Making Momos | A Community Affair
It was warm. The air was thick with monsoon humidity, and the sun was relentless. "You hungry?" she asked me in broken English, motioning bringing food to her mouth. I was. We'd been walking for miles in the heat from the bazaar, both tucked underneath one umbrella to shield us from the sun and the rain, dodging passersby, animal droppings, and unevenly placed cobblestones. I was sweaty, overwhelmed, tired, and, yes... hungry. I was relieved when we ducked underneath a tin-roofed shack with no door... or front wall for that matter. Just four makeshift walls, some benches that were crowded with hungry patrons, an open flame with a massive pot sitting on top. They served one thing: momos.
There was one woman cooking, lifting the lid off to let loose a flock of steam and a familiar, fragrant flavor that filled the small metal fixture. To be Nepali is to have a life long love affair with momos. The doughy dumplings are filled with some variation of meat, onions, garlic, ginger, chili, and spices. Everyone makes them a little bit differently, but you'll be hard-pressed to find someone that doesn't like them.
Eating momos, though, is much more than just stopping for a snack on the way home from a long day. It's a symbolic (and tasty) depiction of a culture that was built on community. Communities in Nepal rely on one another. Whether you live in a remote village in the Himalayas or are surrounded by one another in the dense, chaotic cities, everyday life is lived out very much together.
Whether eating them around a table with family, on the floor with friends scattered about the room, or in a noisy, crowded roadside snack (khaja) shop, eating momos is about community. You can't find a momo steamer that makes less than 20! They come in stacks and the momos that come out of them intend to be devoured. After you've had one, dipped in spicy achaar (kind of like salsa!), you can' help but have just one more. Just one more. Just one more.
But you have to cook them before you can eat them, and it is not an easy job. After vegetables are prepped, mixed, and minced, the dough is kneaded, and then comes the assembly. Everyone gets comfy around the raw materials and gets to work. one person rolls bits of dough into perfect circular sheets, another fills them with bite-sized amounts of filling, and another skillfully cinches it all together. Stories about first learning to make momos, memories of childhood, and dreams of the future fill the space while hands roll, fill, and cinch.
Laughter floats about the room with the smell of the first batch coming off the fire. Everyone eats a few while they work without waiting for them to cool. Scalding filling dances on the huffs and puffs of eager mouths. they take longer to make than you'd think. But that's okay. In Nepal, fixed times are often a myth. You eat while you cook, and you stay as long or as short as you'd like. That's the Nepali culture we've come to know and love. We don't mind the tasty momos, either!
While you're stuck at home these days, print out this recipe card, get your family around the table, and try your hand at momos! Get your own tastes for the Nepali flavor and the community that defines it!