Gangri's Sui Mai, the 15-year-old Teku institution, serves up the most innovative momos in town. Weekend nights are busiest, but it's packed most weekdays between 6 and 7:30 pm as well. The half Tibetan-half Newar family-owned business has raked in customers since 1986 with its winning combination of low-key atmosphere, consistently good food and fast service.
The core competency at Sui Mai are the momos, which come in two styles-Sui Mai Special Open Momo (SOM) and Closed Tibetan. The SOM is ergonomically designed-paper-thin skin holds the filling together at the base, gracefully fluting into four separate compartments towards the top of the momo, giving it a distinctive and flower-like look. The true utility of the design is clear once the sauces arrive. No less than three delectable sauces are presented, refilled by attentive waiters as soon as you need a top-up. The first sauce is standard fare, dull red, packed with tomatoes and a hint of spice. The second is light, translucent and very spicy, a blend of green chillies and freshly shredded coriander. The third and ultimate sauce is an eclectic blend of peanuts, onions, a touch of red chilli powder, and what we think may have been coconut. Sweet but subtle, hot and crunchy all at the same time-outrageous.
Repeated pleas to be told exactly what was in the sauce elicited vague and almost shy responses from the extremely polite waiters clad in green and brown jackets. In desperation, they pointed us towards the owner's brother, who told us that his brother makes the sauce himself, and no one else knows what is in it. Their Tibetan mother brought the recipe with her when she moved to Kathmandu, and she's not telling!
The idea is to fill each compartment of the ten open momos with a different sauce, which results in a flavour explosion. Since there are four compartments for each momo, and three sauces, life gets a little complicated-just duplicate your favourite sauce in diagonal compartments for the best effect. We like to start off with a complete peanut sauce momo, followed by a peanut sauce mixed with green sauce momo, and then a mixture of all three sauces for the next seven momos. Of course the final momo has to be pure peanut, as this sauce is truly irresistible. Like most Tibetan momos, Sui Mai's are more meat than dough, allowing one to easily polish off a platter of ten in under ten minutes. Momos come in chicken (Rs 55), and buff and vegetable (Rs 35). Excellent value.
Sui Mai's menu is extensive-snacks include interesting offerings like Chicken Beachcumber, Prawn Russian Hills and Chicken Ham Spring Roll. Main dishes range from Chinese style Chicken with Mushroom in Garlic Sauce to Continental Fish and Chips to Mushroom Cauliflower Curry Indian Style. These are all equally indifferent in flavour and presentation, with the exception of Garlic Ginger Fish with pan-fried noodles. This proved to be surprisingly good value at Rs 110 a portion-boneless chunks of fish (with slightly too much batter), lightly tossed with shredded ginger on a bed of sweet and tangy garlic crusted noodles.
The soup menu is substantial, with 10 options, and again, excellent value for money, with most dishes in this section priced at Rs 35-40. Portions are generous and packed with meat, making for a nourishing one-dish budget meal on a not-so-hungry day. Peking Hot and Sour turned out to be the perfect choice for a cold evening, tongue-numbingly hot with shredded chicken and elephant mushrooms, with caramelised carrots providing a rich sauce. The Hot Minchow is a light egg drop soup, with minced mushrooms, garnished with crunchy green celery.
Talumein, Chicken Clear Soup, and Buff Wonton Soup are also good bets.
Highly recommend-starting with a soup, and then an order of momos, which will set you back less than Rs 100 per head. Service is super-fast, so first order the soup and then the momos, otherwise they may arrive at the same time. The music is usually reliable-Dire Straits on Wednesdays and Nepali folk/pop on Sundays. The constant chirping twitter of the bell that signals fresh momos coming out of the steamer can also keep one entertained for a while if there's an unusual delay.
Gangri's Sui Mai has a Sino-Tibetan atmosphere with a fair bit of d?cor on the green walls-red lamps which seem mandatory in any place that serves 'Chicken in Hot Garlic Sauce', to painted fans with graceful flying birds on them. Shao Mai, Shui Mai and Shio Mei all mean "dumpling" in Chinese. Although the term usually refers to shrimp or pork dumplings, neither of which is served at Gangri's Sui Mai, the connection is unmistakable.
Since peanut sauce is usually eaten only with grilled or roasted meats in Chinese cuisine, Gangri's Sui Mai's innovative approach towards creating exciting fusion cuisine is truly creditable-changing people's perceptions is no easy task. But the double row of motorbikes parked outside, the tables packed with couples out for a quick meal, expats in the know, and business people quaffing their own rum in a quiet corner, shows that if you offer Kathmandu diners consistent quality along with a new twist, they'll keep coming.