Use Your Noodle at Momo Masala

Sipping thenthuk, the Tibetan version of chicken soup, might cure the ills that ail you.


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Photo by Lori Eanes

Every culture has its chicken soup.

And when you access a culture through its chicken soup, you experience that culture’s softest, most nurturing side and its roughest, most murderous side simultaneously in every savory sip, for chicken soup—wherever in the world it’s served—is the liquid bridge between these two.

Hailed since ancient Greece, chicken soup’s power to heal body and soul is more than a mere cliché. Conducted by University of Nebraska researchers and published in Chest, the journal of the American College of Chest Physicians, one study suggests that chicken soup actually inhibits the upper-respiratory inflammation that manifests as the common cold.

So there’s that—and also the simple, steaming bowl that promises, often when nothing else does, to succor sorrows.

Which brings us to Tibet, whose sorrows and succors run deep. Tibet is one of those handful of places on earth whose very name wields poetic power: an aerie of extreme extremities, sacred and scary, its heights so high that scaling them virtually symbolizes human endurance and preternatural skill. Tibet’s beauty can and will kill.

Which brings us back to chicken soup, a serum tailor-made for snow-swamped nomads. One popular Tibetan version is thenthuk, whose standout ingredient is hand-pulled “noodles,” which aren’t long wiggly pasta but rather ragged, skin-thick shreds ranging in size and shape from postage stamp to human ear, torn rapidly from a flattened, egg-enriched wheat-flour dough wodge and tossed into thick, rich, garlicky, gingery boiling broth.

At Berkeley’s cozy, friendly, prayer-flag-festooned Momo Masala, which is barely bigger than the average suburban living room and mere steps from UC Berkeley, thenthuk arrives in basketball-sized bowls. Having its noodles made to order with whole-wheat flour instead of the usual white for nominal charge lends this dish, speckled as per Himalayan tradition with tender bits of carrot, onion, celery, cinnabar-orange oil, and various meats or no meat at all, a hearty rusticity that makes you feel—especially given the free chai and smoky crimson hot sauce—just about brave enough to leave base camp.

Momo Masala, 2505 Hearst St., Berkeley, 510-332-0924, www.MomoMasala.net

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