Tag Archives: Momo

Just Me and My Momo Man

Something short and sweet (I mean “tasty”) and funny…

Nepali Summer 2009

It’s me and the “Momo Man” from the Bakery Cafe chain in the Kathmandu Valley. How could one not pose for a picture with a character made out of the tasty Nepali delicacy?! (I’m assuming he’s veg, of course ;) even though his head is kinda shaped like a buff momo… hmmm…)

This is from the Bakery Cafe in Thamel.

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Nepali Restaurants

I mentioned that I ate at a good Nepali restaurant in New York recently, so I thought I would write a little bit about Nepali restaurants and have the comment section be a place where others could suggest Nepali restaurants around the country or abroad.

New York

If anyone has been to New York City with a South Asian friend or significant other then you are probably familiar with Jackson Heights, Queens. As Wikipedia notes, “Stores and restaurants on and near 74th street tend to cater towards the large South Asian population in the neighborhood, with sari and jewelry stores, Bengali and Hindi music and movie retailers and many restaurants.” There are even billboard advertisements featuring Bollywood stars like Abhishek Bachchan.

Although there are a few Nepali places in New York, I hear one of the best (most “authentic”?) is Himalayan Yak on Roosevelt Ave. I’ve been there twice now, and enjoyed it both times. It’s menu is divided into three sections—Tibetan, Nepali and Indian, and the atmosphere definitely has a Nepali/Tibetan feel—with Nepali wood panel art, Buddhist prayer wheels, paintings of mountain scenery (and of course, yaks), and tv screens airing muted and subtitled documentaries about Nepal and Tibet ( the first time I was there they were playing a documentary on the salt caravans in the high mountains). The food is quite tasty, serving crowd pleasing favorites like bhatmas ra chiura (spiced soybeans with beaten rice), gundruk (dry green vegetable very particular to Nepal), aloo tama (potato and bamboo shoot curry), kusi ko masu (goat meat), and of course momo.

In the evening the restaurant is usually packed with a Nepali/Tibetan crowd, who come not only for the food but to hear the live Nepali bands that play Friday-Monday. Inside the restaurant, it’s easy enough to pretend you are sitting in a café in the KTM valley tourist district of Thamel, rather than Queens.

Nepali band playing at the Himalayan Yak Restaurant

The restaurant was even in an episode of the American tv series “Ugly Betty” (Season 3 episode 14 near the middle of the episode). They made it look much more Tibetan for the show than it usually looks (the waiters don’t actually wear Tibetan costumes, although I have seen patrons wearing Tibetan chupas before).

To learn more about the restaurant you can read an interview done by the New York Times with the manager (my favorite question: “Is there seafood in Himalayan cuisine?”—answer: “We don’t have sea in Nepal. Nepal is a landlocked country. We don’t have sushi also over there.”).

So if in town, and looking for a place to try Nepali cuisine, check in to Himalayan Yak.

Boston

Living close to Boston one would think I’d have better recommendations for the city. There are several in town, and I’ve eaten the food at two—Kathmandu Spice in Arlington and the Yak and Yeti in Somerville.

I used to work at Tufts which is close to Somerville/Arlington, so one night after work P and I tried out Katmandu Spice. To be honest I don’t remember anything particularly outstanding– it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t very memorable either. It has Nepali specialties as well—kwatti (9 bean soup), thukpa (Tibetan noodle soup), goat sekuwa (barbequed goat meat), aloo tama, momo. I think I remember P saying the food seemed more Indian inspired, and they had quite a few dishes with fish and shrimp (see Himalayan Yak manger quote above– but in their defense they might be catering to the seafood loving New England palate). It was okay, but I’m not chomping on the bit to go back.

Inside Kathmandu Spice

Yak and Yeti is a new restaurant in the city. They catered our friend’s wedding this summer, and the food was pretty good. Our friends ordered big trays of pakora (which were really tasty), chicken, goat, cauli aloo, daal, and another dish or two (to be honest, I filled up on the tasty pakora so I can’t really remember what else I ate), topped off with a big tray of kheer (rice pudding). The food was good, relatively cheap for a big crowd (they had about seventy people), and worked well in a large quantity. I haven’t eaten at their restaurant in Boston yet, but based on the wedding food they made for AS and N, I’ll keep them in mind for a certain ceremony coming up in July.

Inside Yak and Yeti

Other restaurants…

So now dear readers, do you have Nepali restaurant recommendations? Feel free to comment below! Here is another list (from Desi Grub) to get you thinking…

Nepali Cooking- A Recommendation

Last night we had a farewell dinner for our good friend D’s foreign girlfriend. She had been visiting for several weeks from Germany and the time had come that she had to go back. P and I wanted to give her something special, and I knew she liked to cook, so I thought she might appreciate a Nepali memento—a Nepali cookbook—and perhaps when she was particularly nostalgic for D she could whip up one of the recipes for dinner. P and I went through the cookbook and bookmarked off some of our favorite (or most commonly cooked) recipes and a few of D’s favorites, so that she would have a place to start.

