If you are the kind of person who seeks comfort in food you are probably adept at finding escape in a plate of warm meatballs and noodles; you love dunking garlic bread in a steaming bowl of tomato cream soup to de-stress yourself and feel rejuvenated as your fork smoothly glides through a soft, moist slice of chocolate cake after a bad day.
But if you’re looking for something healthy (all that chocolate cake will eventually become another cause of stress you know) yet delicious and slightly exotic, may I suggest the humble dumpling?
The modest little Asian dumpling, once restricted to tiny tea houses in China and Hong Kong, has come into its own as a global favourite. From the mysterious Orient to the bustling food streets of China Town in Soho; from cosmopolitan Sydney to sophisticated New York and even the home of steak and fries, Houston — the dumpling spreads comfort and joy around the world.
Asian dumplings are prepared with a variety of fillings then stuffed, pinched and twisted into quirky shapes with meticulous care; each shape and filling being specific to a particular region — the Mongolian buuz, the Korean mandu, the Japanese gyoza, the Chinese baozi or dim sum, and the Nepali momo are all related.
They can be round and plump, or shaped like a little segment of an orange. They may be cooked by boiling, steaming, simmering, frying or baking and the filling might be either mixed in or wrapped in the dough and steamed over broth or water. You can dip the little delight in the accompanying dip or sauce made with tomatoes or strong mustard in Nepal and other chilli, spring onion, sweet-chilli and soy sauce variations elsewhere.
But today let’s talk about the Nepali dumpling called momo. It is the equivalent of our pakora and is sold everywhere in Nepal as a very popular street food as well as a quick starter or snack in restaurants.
Nepali cuisine or the cuisine of the Himalayas, is unique as it is a blend of two great culinary traditions of the region — Indian and Tibetan — and reflects the geographic and demographic diversity of the Himalayas. Tulsi Regmi in his book Creative Nepali Cooking describes momos as an example of Tibetan influence on Nepali cuisine.
And what a wonderful influence it is. Words fail to describe the experience of devouring momos in a quaint little restaurant in Nagarkot, in a pristine Himalayan setting, surrounded by lush green pine forests and enjoying a spectacular view of the whole Lantang range.
But you don’t need a gorgeous view to enjoy a momo; it tastes just as delicious at any one of the cafes tucked away in one of the many side streets of Kathmandu. You can feast on platters of these two-bite delights spending less than you’d pay for a morning cup of coffee at a posh café in Karachi.
The Nepalese momo are either deep fried or steamed and stuffed with either chicken or buffalo mince — these are called buff momos — or with vegetables like carrots, mushroom, spring onion, etc. The buff momos have mince spiked with a little pickle to create a sensational flavour.
Wash it down with an aromatic cup of masala chai for a substantial mid-day snack which will give you all the energy you need to walk up and down the sloping streets of Kathmandu or go trekking in the hill stations; you can always stop and refuel if you need as nearly all the little eating places in the hill stations of Nagarkot right up to Pokhara will serve you a fairly good variety of momos.
Is it a surprise that dim sum, the Chinese or Mandarin name for dumplings, has an interesting meaning. Dim means to touch. sum means the heart. For food that touches your heart, you can’t do better than a momo.