Momo: Nepali dumplings

Photo by Ryan Magee | Mercury Staff.

It’s one thing to eat a dish completely different from that of your culture, but it’s another to create it yourself. I was fortunate enough to not only try momo, which are Nepali dumplings, but I was able to create them myself. After inviting former Nepali Student Association President Anuka Dhakal, current Vice President Abhilash Bajracharya and fellow Chew Crew member Marco Salinas to my house, we began the process of meticulously preparing each individual momo.

Momo are a special type of dumpling that originate in Tibet, where they’re referred to as “mog mog” in Tibetan colloquial terms. The delicious snack spread to neighboring countries by merchants who traveled between Tibet and Kathmandu Valley in the early 1900s. Interestingly, as the recipe for momo spread to the northern regions of India, the recipe was modified to accommodate Indian vegetarian diets. Momo can be filled with meat, vegetables and cheese (especially with a particularly delicious type of cheese common to the South Asian region called paneer).

Anuka brought an incredible amount of supplies and spices, including creole spice, green chili peppers, garlic powder, cumin powder and her own special momo spice she brought from Nepal. She brought what looked like a tower of silver round cake pans with holes in them, which turned out to be a special steamer commonly used by Nepalis specifically used to cook momo. The bottom pan was filled with water, and the steam would rise through little holes in each pan to cook momo. It was an extraordinary contraption and surprisingly a staple item in Nepali culture.

Preparing the ingredients for momo was simple enough. It involved cutting cabbage, green onions, garlic, ginger and cilantro into minuscule pieces. I’m afraid I wasn’t very adept at cutting vegetables, and my feeble skills didn’t stand a chance next to Anuka’s lightning-fast chopping skills. In no time, we combined the vegetables with a few pounds of ground chicken, and I had the wonderful opportunity to mix the ingredients together with my bare hands.

Putting the momo together using the dough was truly an art. We gathered around my kitchen island, and Marco and I watched in wonder at Anuka and Abhi’s incredible momo wrapping skills. They’d spoon a very small amount of momo filling onto a piece of dough the size of my hand. Then, their experienced fingers quickly pinched the ends of the round dough together, and in seconds, they made beautiful little dumplings. Marco and I quickly learned how to wrap the momo, though not nearly as skillfully as our counterparts.

Later, after the momo were steamed and a spicy tomato dipping sauce was prepared, we sat down and tried our creations. I’d tried dumplings before, so the texture was familiar to me, but the flavor of the filling itself was so distinctive and unique. Combined with the sauce, the zesty spice of the filling was like an explosion in my mouth. It reminded me of Pakistani kebabs my mom makes from time to time, with all the spices and flavors coming together and tasting like home. Sooner or later, we found ourselves devouring nearly all 50 of the momo we made.

Momo were certainly wonderful to try, but making it together with friends was a completely unique experience. I loved learning the different and intricate technique to fold momo. It was almost like sculpting a piece of edible art.

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