The food court at Center Ithaca feels like an uncrowded version of an Ithacan festival. Most fest goers, I’d argue, are lured to the Commons by one thing: diverse ethnic food. The same attraction can be found in Center Ithaca, the commercial space deep in the belly of the Commons. The area houses a permanent international food bazaar in its food court. Among the food stands, the Tibetan Momo Bar cooks up East Asian lunches Monday through Saturday.
The Bar’s namesake — the momo — is a Tibetan dumpling. The half-moon momos resemble plump pierogis, Polish dumplings, and their slimmer Japanese cousins, gyozas, with their soft, chewy dough. The momo is the most traditional Tibetan dish served by the Center Ithaca stand, according to owner and cook Yeshi Tsondu. Eight steamed momos come with a side of lightly seasoned shredded cabbage and carrot salad.
Inside the mixed vegetable momos is a soft filling of chopped cabbage, carrots, vermicelli noodles, and spinach, salted with a heavy hand. The filling tastes similar to the guts of a vegetarian egg roll, but less greasy. The whole momo meal, priced at around $7, is filling, though the novelty of the chewy, doughy dumplings wears off after only eating a few. The sauces at the counter help make the meal less bland. The DayGlo orange sriracha-mayo sauce in particular was a highlight of the meal, adding a hint of spice restrained by cool creaminess.
The Tibetan Momo Bar also serves value Asian takeout meals: huge portions of mildly seasoned noodle dishes “to go” and affordable Japanese maki rolls. Tsondu throws heaps of noodles, shredded onions, green peppers, carrots and shrimp onto a smoking hot griddle and tosses the mixture until the shrimp lo mein is a toasty shade of brown. The resulting meal is large enough for three solid lunches but lacks enough salt for one. More soy sauce, however, can fix this, and the dish is a welcome alternative to Ithaca’s saltier Asian takeout options.
Much like any Ithaca festival vendor, the Tsondu family are friendly and offer large portions of Tibetan or East Asian-inspired dishes for reasonable prices. Though the Tibetan Momo Bar’s takeout is hardly a beacon of awesomeness in a town full of Asian takeout options, the stand is nevertheless a respectable Ithacan alternative to pizza.