Bakáts tér evokes a feeling of Berlin, which makes it an unusual but welcome spot to experience Tibetan cuisine. Yet that’s exactly what we find at Namgyal Momo Tibetan Canteen & Tea Room, full of special dishes, friendly prices, a relaxed atmosphere and infinitely nice service.
Taste Tibet at an exotic eatery run by an expert expat
The Namgyal Momo Tibetan Canteen & Tea Room is a brightly-coloured canteen, with traditional Tibetan prayer flags hiding the industrial grey air ducts along the ceiling. The cheerful decoration is paired with the equally cheerful smiles of the owner and servers, so you immediately feel that the place has character and heart. Downstairs are a couple of tables and large counter, upstairs in the gallery, comfortable pillows and low tables.
The owner, Tsewang Thinley Namgyal, arrived in Hungary on St Stephen's Day, August 20th, 2005, after leaving Tibet as a political refugee. In Tibet he was a renowned opera singer, and didn’t know what he would be doing here. In fact, he first lived in the Debrecen Refugee Camp for a year and a half, while he learned Hungarian, and then moved to Budapest working on construction sites, as a gardener, and finally at the Teapalota on Jókai utca. In all of Hungary, there’s only five Tibetans, so if he wanted some authentic Tibetan food and tea, he would have to make it!
Namgyal loved the tea shop but eventually he got a new opportunity: one of his Tibetan compatriots opened a Kurdish buffet in the IX District and needed reliable help there. Namgyal already loved cooking, as his father was a chef at the Tibetan opera company where his grandfather taught. Because he had helped his father so often in his youth, he was well acquainted with Tibetan cuisine. His Kurdish boss decided to hold Tibetan days from time to time, when the little-known cuisine would be offered alongside Kurdish.
It didn’t take long before the locals had fallen in love with Namgyal’s Tibetan dishes. After a few years of working together, Namgyal decided it was time to open his own place, and when it turned out that the shop next to them was for rent, he moved in. Thus, the city’s only authentic Tibetan canteen was opened on Bakáts tér.
At first glance, you might be surprised at how much meat is on the counter: something definitely to do with local taste buds. Although there is traditionally less meat served in Tibet, says Namgyal, that’s not really an option with Hungarians, so it was necessary to adapt. In fact, in Tibet yak is the most-consumed meat! And usually we can order that here, but because of the virus, there’s been difficulty in getting it shipped over, so for now it’s replaced with beef. Namgyal also explains that for him personally it’s better to slaughter a bigger animal, as it feeds more people for the cost of a life.
The menu is, of course, completely unique, and might be revolutionary to the eyes of locals. We start with momo, similar to gyoza, but other dishes are less common here, like aubergine, leek and kale.
Although the meat is the same in all of them, the varied vegetables and seasoning change the flavour palettes, so you shouldn’t get bored even if you eat your way through the whole menu. Momo comes in meaty and vegetable versions, both 1,000 forints. Between the main dishes, we find more and less saucy options, with rice and bulgur available as side dishes. It is also worth trying the Tibetan bread, tigmo, a steamed leavened dough which can be baked into at least eight different versions. Namgyal makes his in the shape of a snail.
The meat-to-vegetable ratio is about 50-50 and take our word for it: if the owner says it’s spicy, it is! Let us show how diverse the cuisine options are: you can find more than ten types of food made from the same ingredient on the appetiser plate! The aubergine-beef (1,350 HUF) is great on its own, without garnish, and the potato-beef (1,350 HUF) will feel like a baby-step into Tibetan cuisine by those used to Hungarian food. The spicy beef (1,350 HUF) is recommended for those addicted to spicy food, and full of roasted peppers. Even for the bravest, it’s recommended to sip an ayran yoghurt drink afterwards! The portions here are quite large, too, so for the average lunch, half will suffice.
In colder weather, it’s recommended to tuck in to a nice soup, as several varieties are available. It might take a few minutes longer to prepare, but the result is worth the wait. For 1,500 forints, you can get a small pot of our choice. Of course, the soups are all made according to Tibetan recipes; the vegetable has a light, clean taste, substantiated with carrots, radish, cabbage and spinach.
Finish off your meal with the canteen’s speciality: Tibetan butter tea, black tea, salt, butter and milk. The upstairs gallery is perfectly designed for sipping, as you can take our shoes off and get comfortable, cuppa in hand.
Namgyal Momo Tibeti Étkezde És Teázó
1092 Budapest, Bakáts tér 10