Well, after binge into my first love Biryani, I felt I needed to write down my crush too- Momos. Oh, come on now. Don’t judge; you can have a crush along with love. And nothing hurts more than sharing in a plate of Momo. Just tell me who does not love Momos? Even one who doesn’t like it will enjoy it. Besides, you get to see them in every metropolitan city of India. Probabilities can be we might know the hotspot street corner of Momos shops or stalls in Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai or Kolkata. The love for Momo is so widespread that a nutrient-loving Bengali friend’s only child is named Momo. Therefore, whether it originated in China or Nepal or maybe Tibet, it does not matter since the Indianisation of Momo is now complete
Did we ever think about the journey of Momo? It is the only dish that has travelled farthest in all food. Hence, the reason why it’s quite an at ease, whether on the street or in the posh restaurant. Over the years Momos have evolved in taste, structure, even in creation, thanks to the savvy vendor who further synthesized two prevalent fast food and got up with Tandoori Momos. It is a desirable addition to the fusion expanding genre of Momos. As compared, India is a latecomer to the transcontinental Momo party. But we are capable of adding our interesting twist of paneer and tandoori to the glorious Momo saga. The precise origin of Momo is unclear, but the name’s derivation points towards northern China. It is called Baozi and Jiaoz; both are dumpling stuffed with pork, beef, prawn, vegetables or maybe tofu. These are generally prepared on special occasions like a lunar year.
If we speak around the Himalayan belt, the food is thought to have been spread by caravan routes connecting the central Asia steppe to both east & west. This food was popular among the Newar community from Nepal, where Momo means cooking by steaming. But the Newar traders brought the recipe from Tibet, where it is considered an unofficial dish. Back in the 13th century, during the rule of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty in Tibet, once people decided to put minced lamb and scallion mixture seasoned with some of their classic spices in the dough and steam. And this how flavoursome Momo was born, and the name got derived from “Mong Mong.” If we talk about Bhutan, who are passionate about Momos, are conceived to be popularised by the Tibetan communities. The square-shaped Hirshon Momos were made way back in the early 5th century by Tibetan Buddhist Ngalops settled in Bhutan. The use of Yak meat or bok choy, mushroom, cabbage, and Datshi was prevalent as stuffing. Thus, what the Tibetans called Momos is nothing but dim sum for the Chinese
The luscious, flavorful meat filling has a magic touch, wherever it travelled always adjusted itself to the local preferences. And for a classic food aficionado like me, I was puffed into the Momo magic circle. My recent venture was Kothey Momo which has quite a history. With the arrival of Newar traders, came the round, pleated Momo dumpling; which then translated into innovative Kothey Momo by Ladakh it is pan-fried to a crisp, golden-brown to perfection after steaming. It is now served with a tangy dipping chutney of tomatoes, cilantro and toasted sesame seeds a delightful delicacy. Another one will be of Jhol Momos, steamed Tibetan-style chicken momos, dunked into a Jhol (a chutney). With the nomadic life, the Tibetan Changpa tribe has brought a spectacular transformation in the original Tibetian Momo. In the mid-seventh century, when the clan moved to Ladakh, they invented Ting Momo – a soft, puffy, rose-shaped., which was steamed & served with tangy tomato & chilli Sepen sauce.
Not long ago, when people associated Momos with food from the Northeast, but in reality, it’s not even part of their traditional culinary art. Perhaps it is only among Arunachal Pradesh’s Monpa and Sherdukpa tribes, who live in the West Kameng and Tawang districts and share a border with Tibet, where Momos are a part of their diet. Their variation is usually stuffed with minced pork and mustard leaves or other green vegetables and served with chilli paste. But Momos received in Sikkim is quite another story, since it is a comfort food across the communities like Bhutias, Lepchas and Nepalis. During my Sikkim travel, my Momo knowledge got brushed up more. The Sikkimese Momo is named Thaipo Momo-a plump round dumpling with a flat back; this passed in the 17th century with the migration of the Tibetan Bhutias to Sikkim. Thaipo Momo much similar to the steamed Tibetan Momo, except it’s served with Sikkimese Dalle Khursani cherry chilli pepper sauce here. Likewise, the state’s traditional dish, Hyontoen, which is made of millet flour, is now rolled like Momos, stuffed with cheese and steamed. Sikkimese takes pride in its ability to make a variety of delicious Momos. It’s delicious and addictive. Indeed!
Hence, with the expedition, what I understood is if China claims Baozi and Jiaoz the sophisticated dumpling is their invention, then tortellini and ravioli are nothing but Italian Momos. But tracing of the dumpling or Momo can also be started with Khinkali – the Georgian Momo. With the invasion of Mongol under Genghis Khan, the Momo spread marches the forward motion of his hordes through far-east, central and west Asia right through eastern and north-eastern Europe. So could the Momo be a Mongol legacy? So the title is yet to be confirmed, but a continent to the west – have remarkably similar-sounding ones called Mantou, which look very much like tortellini! Though the Afghan Mantou has no resemblance with the Chinese Mantou, which is a steamed bun.
But there are two variations of the Momo; one is from Afgan the Mantou stuffed with meat and onions topped with a Chana-dal-yoghurt sauce. And the other is Ashak from Kabul Momo filled with chives garnished with yoghurt, rajma and minced lamb. Considerably, it did not surprise me when I found Uzbekistan has a similar Momo – Manti, more free-form and less tortellini-type, but with the same Chana-dal topping. Deep in my thought Rajma, Chana dal, tomatoes and yoghurt are Indian favourites too, so did Manto preceded the Momo in India. Besides, Afghans who ruled before the Mughals in medieval times, hence it could be part of their cuisine. However, inevitably the Momo did make inroads into Europe during and after the Mongols, becoming Pelmeni in Russia, Vareniki in Ukraine and Pierogi in Poland. The Romanians have Coltunasi dumplings, Bryndzové Pirohy is what Slovakians call their sheep’s cheese-filled ones, and the Hungarians call their Derelye. Even the Ashkenazi Jews have their version called Kreplach. The humble Momo has evolved with various invasions and local preference of the places it travelled. Quite an evolution!
For me, I can savour on these steamed, glossy; round Momo stuffed with a punch flavour any time. My crush for Momos is in-depth, no matter where they come from, or what shape it is, or the cooking styles, the flavours, even chilly dipping sauce, they will always be my soul food. Gosh! I need to order a plate from Zomato.