In Newari, one of Nepal’s oldest languages, ‘mome’ means cooking by steaming. ‘Momo’ is to Nepal what pizza is to Italy, and is available in every restaurant, hotel and household of Katmandu and other parts of Nepal. Momo is like Mount Everest – one of the symbols of Nepal. Now its popularity has spread beyond national boundaries and, thanks largely to Nepalese communities living abroad, it is growing popular in other parts of the world, too.
There are other reasons for momo’s increasing popularity of momo. First, it is cheap. The price of momo varies from ten rupees for one plate (10 to 12 pieces) to 100 rupees. A plate of momo is enough for a light lunch. Second comes the taste. Momo is prepared with special spices, which add unique and original taste to suit the Nepalese palate. The third reason is momo’s long history. Momo has figured on Nepalese menus for centuries and ithas become part of the national culture. The fourth is its availability. It is found in every corner of the country and every restaurant and hotel, big or small. So how is momo prepared and what are the ingredients? Momo is made from wheat flour, vegetable oil, chopped onion, garlic, sesame, green chilies, tomatoes, meat (preferably beef), mustard powder, ginger juice and a blend of Nepalese herbal spices.
First, pour water into the wheat flour and knead the resulting dough into a smooth paste. Then mold into small, thin discs. Grind the meat into a paste and mix in the chopped onion, garlic and ginger juice. Then add the vegetable oil and spices and blend well. Spread the mixture of meat, garlic, onion and spices onto each disc and fold into a half-moon shape.
Then steam the momo in the multi-layer pan specially made for the purpose. Pour water into the bottom layer, add salt, garlic, tomato, chili and spices and boil over a stove. Then place the stuffed momo on the upper layers of the steaming pan and cover with the lid. Steam for 15 minutes.
Then comes a no less important step in the preparation: the making of the special momo sauce known as ‘achar’. Mix tomato, chopped onion, chopped green chilies and garlic and cook for ten minutes. Add salt, sesame powder, mustard powder and special herbal spices. The achar is now ready.
After cooking for 15 minutes, turn off the stove. Remove the lid and take out the momo. Place 10 of the pasties onto a plate and add the achar. Pour some of the soup that has been formed in the bottom layer of the utensil into a dish and season with spices. Serve with the momo. Originally, momo was made only with beef, but nowadays mutton, chicken, pork and even vegetables are used in Katmandu.
The history of momo in Nepal dates back to as early as the fourteenth century. Momo was initially a Newari food in the Katmandu valley. It was later introduced to Tibet, China and as far away as Japan by a Nepalese princess who was married to a Tibetan king in the late fifteenth century.
Mahedra Shakya is the owner of three popular momo restaurants called ‘Momo Kings’ in Katmandu, which are always packed with punters. Shakya attributes the popularity of his momo to its authentic flavor. ‘ We use the traditional method to make momo. It gives a special, original taste, which people like,’ he says.
Since momo is slowly getting popular in India and other countries, Shakya plans to open momo restaurants in New Delhi, Calcutta and Mumbai in the near future. ‘I am planning to open momo restaurants in at least three cities in India by the end of 2001, and later in some European cities,’ says Shakya.
Momo has become part of Nepalese food habit and culture. As Nepal’s most original and oldest food, it needs to be popularized in the world as well.
Yuba Nath Lamsal is deputy editor of the Katmandu daily The Rising Nepal