Piazza San Pedro is a lively food and drink in the city center with many options. If you are not careful, you can skip the cuisine of the Himalayas, which is sure to impress your taste buds. Founded in November 2017, Urban Momo is hidden in a corner of Piazza San Pedro, but its tastes and its owner, Sama, are not to be missed!
If you wanted to experience Nepal without traveling the hemisphere, then you are in luck, at least as far as food is concerned. Senior executive analyst at the Immigration Team Jasmine Hartenstein was able to sit down and talk to Sam about why she settled in San Jose, about her passion for food and people, and about showing the world the taste of Nepali cuisine.
What brought you to San Jose? Tell us a little about your story …
My husband once came to San Pedro for lunch and discovered this bright place. We revisited this place to eat, and when we saw one empty retail space for rent, we were very happy and went through the application process to rent that space. It was approved and we signed a lease agreement. However, this place was an empty canvas; we had to hire contractors / builders and build it from scratch. It took us 18 months of tedious process to open the door from the date of signing the lease. So it was this project to create my own Nepalese restaurant that brought me to San Jose.
What made you open a restaurant in San Jose and what does running your own restaurant mean to you?
So many years of living away from home and eateries to satisfy my craving for typical Nepali food was hard to find. I believed that thousands of other residents of Nepalese here would feel the same. After researching customers ’demographics and taste buds, I wanted to bring Nepalese Himalayan flavors to San Jose. My desire is to share the cuisine in which I grew up with the world. Our recipe is the best combination of Nepalese / Indian spices with Tibetan / Chinese twist and Himalayan food. We are all about the ingredients that make our recipes unique. Freshness and preparation is the key! For example, the preparation of some sauces takes several hours, and everything is made to order. In addition, we use traditional herbs and spices such as turmeric, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, Sichuan pepper, etc. with many benefits for mind and body. I feel good providing maximum comfort food with health and nutrition benefits. I think only my passion for food keeps me on this business and path.
What dish that is served in your restaurant makes you feel at home? Special / traditional dish?
Bhuteka Bhat, Alu Gobi and Chicken Curry. Bhuteko Bhat is a traditional Nepali fried rice. When we were little kids, my mom used leftover rice and cooked fried rice for us. The Aloo Gobi and chicken curry we serve follow traditional Nepali home cooking. These dishes take me back to my childhood and I feel wrapped in my mother’s love cocoon.
A special dish will be Momos. At home it’s more restaurant food, and in the days when we were growing up, we set aside our pocket money to walk around Momo because they were so special. The momo we serve here is handmade, and their craft is like art. So much care and effort is put into every part of Momo.
How did your immigration experience affect you and your family when you settled here?
I moved to the UK for higher education when I was 18 and lived there for over ten years and during that time I became acquainted with different cultures and food. At some point in my life I mostly ate every day to try new foods. I am a gourmet; I enjoy trying new foods and love to know about new cultures and people. So it was not difficult for me to adapt in the San Jose area. I also moved here with a husband who lived in the area with his friends and family. So I didn’t really have to start from scratch, I was lucky. I think if someone came alone, it would be hard. I personally haven’t had a lot of bad experiences, but I’m one of those people who focus only on the good things in life and let go of bad things or things that are out of my control.
What problem did you face when trying to become an entrepreneur?
There are rules that exist for a reason, but it makes the process difficult. Like when we started building this restaurant. It took a year and a half, and we didn’t realize it would take so long. I quit my job to do it because I really wanted to. With time and rent, we felt pressure on us, whether we made the right choice or not. There are different food suppliers here, and because of the fierce competition I was sometimes nervous, but with hard work we were able to get out. It was our time saving that we invested in it and we didn’t want to fail. I gave up a career to do this and my husband went to work in the afternoon and came here to help after work in the early days. We have never endured since then and I stood here all day while pregnant. In fact, I drove from here to the hospital to deliver my son. If you look at it now, it seems like it’s not that much, but in the beginning we had to invest in it all we had. During the construction we had to hire different specialists for each case, such as plumbing, electricity, and there are such checks as health checks and fire safety, something I didn’t even know about. The hardest part is that sometimes one inspector comes and tells you to fix something and then another inspector comes and tells you something else, so you have to fix everything again. If I opened another one, I don’t think I would build a restaurant from scratch, instead I would rent a room with an existing restaurant. Probably because I have invested so much in this restaurant, it is very dear to me.
Are there traditions or holidays you take part in to celebrate and connect your culture?
Dashain is one of the biggest festivals I take part in. It is a celebration of the victory of good over evil. It is celebrated for 10 days, and during this festival we organize family gatherings where we get red teak (rice mixed with red vermilion and yogurt) and a blessing from the elders on 10th day. During this celebration enjoy a variety of foods.
The second important festival that I like is Tikhar, which lasts 5 days. It is also known as the Festival of Lights. On different days worship different diets and offer different sweets. Among which on the third day we pray to the goddess Lakshmi, who brings wealth. And the last day is Bhai-tika, which recalls the bond between brothers and sisters who pray for their brother’s long life.
What is your favorite place to eat other than your own restaurant?
One of my favorite places to go out was Fast Eddies in Elton, Illinois. They are cleaned and eaten by shrimp very well! So fresh, like it just came from the ocean! Ever since I moved here, I don’t really get much time to walk around, and when I have time, I go to the city fish for fish with chips. I miss good fish with chips like we have in the UK. I also like modern European cuisine 71 Saint Peter; they have a very sophisticated beverage menu to choose from and I usually combine it with their lamb tortillas and mushroom risotto.
What do you like about living in San Jose?
Weather and diverse society. Even though I am away from home, it seems to me that I am not that far away because the community is so diverse and the weather here is similar to the weather at home in Nepal, so this place makes me feel at home .
Urban Momo is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. 100 N Almaden Ave # 176, San Jose, CA 95110. For more information on Urbana mama you can visit www.urbanmomos.com