By Scott Doty & Jessie Merlin of What to Eat in Birmingham
The chef behind Bamboo on 2nd is bringing a new twist on Asian cuisine to The Pizitz Food Hall.
Chef and Nepal native Abhi Sainju’s concept for mo:mo combines creative takes on Bánh Mi and dumplings. Bánh Mi are Vietnamese sandwiches of grilled pork or chicken, fresh herbs, and pate served on a lighter variation of the classic French baguette native to Vietnam. mo:mo’s options will feature pork belly, lemon grass chicken, and seasonal vegetables.
Sainju’s momo, the Nepalese word for dumpling, will be a Nepalese version with ground turkey and vegetables in Alabama tomato vinaigrette, a light tomato based broth. His mother’s specialty, which utilizes seasonal mixed vegetables and a special momo sauce, will also be available.
Before mo:mo, Sainju’s local culinary fame crystalized with rave reviews at Bamboo on 2nd, where he is executive chef and a founding partner. There his creations include classics from his menu at Everest Sushi, such as the Wham Bam Birmingham Roll as well as Nepalese Dumplings, a spicy Nepalese chicken soup called Thukpa, a light and citrusy Tako (octopus) Salad, marinated beef skewers, and KFC: Kathmandu Fried Chicken.
Originally from Nepal, Sainju spent his formative years in a Jesuit-run boarding school in India. He has many fond memories of his time at the school, but the institutional food they served was not among them. On his monthly visits to town with his friends, he would gorge himself on Indian delicacies. He showed an early interest in cooking as well both at home and at school.
Arriving in the United States in 1996 for college, Sainju tended bar at Surin in Birmingham. While there, he enjoyed watching the sushi being made and thinking up menu ideas for his future restaurant ventures he was dreaming up. After graduating from UAB in 2003 with a degree in information management and systems, he kept tending bar but began experimenting with recipes and cooking more frequently for friends who began bringing their own Tupperware and asking for favorites such as goat curry and chicken biryani.
In 2011, he heard about an opportunity to learn sushi at a local Target store that turned into a quick promotion to “the sushi guy” when the previous chef left. With the basics down, he began pushing himself to create original rolls, serving them first to his friends and later in catering, private parties, and bars like Red Zone and Blue Monkey in Five Points under the name Everest Sushi—the legacy of which will live on at The Pizitz.