Delhi always surprises me. This is a city which was ruled by Mughals and then British came and stationed themselves here, so I have absolutely no idea how and when Momos became a staple evening snack for Dilli-walas. Momos sit and wait for their lovers on the side streets and in posh restaurants. The fact that they’re everywhere just confirms that everybody loves these dumplings. Delhi is particular has embraced this food as its own, with a few characteristic twists.
During the time I was on MasterChef, when I was in Mumbai, I would literally cry to find good momos. I remember paying Rs 350 for eight pieces of very average momos that fed my head but did not satisfy my stomach.
The word “momo” is originally a Chinese word (馍馍) which translates to “steamed bread”. When preparing a momo, flour is rolled out into a small circle and then filled, most commonly with ground water buffalo meat, and sealed. Often, ground lamb or chicken meat is added with finely chopped onion, minced garlic, fresh minced ginger, cumin powder, salt, coriander/cilantro for flavoring. Sauce made from cooked tomatoes flavored with timur (Szechwan pepper), minced red chilies is often served along with momo.
Momos are similar to Japanese gyozas and Chinese jiaoz. It’s possible that momos entered India when the Chinese settled in the Eastern states and formed a Chinese colony around more than a century ago, they brought along with them jiaoz, their version of momos. Chinese usually make these dumplings during their lunar new year, and their kitchen gets stacked up with the different ingredients.
In the form we know it, it is a dish native to Tibet. People from Tibet probably crossed the border and travelled to Nepal, India and Bhutan, bringing this parcel of goodness with them. According to NDTV Cooky, one of the ways this percolation could have happened is through the Monpa and Sherdukpa tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. These tribes live in the West Kameng and Tawang districts which share a border with Tibet. In India, the momo is native to the Sikkim state and Darjeeling district of India.
Yet another explanation is that when Tibetans left their homeland in the 1960s, they brought their food, culture, and lifestyle along with them to India. As they settled in the hill towns of West Bengal and the North-Eastern states, momos were not only accepted gradually but also were relished in these places.
One can easily spot a momo shop in Delhi—every street corner, every bustling market, and every high-end mall has a momo stall. Now there are food entrepreneurs who supply momos in bulk to vendors and kiosks whose only job is to steam and sell them piping hot with hot sauce to hungry mouths.
And as I said, we Dilli-walas have given this food our own twist—nowadays one can spot different kinds of momos, steamed, fried or tandoori with fillings of duck pork, chicken, or mutton for non-vegetarians, and cabbage, cottage cheese and mixed vegetables for vegetarians. These momos are considered the unofficial national dish of Tibet, but it won’t be far from the truthto say that these momos are the official evening snack for us Delhi folks.
If you are craving momos, here is my recipe and you can prepare them in your kitchen (or for the more lazy ones, just walk out to Dilli Haat and visit the Sikkim Food stall or Momo Mia. You can also go further north to Majnu ka Tilla for some of the best momos I have ever had in the recent past.