It was December 2018 when Tibetan immigrant, Wangdak Tagsar, who also goes by Jimmy — a former caterer in Queens for 20 years — opened Catskill Momos in Delhi, New York.
Delhi dates back to 1798, with a population of around 5,000, situated in a remote western corner of the Catskill Mountains near the headwaters of the Delaware River. Among rolling hills, the town boasts a SUNY branch and about 10 restaurants at any given time, mainly calculated to appeal to tourists. In case you wondered, the town was named after Delhi, India in 1798 by founder Ebenezer Foote, a local judge who liked to call himself the Great Mogul.
I asked Tagsar how Himalayan immigrants had ended up here. He assured me there were very few Tibetans living in the area, and that most had come here to teach in the Buddhist retreats that dot the mountain range.
Like many of the restaurants here and in surrounding mountain towns, Catskill Momos is open only on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, catering to tourist crowds. (It is open at a farmers market on Wednesday, too.) The menu is brief, concentrating on seven kinds of momos and four dishes of hand-pulled noodles served in stir-fries and soups. The Saturday I arrived around noon, Tagsar found himself shorthanded and was busy making calls to try to recruit another worker or two to help him. He told me he was catering a dinner for 60 at the university that evening.
Only part of the menu was available, so I ordered what he had. He has made some modest modifications to the usual momo recipe, using locally available and seasonal crops where possible. I thoroughly enjoyed my plate of mushroom momos ($11), which contained shallots, tofu, scallions, cabbage, and black sesame oil. In the winter, he stuffs momos with pumpkin.
Even better than the mushroom momos were the jhol momos ($12), stuffed with beef and served on a plate squirted fancifully with yogurt and a tomato chutney that, in its subtlety, tasted like a fancy sauce that might be found in a luxury restaurant, different than the coarse chile sauce served with momos at the carts of Jackson Heights. The menu has accumulated a handful of other dishes that aren’t Tibetan, including Chinese spring rolls, edamame, and ramen, which Tagsar said was a popular carryout item in winter.
I was irresistibly drawn to the butter chicken ($15), a northern Indian dish that has become wildly popular. It came with brown basmati rice and a flaky paratha, the chicken tidbits swimming in a buttery and sharply flavored sauce as good as any I’ve had in the city.
Inevitably, our talk turned to the Tibetan and Nepalese restaurants of Jackson Heights, and we both had praise for Phayul. I mentioned that a couple of dishes there including the blood sausage used Sichuan peppercorns, which Tibetans living in Chengdu had brought back with them. Flashing a broad smile, he mentioned he uses them at home, but didn’t think they would fly in his Catskill restaurant.