Mechung takes a risk with the momo, but the new incarnation pays offOnce an institution in Boudha, Mechung is trying to forge a new path with a new look.
If you grew up in Boudha in the 90s or early 2000s, you probably ate at Mechung restaurant. For many years, the restaurant, located a stone’s throw from Boudha Stupa’s main gate, was the go-to place for thukpas and momos.
The restaurant wasn’t the cleanest nor was it the most pleasant-looking, but it was beloved. The service was quick, the momos always served on steel plates with a complimentary bowl of bone broth, and thukpas almost always arrived minutes after ordering. You’d bump into your neighbours, relatives and friends, hungrily chomping away at juicy crescent-shaped momos and slurping down long strands of white noodles.
How Mechung got its name is a story of its own. The word, which means a short person, was coined by the locals who dined there because the restaurant had a server who was shorter than four feet. “He was efficient, remembered the orders by heart, and most importantly, was an entertaining character,” a regular at the restaurant said, recalling her years eat there.
After serving hundreds of thousands of plates of momos and thukpas, the restaurant closed down. A few years ago, it then reopened further north of Boudha. But it wasn’t the same. In 2018, Mechung reopened in the exact spot where it initially was. Wanting to discover what this old haunt had to offer, I walked into the restaurant on a recent Sunday evening. The current livery of Mechung is much fancier than what it once was. It is spread across two floors; there's a floating wooden staircase, tiled floors, and comfortable cushioned chairs. Except for the name, the place is devoid of any trace of its past, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
The first things to order is, of course, a plate of buff momo and a bowl of buff thukpa. The momos take more than a few minutes to arrive, and I tell myself that the restaurant is now operating in a wildly different world—maybe it has decided to do away with its lightning-quick service. The momos are smaller than they used to be, but it is the taste of the momos that leave one wondering if the restaurant has perhaps undergone a fundamental shift. The old Mechung was famous for its Tibetan-style momos, which means minimal use of spices, letting the meat and dough take centre-stage. But the restaurant's current version is stuffed with masala-heavy meat, made famous by The Bakery Cafe. Even though the finely minced meat is juicy and the dough packets thin, they do little to recover from the spice-induced shock.
The thukpa, however, remains the same. Even though the colour of the noodles is now yellow instead of white, little else has changed. The noodle bowl is topped with minced meat, which is thankfully not drenched in masala; the bone broth is mild and unseasoned, and the noodles are cooked well.
Mechung's current avatar is not just about momos and thukpas. Their menu—yes, it has a menu now—features the usual fare of chowmein, fried rice, shabhalay, all of which are staples at Boudha restaurants. Of the menu's five pages, three pages are dedicated to Chinese food, which is not surprising given that the number of Chinese restaurants in Boudha has skyrocketed in the past few years.
I order tingmos (Tibetan steamed buns) and buff with potato curry. The presence of red beans in the curry points to the use of Chinese curry paste, which is readily available for purchase at stores these days and is used by many Chinese joints around the city. But compared to many of those restaurants, who tend to overdo the paste, Mechung's chefs have the perfect dosage, not dominating the dish, but still leaving a mild nutty flavour. The thinly sliced potatoes are cooked to the point where it still retains some springiness. The thin shreds of buff are chewy and absorb the spices. The chunks of fresh ginger add pungent zest to the mix. The tingmos are like giant puffy pillows, making them perfect vessels to soak up the pleasingly well-balanced gravy.
For those who have grown up around Boudha, the restaurant's current version of the momo might be hard to shake off. But if you spend a little time and think about it, the move, it becomes clear, is perhaps a tactical one. Boudha today doesn't lack restaurants that do delicious Tibetan-styled momos, and Mechung's decision to do masala-rich momos seems like it is attempting to offer something different. But keeping true to its thukpa recipe, the restaurant gives those yearning for old Mechung something to hold on to. And for those with no personal affiliations to the restaurant's past, this restaurant's new jaunt to the north might have them coming back.
Mechung Restaurant: Rs 165—Rs 405 per person