Momo is a meat dumpling, just like many East to West countries have their own style of dumpling.
People often wonder where Momo originated. There is no doubt that Momo originated in North-eastern China. Everyone has their style of Momo cooking, arguments can perhaps best be avoided.
What is MOMO and where did it start?
The word “Momo” means steam bun in the Shaanxi language. This province was a gateway to northwest China along the Silk road. Still today it is famous for tourists to visit. You cannot travel through the northwestern area without being tempted by these delicious juicy dumplings. Each city has its own variation. Some make dough thicker and some are finer and more elaborately twisted at the top. Meat-filled dumplings and buns are the most popular snack foods usually accompanied by tea in the tea houses. It is a very popular dish to make during the Chinese New Year. There was a saying in northern China it is so easy to make Momo that “one part of water and two parts of flour (rice flour or wheat flour)” are the simple ingredients of the pancake. Add a thousand choices of different stuffing and accompanied it with sauce.
“In A.D.640, Most of the domestic arts practiced in Tibet were introduced by the Chinese, prominent among these innovators being the Chinese wife (Princess Wenchang, (Kong-jo), daughter of the Emperor Tai T~un) of King Srong- tsan-Gampo, who…taught them butter-making, tea-drinking, brewing beer, improved methods of weaving, eating of food with chopsticks instead of with the bare hands, many forms of cooking, and milling of flour.“
“The Land of Lama” by David Macdonald publication Jan1,1929
Birth of Momocha in Kathmandu,
Based on Tibet history, I believe Momo was introduced to Tibet by Princess Wencheng in the Royal kitchen of Tibet. Especially T-Momo (steam bun), Thendek( noodle) meat momo on special occasions. The momo making and serving tradition were believed to be brought to Tibet by Silk Road travelers and traders in Tibet. As they continued to travel, it spread all over the region. Those days Newar Traders, known as “Lhasa Newa Sahu” from Kathmandu introduced Momocha and noodle eating into their own houses and neighbor’s houses. One thing that changed was Tuladhar Clan started adding spices and aromatic ingredients, which provided a different layer of flavor than the original momo. That’s the Birth of Newari Momo-cha. The “cha” word is added in the end because it is beloved food.
In most Newari families they make Momocha on cold days, especially on Kwati Punhi and Yomari Puhni. When we were kids, eating Momocha was a special affair. Whole families gathered around and from early morning preparation began by mincing meat, ginger, shallots, and grinding masala. The meat had to be a perfect combination between marrow, fat, water, and masala to get maximum flavor and juiciness. Making the dough right consistency and pinching the dough into a small flat disk “pa” is the key to making the best Momocha.
The best part was having all the family members together stuffing the dumplings. These are stuffed with buffalo meat, (or stuffed with vegetables, potatoes, or cottage cheese known as Kuwa), This is a perfect excuse for families to prepare huge trays of Momocha to share with family. It is served with a few varieties of sauces. They are not difficult to make, but it is labor-intensive work and takes practice to make it. The result is very satisfying once it is in the mouth because it is flavored with masala and its juicy inside.
For years, Momocha was famous among Newar people only because many other caste people won’t eat buffalo meat. According to our father’s generation’s stories, the commercial Momocha began in the ally of Tyoda tole, in 1950 by Nati Kaji. “Nati chaya momo pasa” became a place where many young people hung out. He made one of a kind Momocha that was unique. He served in Lapte, “Sal leaf” 3 to four Momocha at a time. In the same period, another Momocha pasa was opened by Kalu Maharjan in Yathaka Tole. Few people started “Hasa momo pasa” Street nightstand, where they sold dumplings the size of large marbles known as “Guchaa momo”. The fun part of going to eat at these places was they served fresh Momocha for a certain time only. There were three famous places: the Jansaiwa hall area, currently the center of the New road, second was in Indra chowk, and the third was in Ason tole.
According to Om Krishan Shrestha, son of Ram Krishan Shrestha, in 1966 Ram and his partner Chayta Narayan Manandhar started mass Momocha production in front of Ranjana hall. Momocha became the fast food of young Newars. Many Momocha street vendors and workers left the kitchen and opened their own Momocha Joint. This changed the course of momo establishments in Kathmandu, it became so famous that other caste young people started sneaking into the Momocha Joint.
Nowadays, Momocha is not only popular among the Newar community, but it has also become like a National dish. Today in Nepal and India, Momocha houses are getting super popular. I had great memories of eating delicious Momocha in the streets of Kathmandu and the street of New York City.
Momo Cha is must order dish when I go to any Nepali Restaurant in Nepal or anywhere in the world.
The whole story of MoMo or MoMo Cha is fully researched and written by Chef Bikram Vaidya. As Chef Bikram is a local resident of Nepa Valley, Ason tole, Kathmandu and he has the full experience from the beginning of MoMO Cha in Nepal. We are coming soon with collaboration as the “Nepa Bothers”. Stay tuned!!!