I don’t think anyone can be in an intercultural relationship–wait, no scratch that, I don’t think anyone could be friends–wait, scratch that too… I don’t think anyone can ever know in life a Nepali person and not have tried momos. Ohhhh, my mouth waters just thinking about them.
What the heck is a momo? 1) It’s delicious, 2) you can’t just eat momos by yourself…its a community oriented food–its easier to have a momo party and have your guests help with assembly (plus its more fun that way too!), and 3) its probably one of the most popular dishes in Nepal. According to my handy dandy Nepali cookbook, momos are “bite sized dumplings, filled with meat or vegetables, usually steamed, though they are sometimes fried.”
The cookbook goes on to describe their history, “The origin of momo is uncertain. Because this dish is popular among the Newar community of Kathmandu valley, one prevalent belief is that Newari traders brought them from Tibet. They modified the dish with local ingredients, such as water buffalo meat, and gave the dish a Nepali name. Others believe the dish was introduced to Nepali cuisine by Tibetans who settled in the mountains of Nepal.”
Wherever the origin, one thing is certain, I’ve never met a Nepali that wasn’t crazy about momos. In fact, if you do a search of Facebook you will find no fewer than seven groups/fanpages devoted to momos… one with 18,095 fans! Another one has nearly 3,500. When I typed in “chicken curry” it only had 1,600 fans. I think the facts speak for themselves…
As I mentioned, one thing that is particularly fun about momos is that it is a great food to eat when you are having a party. When we first moved, there used to be Friday night momo gatherings in the neighborhood all the time, and when P’s brother and cousins come to visit it makes for a fun and filling dinner. Frequently we have momos when we visit friends’ houses, and our friend S (remember him? P’s roommate from high school and the guy who went to college with him before he transfered over to me?) makes such amazingly spicy and delicious momos that I fear he might have ruined my momo palate for eating the real deal in Nepal.
I was in northern India a few years ago, and I was able to get momos at certain restaurants, particularly in places with larger Tibetan and Nepali populations like Bodhgaya, Dharmsala, and some places in Uttaranchal, but 95% of my experience has been with homemade momos in the US. I remember the momos in Bodhgaya and Dharmsala tasting really good, but nothing compared to the momos that we usually make at my house, let alone the out-of-this-world momos that S makes. So when P and I decided to go to Nepal for S’s wedding in June I was excited to taste Nepali momos at the epicenter of momo-dom. Unfortunately I was disappointed.
I should quickly explain before someone comes along and assaults me over this… I am a vegetarian, and I usually make a spicy potato, peas, garlic, onion filled momo (almost like a samosa filling). Most of the vegetable momos that I found in Kathmandu and Solukhumbu barely had any spice and were usually filled with cabbage. However I’ve been told that meat momos are superior and particularly delicious in Nepal. While I hesitate to acknowledge that meat tastes better, I’ve never tried it myself, I bet if going for “authenticity” I can see why P and friends enjoy a plate of momos from back home. Here in the US, they make momos with ground turkey, chicken, or pork, but back home you could have it with water buffalo (“buff” momo are quite popular), yak, or goat in addition to the ubiquitous chicken.
Anyway, I digress as usual… shall we consult the cookbook to get back to topic? Ah, yes… “family and friends often gather to spend a joyful, leisurely time preparing momos… though momo shaping is an art, requiring patience, even young children can learn to enjoy the job.” Momo gatherings are fun because everyone gets together, has to sit on the floor with table cloth or newspapers spread underneath, take a wrapper (we use wonton wrappers from the Vietnamese grocery store down the street), wet the edges, put a spoon full of momo filling, fold, and stick in the queue for steaming. Folding is pretty funny… people have their own style… some people wrap them in the half moon style that I favor (see above), other people make the circular style (like in this video), some make a pocket or pouch, and some make weird amoeba shapes that basically use any means necessary to get the wrapper closed (if this is you, don’t worry… I was definitely once at that stage!) When the momos are steamed sometimes you can tell whose handy work you are eating, and dinner conversation flows from there.
When we were in college we used to steam momos by wrapping the top of a large pot of boiling water with aluminum foil covered in fork-hole-punches. We would place the momos on the aluminum foil then cover with a deep pot lid to help the steaming process… and unfortunately the number of momos we could steam at one time was very small. Now we have an industrial sized metal momo steamer bought from Chinatown… and it makes a world of difference… However it still takes several rounds of steaming to cook all the momos, because we usually make at least 200. I remember in India, some of the Americans I was with were really impressed when they ate 8 or 9 momos… I would merely scoff… our crew could easily eat 20 a piece.
Eating momos has become almost something of a litmus test. When our friend started dating a girl last year we made momos one night and discovered it was her first time eating them. We joked that if she didn’t like them, then the relationship might be in jeopardy. Meanwhile my middle sister is not a fan of momos (the only person I have thus far met who has eaten one and not liked it very much, mostly because of a dislike of onions) and so I’m pretty darn sure she won’t follow in her big sister’s footsteps and marry a Nepali herself.
So at the end of the day… if you know a Nepali and you have not yet been invited to the inevitable momo party, make sure to ask about it. Momos are a must…
More mo:mo fun!
- This is a good video on the basic idea of how to make momo. We wouldn’t use beef at our house; instead P would use ground chicken/turkey or pork and I’d use veggies, but this is a good starting point!
- I was looking for an easy-to-hyperlink veg momo recipe, but everything I was finding looked more complicated than necessary. So I started a recipe section. See my “Potato Veg Momo” recipe HERE
- One last pearl of wisdom from my cookbook, “freshly steamed momos taste best served piping hot straight from the steamer. If they are served as a meal, six to eight are a good serving [I guess my friends and I must be pigs…] A meat-filled momo has to be eaten whole, as the flavorful juice in its steamed pocket will dribble out if it is broken. Though a well-seasoned juicy momo does not really need any condiments, it is traditionally accompanied by freshly made achar.” (P and I beg to differ on that last note… one of the best aspects of momo is the spicy achar– see recipe HERE!!)