A humble steamed dumpling, the momo has found its way into India’s food-obsessed consciousness as it has made its way from street food to upmarket, white-linen eateries across the subcontinent.
The flavorful snack, with fillings of vegetables or meat, has come a long way since denizens of Delhi and other big cities began to fancy the dumpling in the late 1990s. Momos are similar to Japanese gyoza and Chinese jiaozi, but their origins are in Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan.
Tibetans brought their food culture with them when they settled in India, most notably in Majnu-ka-tilla on the outskirts of Delhi, in the 1960s. The town is dotted with restaurants serving what is considered to be an authentic Tibetan momo. Among the most succulent treats to be found in Majnu-ka-tilla are mutton, pork and beef momos, served with a fiery red chili sauce and available at the Ama Restaurant, and hot chili momos, available at Tee Dee.
That momos are popular in India is an understatement. You can buy them from kiosks and food carts on the street, in malls and movie theaters. Foodies will find assortments of momos in restaurants including Yeti – The Himalayan Kitchen.
To exploit this runaway fad, Indian chefs have cooked up enough variations of the snack to satisfy the curiosity of even the most adventurous culinary buff.
How do vodka momos sound? These subtly flavored dumplings have a crisp outer layer, with garlic and onion garnish, the vodka usually being mixed in with the batter. What about vodka and butter chicken momos? A Punjabi meal, especially in Delhi, is never complete without butter chicken but these momos are not for the faint-hearted, served in a thick, saffron-colored gravy. Then you have tandoori momos, which have tickled many palates. They are reddish-orange in color, having been tossed into the tandoor oven for a smoky flavor.
The Nepali variety, called momo-cha, is a round, bite-size dumpling stuffed with Nepali spices and meat. The snack comes with three sauces, called achar, including a fiery red chili paste, a white sesame and green chili paste; and a tomato and sesame seed sauce. Jhol momos are another popular variation on the theme. They are steamed and dunked in a sesame and tomato soup, which creates an especially juicy delicacy.
Perhaps the most creative momo is the lollipop momo, available at Firangi N More in Paschim Vihar in Delhi’s west. This marinated and fried momo is tossed in chili sauce before being served on a stick.
Health buffs might consider Café Brown Sugar in Greater Kailash I on the southern side of Delhi. Here there are wholewheat momos with cottage cheese and spinach filling, favored by vegetarians.
Elsewhere you’ll find savory fillings that include corn and cheese, chicken and cheese, chocolate, tandoori, malai tandoori, gratin and buckwheat. But for those with a sweet tooth, fast-food chains Wow! Momos and Mr Momos sell chocolate momos with salty wraps, filled with regular or dark chocolate, or with a mini-brownie and vermicelli. They come covered with chocolate sauce and are sometimes sprinkled with chocolate powder.
Wow! Momos also has a momo burger, called the Moburg, consisting of a bun sandwiching two fried momos and served with coriander sauce, Sichuan sauce and mayonnaise.
Diners are spoilt for choice and that choice is bound to expand as Indians keep applying their ingenuity to creating new varieties of this famed Himalayan dish.