Momos: How A Traditional Tibetan Delight Became A Routine Snack For The Indian Youth

Momos: How A Traditional Tibetan Delight Became A Routine Snack For The Indian Youth
Illustration by Shreya Takodara

If you are like me, you have probably spent about a little more than half of your college life eating momos during lunch break. Those being days when you had little to no money in your pocket, were both the best and the worst of times. I say the ‘best of times’, because I had never been happier just sipping on hot milk ‘chai’ with a plate of chicken momos in my hand. And the ‘worst of times’ because, well, those were the only two things I could afford. So, now you know the reason behind my fascination with momos. These carry an element of nostalgia, reminding me of days gone by, when our lives were less complicated, friendships were simpler, and happiness was easy to come by.

This is not to say that I didn’t occasionally binge on the Egg Roll or the Chowmein. But ‘Momo’ kind of still topped my list.

25 bucks for a plate could fill you up for a long time. It kind of made my day back then. So, I decided to do some quick research and find out how this amazing treat found its way to the small shop near my college in Kolkata, and all the way to my tummy!

The Origin of the Momo

The origin of the momo is kind of blurry. However, most people agree that it is primarily of Tibetan origin. It has been noted that when the Chinese attacked the region in 1959, the exiled Tibetans settled in various parts of India, including Dharamshala, Sikkim, Ladakh, Darjeeling, Kolkata, Delhi as well as many other metropolitan cities. These Tibetans brought their culinary tradition to mainland India and went on to introduce their native dishes like the Momo, Thukpa, Chexo, Laping, and others among Indians. However, the momo, probably because of its simplicity and low cost, became more popular than any of the others.

Eventually, the momo-fever gripped the entire nation, and now it is savoured not only by college students but also by people of all ages and regions. Today, it’s seen more as fast food which can be whipped up in a jiffy than an exotic Tibetan dish. In other words, momos are for everyone! India has adopted it like its very own. Besides Tibetans, the dish is said to have spread to various parts of Asia via travelling Chinese and Newari (a region in Nepal) merchants as well.

The momo, which entered China through Tibet, and then spread through the Silk Route to other parts of the sub-continent has similar cousins in South-east and Central Asia. China has the Baozi, Jiaozi and the Mantou; Japan has Gyozo; the Mongolians have the Buuz; the Koreans and the Turkish have the Mandu.

It is a myth that momo is a staple dish for people in the north-east. In fact, people from the north-east like the Khasis, Nagas, Arunachalis, Manipuris, Mizos and Tripuris have little to do with the momo. Perhaps, it is only among Arunachal Pradesh’s Monpa and Sherdukpa tribes, who live in the West Kameng and Tawang districts and share a border with Tibet, where momos are a part of the diet. Their version is usually stuffed with minced pork and mustard leaves or other green vegetables and served with chilli paste. This is not to say that it is any less popular as street food in the north-east. It is just not their staple!

Indianisation of the momo

In Tibet, momos are prepared with yak meat, tomato, garlic, ginger, dried chilly and oil-based filling. Both steamed and fried versions of the dish are savoured along with a chilli paste. But, in India, we get other varieties of momo with fillings as diverse as paneer, cheese, vegetables, corn. and even chocolate.

These are few of the places where you can find the most amazing momos in India:

I. Denzong Kitchen, Kolkata

IV. Dilli Haat, Delhi

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