumplings) on the menu. Cafe Himalaya did, however, and we ordered two, one, pan-fried and stuffed with potato and the other, steamed and filled with ground chicken and herbs.

The café’s most popular dishes were written on the blackboard above the entrance to the kitchen and most of us ordered from there including myself when I ordered the tsel dofu, or vegetables and tofu in a spicy sauce.

Where the rest of us pointed to what we wanted on the menu or recited the corresponding number, Mike from Yonkers, in his best Tibetan, barked “Shapta,” to the waitress as she came to him for his order. But either she didn’t hear or she just wasn’t used to someone actually reciting the food they wanted to order.

“Shapta,” he repeated in a louder voice and this time she understood.

The momos came out first; the “tsel” or vegetarian, in my opinion, the better of the two. The chicken momo was an acquired taste and one I could not find it in myself to acquire. Despite our typically overwhelming hunger, there were momos left on our plates—a sign that at Himalaya Café the momos were mediocre.

Steamed chicken momos

Steamed chicken momos

When our entrees began to arrive the waitress called out “shapta.” I knew I didn’t order the shapta but no one was responding. She said it again and Mike from Yonkers waved his hand. “Shapta over here,” he said and she placed the platter of spicy, thinly sliced beef in front of him.

While Mike from Yonkers was examining his shapta, Eugene was quickly devouring the chicken curry, reminiscent, of Indian chicken curry but with the addition of yogurt giving the sauce a pinkish hue.

“How’s the Himalayan chicken curry,” I asked Eugene, not daring to sample any myself lest I risk getting speared by his rapidly plunging fork.

“It’s good,” he mumbled half-heartedly and then went back to silently devouring his food.

Shapta anyone?

Shapta anyone?

I wasn’t sure what it was Gerry ordered but noticed the pieces of white meat chicken and an abundance of broccoli.

“Chicken and broccoli?” I inquired

“Something like that,” Gerry said after a taste.

Zio’s  “chili chicken” pieces of thin, fried boneless chicken and vegetables, was, from my sampling, very much like Mike from Yonkers’ shapta; the same vegetable and sauce. Though advertised as spicy both dishes benefited by the additional zest provided by the restaurant’s hot sauce.

Spicy Dofu

Spicy Dofu

Crowds were beginning to mingle outside the tiny restaurant. Eyes were on our coveted table. I kept pace with the others as we made quick work of our meals.  Mike from Yonkers, however, crowds be damned, deliberately picked at his shapta, spooning small bits onto a few kernels of Basmati rice before shoveling it into his mouth. It was getting hotter inside the restaurant. Customers waiting for tables were hovering over ours.

“It’s time, Mike,” Eugene bellowed from Zio’s opposite side.

“All right, I’m done,” Mike from Yonkers announced, putting down his fork.

Our bill was quickly brought to us with the final result well under our $20 per person budget.

The view from our table.

The view from our table.

We sprawled out onto Houston Street and as we did, a group of eager Tibetan and/or Nepali food aficionados swooped in and took over our table for four where we had fit five. The momos weighed heavily in my belly. Sweat marks had formed under the armpits of Zio’s stylish extra extra large t-shirt. “Good job, Eugene,” he said. “But I have a question.”

“What’s that?”

“Do you have to wait for a table in Nepal?”

Eugene had no answer of course, but we could all clearly agree that our group of intrepid, yet slovenly diners, during our now 12 year run,  had yet to wait for a table anywhere in our cheap eats hot zone that encompassed, among other places, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Yonkers, and yes, even the rarefied streets of the East Village.

Cafe Himalaya

78 E. 1st St.

East Village

Tomato Sauce in the Raw

11 Sep



Every August or September, Goomba Joe, who I wrote about in these pages regarding his meatballs (Goomba Joe’s Polpette), would invite my family up to his apartment for dinner where one of the courses would undoubtedly be what he called “pasta crudo,” or tomato sauce in the raw. He had a small terrace where, with limited sun, he grew enough tomatoes for a few batches of this uncooked tomato sauce.

Goomba Joe is sadly gone, though now my family has a spacious sunny terrace where, using planters, we can usually grow enough tomatoes for more than just a few batches of pasta crudo. This year because of, let’s see, a cool spring, too much rain, a brutally hot early July followed by a cool August, culminating with an invasion of  tomato hornworms—or any other excuse I can come up with—the terrace tomato crop has been paltry . As of this writing, however, they are making a strong late season comeback and their bounty has yielded enough for at least one good batch of pasta crudo.

The hornworms like their tomatoes raw.

The hornworms like their tomatoes raw.

There really isn’t much to making uncooked tomato sauce. If your tomatoes are ripe, in season summer tomatoes, you can’t go wrong.  The sauce is not exclusive to pasta. It can be used as an Italian salsa or, even better, slathered on crusty bread as a bruschetta topping.

The ingredients are few:

3-4 baseball-sized ripe (but not overripe) tomatoes, chopped

1-2 thinly sliced cloves of garlic*

¾ cup of basil torn into pieces

½ cup of olive oil

1 teaspoon of sea salt

Crushed red pepper to taste

Parmesean Reggiano to taste

1lb of fusilli, rotini, or spaghetti


chopped tomatoes

Put the chopped tomatoes into a non-reactive bowl (glass or ceramic).

Add all the other ingredients and mix delicately with a spoon.

Let the sauce sit or “macerate” for at least one hour. The tomato sauce can sit at room temperature for up to eight hours, any longer I recommend refrigerating and then pulling them out of the refrigerator at least an hour before serving.

Tomatoes and basil

Meanwhile cook one pound of pasta. For this, I used fusilli, but spaghetti works well too.

When the pasta is al dente, drain and add the sauce, mixing well.

Sprinkle generously with grated Parmesean Reggiano or Pecorino Romano.

Tomato sauce in the raw.

Tomato sauce in the raw.

*If you have an aversion to raw garlic even though it has softened during the maceration process from the salt and the acid from the tomatoes, slice or chop it into bigger pieces before adding it to the sauce and then remove it just before serving. Why you would do this, I don’t know.







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