Momos! The Tibetan dumplings that the world is besotted with

Momos! The Tibetan dumplings that the world is besotted with

Dumplings with minced chicken, vegetables and a red hot chilli chutney is more than a dish

 Momos! The Tibetan dumplings that the world is besotted with
Momos! The Tibetan dumplings that the world is besotted with Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: If there is one snack for winters - it is momos. Our columnist, Jyotsana Mohan, has written about bonding with friends and family over a steaming plate of momos.

A dish so delicious that there aren’t many who haven’t fallen under its sway! Typically filled with minced meat and vegetables and served along with a spicy chutney, momos are an Indian street-side eateries’ staple.

The origins of momos remain debatable, whether it is a Tibetan dish or from Nepal. But what we know for a fact is that India adopted this dish like its very own. It has provided a livelihood to many vendors and is popular as elevated cuisine too. It is believed that momos travelled from Lhasa in Tibet to Nepal, India and the rest of the world. A trading community called Newar traders, an ethnic group who were the original inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal, were the first to have taken it to neighbouring lands as they used the Himalayan passes. Their journeys were long and arduous; some lasted 10 to 12 weeks, on foot and then on horses. Nepali author Kamal Ratna Tuladhar’s book, A Merchant of Kathmandu in Traditional Tibet, mentions that the Newar merchants lived in Tibet for long periods and learned to prepare local foods, both out of interest and necessity. And when they returned home to Nepal, they passed down the recipe and technique to family members.

In his book, he mentions that the first roadside momo stall was seen in Kathmandu, Nepal, in 1942. Traditionally, momos were made with three different fillings – minced meat, mashed potatoes and khuwa (dried whole milk). The second arrival of momos took place when Tibetan refugees came to India and stayed in specific areas, such as Majnu ka Tila in Delhi and Bylakuppe in Karnataka. Walk into Delhi's Majnu ka Tila, also called Delhi's Little Tibet, and you will come across colourful cafes and bakeries tucked in narrow lanes. They serve delicious momos are often budget-friendly. Over time, Buddhist Indian culinary influences made the otherwise large momos smaller and spicier.

Momos, gyozas, jiaozi, where did they intersect?

Momos are, in many ways, similar to the Chinese baozi and jiaozi, dumplings usually filled with minced meat, beef, shrimp, vegetables or tofu. They are prepared on special occasions like the Lunar New year in China. According to Chinese legends, mutton and pepper jiaozi were invented by a famous doctor as a frostbite remedy. These dumplings are shaped more like long, slender pleated boats. Highly reminiscent of the gyoza.

Chinese Baozi
Chinese Baozi Image Credit:

A version of jiaozi is what we know as Tibetan momos. Many vegetarian options are available too, filled with cabbage, mushroom, cottage cheese, potatoes, spinach, onions, and cheese. Tibetan momos are shaped like half-moons, and most often, vegetarian ones are shaped like a small bundle, neatly pleated and held at the centre. The delicacy of the dough covering is what makes or breaks an excellent momo - quite literally. Many people use store-brought momo sheets or wrappers, but most Tibetan households prefer having a small wooden dowel to roll it out.

Momos steamer
Momos are typically made in these steamer Image Credit: Shutterstock

How far did momos travel?

The Mongol invaders travelled far and wide during the early 13th to 14th century; so did the recipe for momos. Right from far-east, central, and west Asia to eastern and north-eastern Europe.

At the intersection of Eastern Europe and West Asia is the mountainous country of Georgia, where a momo-like dish called Khinkali is popular. It is believed that its recipe was brought by the Mongols.

Khinkali - A Georgian dumpling
Khinkali - A Georgian dumpling Image Credit:

And then you have the Korean momo-like dumplings called mandou. In Afghanistan, there is a similar dish called mantou, which resembles the Italian tortellini. The two Afghan momo versions are the mantou, which is stuffed with meat and onions, topped with a chana dal or split Bengal gram and yoghurt sauce, and the other is ashak, a thick a soup-based dish from Kabul, filled with chives, garnished with yoghurt, kidney beans and minced lamb. Interestingly, Afghanistan’s northern neighbour, Uzebekistan, too has a momo-like manti dish - a rather large dumpling filled with juicy meat and vegetables, topped with the same split Bengal gram.

Mantou - A type of dumpling popular in Afghanistan
Mantou - A type of dumpling popular in Afghanistan Image Credit: Shuttestock

In the UAE…

Thirty three-year-old Anup Mangal, a supervisor at Darjeeling café, Karama, Dubai, said: “Momos are popular in the UAE with the Nepalese and Indian expats. Our customer base is usually people who like momos.” A plate of steaming hot momos (consisting of six pieces) can cost anywhere between Dh18 to 20 in the UAE.

Pampa Lama

Here is a recipe to make momos at home by Indian expatriate, Pampa Lama

Serves 4

750 gms all-purpose flour or maida

½ kg chicken keema or minced chicken

4 onions, finely chopped

Half cup chopped vegetables – spring onions, cabbage, carrots, optional

Pinch of aji-no-moto or MSG flavour enhancer

100 gms ginger, grated

200 gms refined or vegetable oil

50 gms butter, melted

Salt to taste

1. Heat a pan, add oil, sauté garlic and ginger on a high flame to prepare the filling. Next, add freshly chopped vegetables and mix well. Now add salt to taste. If you like, add powdered pepper at this point.

2. Mix the vegetable mix with the keema and keep it aside.

To prepare the dough:

3. Take all-purpose flour, salt and oil in a bowl. Mix well.

4. Add 3/4th cup of water and begin to knead. Slowly, start kneading to make the dough firm. Do not knead the dough soft, as it will shape the dumplings and increase the chances of it breaking.

5. Once done, cover the dough with a napkin or kitchen towel, preferably moist. Allow it to rest for 30 minutes.

6. Pinch a small momo-sized dough and flatten it with a rolling pin. Roll it to make a medium-thick circle. If you roll it out too thin, the chances of it breaking will be higher. Note: Roll the sides too, and make sure you keep the centre slightly thick to hold the filling.

7. Place a heaped tablespoon of filling at the centre and start pleating the edges. Join all the pleats at the centre

Note: Pleating momos, can seem like a task, but the idea is to do it fast and gather all the ends, so they are sealed and look like a tiny bundle.

To steam the momos:

1. You will need a steamer pan to make momos. Grease it with some oil and arrange them in the pan. Make sure to leave space in between.

2. Cover and steam for 5 to 6 minutes. Or until the outer dough becomes transparent. If you overcook, the outer dough will become chewy. If the outer layer is too thick, you will need to steam it longer.

3. Once the momos are cooked, the outer layer will have a shiny sheen and look transparent.

Gently, place them on a plate and serve with the spicy chutney.

To make the chutney, you will need:

6 dried-red Kashmiri Chillies, halved and deseeded

2 large tomatoes

1 ½ tsp sugar

5 cloves of garlic

Salt to taste

2 tsp vinegar

Blanch the tomatoes and dried chillies. Put them in a blender, add sugar, salt, garlic and vinegar. Turn it into a paste and serve. You may choose to add more red chillies if you like your chutney spi

Tell us about your favourite momo recipes at

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