With that said, I thought I’d talk a little bit about this particular cookbook. I’ve mentioned it on the blog before (here and here), but it is worth mentioning again. I didn’t find this cookbook until 2008, by then I had already been cooking Nepali food for years. Most of my cooking style was gleamed from helping my friends in the kitchen while they made various dishes. My cooking style is probably a bit elementary—my two favorite spices are garlic and cumin powder (not to mention cilantro)—but several of my dishes have been refined enough to be considered pretty tasty… if I do say so myself ;) .

However at some point I realized that it would be handy to have a Nepali cookbook. Gathering recipes from friends (AS is a great resource!) was helpful, but sometimes it would be nice to have a resource to look up information, at least for reference. Plus,  I have a stack of vegetarian cookbooks to get ideas for different types of food, so why not Nepali?

I’d never seen a Nepali cookbook though. Most bookstores probably have an Indian cookbook or two, and yeah, some North Indian food is similar to Nepali food, but I really wanted something specifically Nepali. So I turned to the handiest book website around… Amazon. If you search “Nepali cookbook” four different options pop up: Kathmandu Kuisine (1987) which is out of print, Nepali Delights Cookbook (1992) developed by the Association of Nepalis in the Americas, The Nepali Cookbook (1996) which is an updated version by the Association of Nepalis in the Americas, and finally Taste of Nepal (2007).

I bought the two most recent cookbooks The Nepali Cookbook and Taste of Nepal. The Nepali Cookbook is a nice resource, particularly for someone who is either a beginner, or someone who wants to learn a few Nepali dishes but doesn’t plan to eat Nepali food on a fairly regular basis. It was pulled together by a group of women from the Association who each submitted their favorite recipes. It is clear and simple, although unfortunately there are no pictures.

However, the cookbook I really wanted to talk about was Taste of Nepal. As the cookbook’s website notes, it is “one of the very few Nepali cookbooks on the market, Taste of Nepal is a thorough and comprehensive guide to this cuisine, featuring more than 350 authentic recipes.”

I should write a fan letter to Jyoti Pathak, because I’m really happy to have found this book. It is pretty heavy duty, not only because it is hardcover, but it is about 470 pages long. Again, unfortunately there are no photographs of the individual dishes or the process of how to make things (some people, myself included, find that pretty helpful… although I just found a food photo gallery on the cookbook’s website), but she does have the Nepali name and the English equivalent for all the dishes, adds cultural notes where appropriate, and begins each chapter section with a nice introduction. She offers substitutes for Nepali spices that might not be readily available, as well as notes on how to mix your own masalas… not to mention there is an entire chapter dedicated to momos!

Since I’m still pretty set in the way I like to make Nepali food, I prefer to use her cookbook as a reference, blending a little of my style and a little of her style to make the flavor a little more complex and mature. Plus she has many recipes for dishes that my friends have not made before, so I can try a lot of new things if inspiration hits.

I was joking in the car on the way back from dinner that I should make this a new custom, if other Nepali friends get involved in intercultural relationships, I should make the cookbook my standard, “welcome to the community!” gift.

So for any Nepali food enthusiasts out there, or for anyone who wants to learn Nepali cooking styles, keep in mind the two references above, particularly Taste of Nepal—it has C’s “stamp of approval!”

Holi and Lent

Last night we celebrated a friend’s birthday and Holi in true Nepali fashion… with momos of course!

This is me during Holi two years ago...

In between wrapping the potato/tofu/cabbage (or chicken for the meat eaters) mixture into wanton wrappers and piling them up to be steamed, we would periodically try to smear bright pink colored powder across each other’s faces.

I have yet to be in South Asia during Holi, although someday I hope to. I know it is kind of crazy to go outside during that time… you have to prepare to be pummeled with colored dust, or in Nepal particularly, color-filled water balloons, but I think it would be great fun. I remember once as a little kid someone gave me the idea of making “flour bombs” where you fill a thin napkin with a spoon or two of flour and tie the napkin shut, so when thrown with force it “explodes” white flour everywhere. Holi is essentially the same idea (if you take away the religious aspect of it), and I could see my inner child running wild. We have celebrated a few times with our friends in New England, but the festivities are usually more subdued, since it is usually too cold to go crazy outside, and no one wants a chaotic colored mess to clean off their apartment floor.

Playing Holi in South Asia

The birthday aspect of the evening concluded with some cake, which brings me to the second topic of conversation… Lent.

