Lovely Lady Languid triggers this off. “Such wonderful momos,” she sighs, swivelling on her seat. “Set in soup twanging with ginger, bright with julienned carrots,” she adds, dreamily closing her eyes. We bounce about excitedly. “Where, where, where?”
Thus begins our seemingly endless search for the perfect momo.
“You need to be patient,” Lady L whispers taking a delicate sip of oolong tea, as we grab dog-eared notebooks to draw misshapen maps. “Under the bridge, beyond the mangoes, behind the jasmine, beside the man who yawns.” She pauses to gaze into the horizon. “Then, push the door open. Inside, you'll find a Dalai Lama picture. Under that, there's a bell. Ring for momos.”
We grab our bags. She raises a bejewelled finger, cautioning, “Be philosophical. Remember… We do not always receive all that we desire.”
So, in the sweaty dusk we dash between bad-tempered autos and grouchy pedestrians, knock over a mango or two and elbow the yawning man, who proves to be spectacularly unhelpful.
Then, we see it. A gaping doorway, veiled in darkness and strewn with plastic. By the light of our cell phones we tumble into the corridor, patting the wall in search of that mysterious door. It's locked.
Keeping in mind the need to “accept fate” we head down the road and drown our sorrows in startling amounts of spongy mouchak, luscious rasgullas dark with palm jaggery and chaat rich with lashings of creamy curd at Kolkata Mithai Bhavan. (Phone: 2345 1297.)
Day two. Traffic, mangoes, jasmine routine. Back in the now-familiar darkness. The door's still locked. “What will be, will be.”
We dine at quiet Shree Bhavan on Village Road instead. With its old-fashioned wooden chairs, Horlicks station and verbal menus, it's deliciously comforting. Amid substantial ghee roasts, we remember road trips in the days before the dosa got homogenised by big chains. We also discover their feisty attempt to take on the Military Messes of the world — Chukka dosa, beefy with soya chunks.
Day three. We're getting smarter, so we call first. They're closed.
Day four. Rumour has it that they're open, as long as supplies last. Plunge into traffic. Mango man's given way to a jackfruit man. “Time changes everything.” Jasmine seller. Dark corridor. And glory be — the door is open. Kailash Kitchen, land of the elusive momo beckons.
Maybe it's the anticipation but it's delightful: Covered in bamboo, strung with colourful prayer flags and filled with music from 90210 courtesy a beat-up TV. There are just four tables, three already packed with trendy young Tibetans, in vociferously spiky hair, skinny t-shirts and gravity-defying jeans. Nobody pays us any attention. We find the Dalai Lama picture, and ring the bell.
A waiter suddenly materialises. Delighted, we begin to reel off items from the menu. “Tsow Tse Mein?” No. “Thai rice noodles?” No. “Alu Ping She” No.
Must. Be. Philosophical. “Chicken momo?” No. “Vegetable momo” No. “Beef Momo.” Yes. Phew.
They come stacked on a plate, translucent, wobbly and steaming. Stuffed and steamed skilfully, they're bright with flavour. Emboldened we ask for mok thuk, which arrives in a huge steaming bowl fragrant with spring onions and bobbing with juicy momos.
Run by friendly Tashi, who comes out to say hello, Kailash Kitchen has been around for more than two years.
Ever since he graduated from Loyola, in fact. He got the idea from his friends who craved momos, called his Tibetan parents for the recipes, and then worked on perfecting them. (Since he primarily caters to the college crowd, and holidays are on, the restaurant's been taking it easy.)
Although it's as hot as soup inside, we savour chow mein, with fine glossy noodles speckled with sunshine yellow scrambled egg. It's teamed with chilly beef, exasperatingly tough but tasty. Perhaps there's a lesson there too.
Kailash Kitchen is at Perniba Vilas Complex near Nungambakkam station on Choolaimedu High Road. A meal for two costs Rs. 150. Call 044-32452266 or 9840261399 for directions.
And remember — que sera sera.