There is no greater export of oriental cuisine than the steamed dumpling, called by different names in different countries, each having its own version of it. In India, it goes by the name momo, a dish brought in by the Tibetan migrants and one which we have made our own. Though one can find momos in every town and city today, the more authentic versions are seen in the food of Sikkim, Darjeeling, Nepal, and Bhutan.
Momos are made of three main components - dough, filling, and the soup. Refined wheat flour and water are kneaded well to form the dough. The filling is composed of onions, garlic, salt, oil, and choice of meat (for non-vegetarians) such as ground/ minced pork/ chicken/ beef, or finely chopped/ grated assorted vegetables like cabbage, carrots, onions/ iskus (chayote squash) / churpi (local cheese) etc.
The assembling begins with the moktu (traditional layered steamer) base being filled up with bones, vegetables, spices, lots of water and brought to a roaring boil to create the soup/ broth that goes with the momos. Next the dough is rolled out into thin discs and the filling is added to the centre of it. Next the dough gets folded into various shapes to seal the filling inside, and kept aside. Then the perforated layers of the moktu get brushed with cooking oil to prevent the momos from sticking after they are cooked. Lastly the pre-shaped momos are lined on the perforated layers of the moktu and steamed covered for 10-12 minutes or till ready.
Modern steel moktu (momo steamer) and raw pre-shaped momos lined inside perforated layer
Momos are traditionally served fresh off the moktu in a set of 6 or 8, along with a piping hot bowl of broth/ soup, and a spicy dalle-tamater ko achaar (chutney made from fireball chillies, garlic, salt, and blanched/roasted ripe tomatoes). They sell like hot cakes everywhere from restaurants to street hawkers and momo-making itself is a family bonding exercise in families/ across communities here in Sikkim.
Food of Sikkim – momos served with spicy dalle (fireball chilly) chutney
Apart from having vegetarian or non-vegetarian versions, there are a few variants of momos that we find in the market. The most famous one is the taipho, which is principally the same as a momo, with the only difference being in the dough and the size. The dough of taipho is made with the addition of yeast or soda, giving it a bread-like spongy texture and is usually rolled thicker and bigger than the traditional momo, similar to the texture of the bao buns one can find in Vietnam.
Taipho (steamed bread style dumpling with filling)
Another variant made of the same dough is the Ting-momo which is simply made of this basic bread dough shaped into interesting shapes like the Chinese flower rolls, and has no filling in it.
Ting-momos come in artistically unique shapes and sizes
These are generally served with piroo alu dum (spicy potato curry) and the ubiquitous spicy dalle-tamater ko achaar.
Ting-momo served with piroo alu dum
The other variant is more commonly found in Nepal and is called the jhol-momo. This variant has the momos/ dumplings floating in a rich spicy sauce made up of peanuts and dried red chillies (similar to Indonesian/ Malaysian satay sauce, only made thinner) and served in a large bowl.
Other forms in which locals love to consume momos in are pan-fried momos and of course, the momo chilly (pan fried momos tossed in a Chinese-style sauce base along with onions and green bell peppers) which is a big hit with all.