My relationship with Christianity has been a long and rocky one. So I really wouldn’t classify myself as religious, or even spiritual, but there is one aspect of the Catholic calendar that I do try to adhere to since I find it a fulfilling endeavor—Lent. Generally speaking, Lent is a 40 day period of time in between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday where Catholics go through a period of fasting. I’ve really tried to do this in earnest each year (but not always successfully) because I think, devoid of its religious connotations, it is a nice anchor throughout the year, a time to abstain from something that you really enjoy or rely on. It helps me to practice self restraint and control, cleanses my system, and puts my needs and desires into perspective for the year.

For many years I’ve tried to focus my 40 day fast on sugary things. I’m a huge sweet tooth. I love chocolate (mmmm, Cadbury caramel Dairy Milk and this time of year… Cadbury cream eggs), and baked goods (pies, strudels, cookies), even sugar in my tea, or a soda at a restaurant for dinner. So cutting out the overtly sugary things in my diet (like all of the above, and including last night’s birthday cake) is really tough, and kicks my butt.

The first two weeks are usually the hardest. I gaze longingly at trays of cookies set out at university events, or mentally debate with myself about how bad it would be to just have a bite. I’ve been eating a lot of apples to help me through… and at the end of the 40 days it will feel really good to know that I didn’t give in to desire.

As a kid I tried to give up different things, like soda or television. I told P that this year we should try to give up eating out, but that would be really tough, because with our work schedules, and his exam studying (he passed! Hurray!), sometimes it’s just easy to grab some quick Chinese or burritos, but I’ll keep that one in mind for the future. Sugar seems to be a good one—a tough challenge, something I use as a crutch, and in giving it up I feel healthier at the end of it all, and it usually helps me decrease my overall sugar intake (after the previous few years fast I prefer less sugar in my tea, and sometimes forgo sugar for honey). Last year our friends R and S gave up rice. I commend them on that feat. I’m sure it equally kicked their butts.

So anyway, 13 days down… 27 more days to go.

“Namaste: One Teen’s Look at Nepal”

Due to some recent events in Nepal,  I really wanted to write something about the political situation in the country. As part of my blogging prep I wanted to interview my “political” friend N for a quick overview of the (unfortunately) ongoing conflicts. Instead a giant momo party was organized (literally… there were between 40-50 people there… we made and ate at least 550 momo… if not more!) and our friends R and S came for the weekend to attend the party. I know–excuses excuses–but my plan is to write about Nepal’s conflicts a bit later in the week.

One reason I want to write about the situation in Nepal is because most people don’t realize there has been (essentially) a civil war going on there for nearly a decade. Around April of 2006 the king of Nepal was overthrown, and more recently the Maoists were elected into power. Since then, several things have happened which have caused high-ranking Maoists leaders to quit the government, and within the past two weeks large demonstrations have taken place, and the Maoists guerrillas are starting to train again.

As I’ve noted before, many people don’t even really know where Nepal is, let alone that there is so much strife in the region. To give a silly example, I remember in the Disney/Pixar movie “Monster’s, Inc.” the two main character monsters were banished to the Himalayas to live with the Yeti (who in the movie was portrayed as a jolly white hairy snow-cone making beast). At one point one monster was giving a pep talk to another monster who said, “I picked out an easy door for you in nice… quiet Nepal…” as if nothing ever happens there (earlier there was mention of “wait until you see the village… its just the cutest little village… and I haven’t even started telling you about the free yak’s milk!”) Not that Disney and Pixar are known for astute political representations of things, but I remember at the time I thought it was a bit ironic.

Anyway, my goal this week is to write more in depth on this subject, but in the meantime a friend recently posted a link on facebook that was pretty interesting. In 2008 an American teenager from California was awarded a grant from the Asia Society and the Goldman Sachs Foundation to make a mini film about her experiences in Nepal. Her project is called, “Namaste: One Teen’s Look at Nepal.” It is only 6 minutes long and definitely worth a view. She did a wonderful job juxtaposing life in the US to life in Nepal, as well as giving a brief insight into some of the issues large portions of the Nepali population face everyday.

Mo:mo

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.

Tray of freshly made potato momos... folding momos is practically an art form, and everyone has their own style. This is mine... so at least if I can't speak Nepali, at least i have beautiful momos :)

Tray of freshly folded, but not yet steamed, potato momos... folding momos is practically an art form, and everyone has their own style. This is mine... so at least if I can't speak Nepali, I can earn some respect from beautiful momos

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.”

Yeah... I screenshot it...

Yeah... I screenshot it...

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.

folding momos...

folding momos...

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.

At the time of writing this one of our neighbors had borrowed our steamer, so this is actually a picture from the internet, but it looks something like this...

At the time of writing this post one of our neighbors had borrowed our steamer, so this is actually a picture from the internet, but ours looks something like this...

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!!)