Why Momos Might Be Our New Favorite Dumpling Obsession
You haven’t met a dumpling quite like the Nepalese momo.
As a 10-year-old kid in Nepal, Leezen Amatya loved momos, the country’s ubiquitous dumpling dish. “One day, my dad picked me up from school, and, I remember this vividly, I asked him to take me to a momo spot,” says Amatya. “I was so excited to eat it, I was gobbling it down and it lodged in my throat.” Choking incident aside, Amatya’s momo obsession never waned.
Instead, many years and many miles later, he founded Momo Shack Dumplings in the suburbs of Dallas with childhood friends and classmates Thang Duong and Daniel Flores. But it’s Amatya’s mother, Minu, who is the chef and hands behind Momo Shack. Together, they’re helping bring momos to the culinary lexicon of dough-stuff eats.
When Amatya’s family emigrated to the U.S. in the early aughts, momos remained his connection to his Nepali roots. “I don’t think I’ve met a Nepali that does not like momos,” says Amatya. And soon, if not already, he won’t meet a soul who doesn’t like the dumpling that’s beginning to pop up everywhere. (Just outside of Dallas, where Irving is home to one of the largest Nepali American communities in the country, there are two momo-specifc restaurants: Momo Stop and Cafemandu.)
Two-thousand miles from Dallas, in the Pacific Northwest, people serve soul-warming momos from the window of Kathmandu Momocha food truck parked outside of Seattle breweries. In Oregon, Tenzin Yeshi-Men handcrafts momos for her Himalayan Dumplings company, the first such woman-owned food brand in the U.S. Around 2016, Yeshi-Men, who goes by the name Kyikyi (“happiness” in Tibetan), pitched a 10-by-10-foot tent to share her Tibetan culture from which momos originate.
“I don’t think I’ve met a Nepali that does not like momos.”
Tents, shacks, mom-and-pop shops, upscale restaurants, and street food vendors alike peddle momos all over Nepal and beyond. In Kashmir, the northernmost region of India, London chef and food media maven Romy Gill observed how families made momos at home.
“I grew up eating momos because they are a very common street food in India” where steamer baskets bearing up to 200 momos at once await hungry passersby, Gill says. But the chef and author, whose latest cookbook On the Himalayan Trail: Recipes and Stories From Kashmir to Ladakh debuted this month, formed momos by hand in a valley-cradled village farmstay in Ladakh.
“I wanted to learn the way they do it because I know other people do it differently,” Gill says. In Ladakh, fillings might be mutton, vegetable, or paneer—rarely chicken, rarely spicy. Whereas in Nepal, says Amatya, buffalo meat is a common filling, and momos are almost always accompanied by a spicy chutney. “But it’s not like you’re not burning up eating it,” he promises Amatya.
The dough is often made with chapati, which is a finely milled whole wheat flour, making for hearty dumplings that can be steamed, pan-fried, or cooked in broth for soup. The parcels can be pinched and folded in a few different ways: a crescent shape that’s not too unlike gyoza, a plump round dumpling with pleats and a thumb-sized well at the top.
Essentially, momos aren’t all created equal. There’s so much variation from country to country, and even within regions. “From the outside, it looks just like any other dumpling,” Amatya says. “But it’s the inside that counts: South Asian aromatics and herbs, ginger, garlic, cucim, coriander, things like that—also cilantro, green onions, red onions finely minced.”
Amatya’s mother and Momo Shack chef Minu once rode her moped through the busy streets of Lalitpur, Nepal, passing momo vendors along the way. Now she and her family spread the momo gospel in the United States, one Nepali-style dumpling at a time.
For the dough:
• 2 ½ cups Atta chapati flour (or all-purpose), plus extra for dusting
• Pinch of salt
• ⅔-1 cup water, at room temperature
• 2 teaspoons sunflower oil
For the filling
• 2 tablespoons white cabbage, finely grated
• 2 tablespoons carrot, peeled and finely grated
• 2 tablespoons potatoes, peeled and finely grated
• 1 ½ tablespoons onion, finely chopped
• 1 ½ tablespoons spinach, finely chopped
• 1 green chile, chopped
• 1 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1 teaspoon salt
1. To make the dough, sift the flour into a bowl and add a pinch of salt. Gradually add the water, mixing and kneading until you have a flexible dough. Drizzle the oil over the dough, turning it to coat, cover with a dish towel and leave to rest for 20-30 minutes at room temperature.
2. Meanwhile, make the filling. Place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix to combine. Divide the dough into about 30 equal-sized balls,each weighing around 10-12 grams (½ ounce).
3. Dust the work surface with flour, then roll one of the balls into thin circles, about 8 centimeters (3 inches) in diameter, one at a time. Place 1 heaped teaspoon of the filling mixture in the middle of each circle of dough, then use your thumb and forefinger to pinch the sides together to seal each parcel.
4. Repeat until all the dough and filling are used up. Fill a steamer pan with water, cover the base of the steamer with baking paper and pierce a few holes in it. Place over a high heat and bring to the boil.
5. Working in batches, place the momos on the baking paper, cover the pan with the lid and steam for 10-12 minutes until the momos look transparent.
Reprinted from On the Himalayan Trail: Recipes and Stories from Kashmir to Ladakh by Romy Gill with permission by Hardie Grant, 2022.