Food & Drink, Reviews

All I have is a twenty: Momo

So where is the best Asian food in Winnipeg? Chinatown probably seems like a safe bet. But Chinatown is a red herring.

Don’t get me wrong, there are several excellent restaurants in Chinatown, covering a reasonably broad geographic/cultural range of Chinese cuisine, all authentic, leaning more towards the mainland styles than those of Hong Kong. But quality Chinese cookery is not limited to this five-block radius of the city. And further, there is more to the continent, gastronomically-speaking, than China’s culinary traditions.

Having lived and eaten in nearly every corner of our diverse mini-metropolis, it is my time in St. Norbert that my stomach most misses, and the bounty of Asian goodies is exactly why. The South St. Vital and South Fort Garry regions contain two of my favourite Chinese restaurants, possibly the city’s best (Taiwanese) bubble tea cafe, a fondly-remembered Korean/Fillipino market, a pretty decent samosa shop when you’re in the mood for food that’s fast but not “fast food,” and the subject of today’s ode: Momo.

Momo is a Japanese/Korean restaurant, which was my go-to sushi place for about six months before I discovered the other side of the menu. They’re located on the west side of Pembina, just north of the South Perimeter bridge and minutes from my old digs in St. Norbert. Their sushi is fresh (of course), delicious, varied, and reasonably-priced. Outside of the sushi, the gyoza (Japanese dumplings) are quite good, and there is a less extensive, but complementary liquor selection including several Korean and Japanese beer imports, as well as sake.

The restaurant has dine-in room for a few dozen people, but if it’s overcrowded the wait for take-out is brief or, if you call ahead, nil. When I lived in the area, an MLC was in the same strip mall (it has since been torn down and rebuilt bigger and better than ever), so I tended to favour take-out, with a bottle of sake or Japanese plum brandy to go.

After I’d been frequenting the place for half a year, a contract dispute resulted in the Japanese sushi chefs walking off the job. I headed in one day to place my regular order only to find my beloved Crazy!! roll off the table (literally and figuratively). So I flipped over to the Korean half of the menu, and found what I’d been missing.

I’m fond of Korean, but before Momo I never had it. My first introduction to the cuisine was in China, where I lived for a little while after university. After moving back to Winnipeg, I focused my restaurant search efforts on staving off my Chinese withdrawal. The Korean, which had been a once-in-a-while treat during my time in the East, was a fond memory but not something I actively sought out.

Momo brought me back to those flavours. My old standby is their barbeque pork bulgogi, which comes with two sides plus rice. I favour the kimchi: the sharp, acidic flavours of the pickled vegetables nicely complement the savoury, slightly-sweet dish. Try to take a little of each with every bite. Momo’s also has a delicious honey-glazed (or so it seems) sweet potatoe dish which is another worthy side.

My favourite Korean dish whilst in China, however, was a beef bibimbap. Rice, vegetables, and meat in a hot stone bowl with spicy sauce. It’s served steaming hot, and to prove it, an egg is cracked into the bowl at the table, cooking in moments. Momo serves this iconic Korean entreé as well, though I delayed trying it for a long time.

There’s something very satisfying about homestyle Korean food of the sort Momo is so good at. It has a sort of stick-to-your-ribsness, but without really feeling heavy. Its flavours are tantalizing but moderated, avoiding the extremes of Thai spiciness and Cantonese sweetness. The dishes are well proportioned, so that it’s easy to get enough without having too much, but even if you did overeat you’d find it doesn’t feel as bad, physically or psychologically, as overindulging in pizza, poutine, or sweet and sour pork.

Great food that doesn’t make you feel bad afterwards? That’s a miracle in itself.


Joel Boyce is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer. Links to his writing can be found at his homepage.