Tibetan Momos: Steamed Dumplings Using Kikkoman Soya Sauce

The crack of dawn. The sun still deciding whether to rise or not, while not taking a chance the sky gets ready to cast off it's inky blue for an orange kissed hue. In this twilight steaming pots of soups and momos  are served to the few people huddled around the fire. Breaking fast is serious business and Kolkata's Teeriti Bajar bears testimony to this fact every morning. This lane is in the old part of Calcutta, as Kolkata used to be called before politicians decided to de-anglicize the name of this eastern city of India. This is the part where the first wave of Chinese settled in Kolkata and made it their home. Chinese breakfast is a sacred ritual among Kolkatans and a favourite destination for momos.
The radio jockey takes a breather from incessant chatter to play a song. Kishore Kumar's warm voice floods the air waves to the catchy tunes of R.D. Burman. The guy at the counter sleepily stifles a yawn and checks his wrist watch as if to hurry time. It's mid afternoon and business is slow. Till a bunch of college students flood the small joint buried inside a tiny lane just off Rabindra Sadan. The noise and bustle of the main road hardly reaches this tiny food joint situated in what is popularly known as momo potti  {area dotted with joints serving momo}. Predictably all the students' order steamed momos along with chilled Thums Up {a strong cola hugely popular in India, the first thing Coke did after entering India was to buy up Thums Up, thankfully they have not changed the taste}. Some go on to order thupka {noodle soup with garam masala, a Tibetan speciality} later. 
While I was in my teenages these were the two areas of Kolkata where momos were sure to be served. By now you must be wondering what on earth are momos? Momos are Tibetan/Nepalese/Sikkimese dumplings very similar to Chinese dim sums. The biggest difference is that unlike their Chinese counterparts, momos have spices in them and chillies. Man sometimes a lot. The stuffing is mostly pork, chicken, beef and lamb are also used and for the vegetarian it is cabbage and cottage cheese. These steamed momos are sometimes served deep fried and occasionally pan fried. In Kolkata it is served with a clear chicken broth and red & fiery chutney. In Delhi it is served with garlic chutney. Thanks to the heavy population of Tibetans in Uttarakhand, Dharmashala & McLeod Gunj also are dotted with momo joints.
The first time I heard about momos was from my elder cousins when they came visiting us during the summer vacations. They, at that time lived in the Himalayan foothills in the tiny Indian state of Sikkim. I used to listen with rapt attention to their tales of giant snow capped mountains, walking down the slopes to get to school,  gurgling mountain streams whose water was sweet as honey,  Buddhist monasteries, terrace farming, awesome Sikkimese milk candies, rearing their own hens and of course momos. This magical place seemed light years away from my humdrum Kolkata existence. My school could be accessed very easily and boringly via the main road, I did  not have to cross mountains to get to it, neither did the snow caped Himalayas greet me every morning nor was I friends with a gaggle of every grinning Sikkimese children.
How I wished for a more exciting existence!
But alas!
Getting back to the momos, I don't remember when I first tasted momos, but I was pretty hooked from the first bite onwards. Momo, a north eastern mountain dish snaked it's way down to the plains during my early teenage. And thank God they did. Ever since  they have kept me company. Be it the Punjabi style momos served in a tiny Chinese/Tibetan takeaway in New Delhi or the momos in JNU campus or sitting at the Sikkimese stall in Dilli Haat eating momos and sipping root beer while listening to the plaintive violin being played by as turbaned Rajasthani musician. To my delight I found momos in Oxford as well courtesy a Nepalese restaurant. In London a quick internet check showed the nearest Nepalese restaurant to be significantly far away but by then I had some youtube videos to show me how to make these. I simplified it a step further by not making the wrappers at home. I buy wonton wrappers from Chinese grocery stores and use those. Now you may think that is a big cheat (my mother certainly does), gleefully I agree. It's a cheat I am mighty proud of cos it let's you have momo whenever you want to, without too much effort. But hold on, before the share the recipe I want to talk to you about Kikkoman soya sauce.
Recently I was invited to an event by the Kikkoman soya sauce. After getting the invite I actually went to my cupboard and checked the name on the bottle of my soya sauce. It turned out to be a Kikkoman one. Like you know I am inordinately fond of South Eastern and Far Eastern cuisines. So South Eastern cooking staples like soya sauce is always stored in my pantry, one never knows when one might urgently crave a bowl of noodles. After buying several brands, I have stuck to Kikkoman because of the quality of the product. I knew the product is excellent but I never paid much attention to it's name, till the event invite. So I was happy to accept the invitation. What an evening it was. Held at Matsuri, a top Japanese restaurant in London, there was a soya sauce comparison test led by the convivial Mr. Bing Yu Li, the General Sales Manager of Kikkoman UK. This was followed by a demonstration and a live cooking demo by Simon Hulstone, Michelin-starred Chef of The Elephant in Tourquay. Simon talked about using soya sauce in British cuisine which I found really interesting! And the food was superb too!
Coming back home ladden with bottles of soya sauce I knew I had to cook something with these. I had been craving momos for the last few days, so I decided to make momos using the soya sauce.
Now momos are a hybrid of Chinese and Indian cuisines, it uses Chinese dumpling steaming method with staple ingredients like soya sauce and rice vinegar, while from Indian cooking it uses some spices. Now I am not very sure whether the use of spices in momo happened during it's southern trek to the plains of India. Could have been, this is the version I am used to eating and simply love it. A lot of people get surprised when they realise spices are used in momos, I would say it's the spices which make momos so unique and different from the rest of the Chinese dumplings.
The recipe I am sharing with you I have perfected over several trials. The main guiding force is this episode of Yogesh Datta's Food Bites. Also I have seen several Tibetan youtube videos, unfortunately can't find their links on the youtube any more (these were viewed before I learnt about subscribing to youtube videos).
The recipe basically has four stages, now don't let this put you off.  The green chillies in rice vinegar can be done 4/5 days ahead, in fact the more it sits the better the chillies soak up the vinegar flavour and vice versa. You can and should make the chutney the previous day. So two stages taken care of. We are now left with preparing the stuffing and assembling the momos. That takes around 45 mins of your time. So let's start with the green chillies.
I. Green chillies in Rice Vinegar
Ingredients:
1. One small sterilised glass jar
2. 5/6 green chillies, deseeded and chopped
3. Chinese rice vinegar enough to fill up two thirds of the glass jar.
Method:
Add the chopped chillies in the vinegar in the glass jar, close the lid and store in the refrigerator. The longer it stays the chilli infused the vinegar will be. Once you use it top it up with more vinegar or chilli.
II. Chutney to be served with Momo:
Ingredients:
1. 1 can of tomatoes
2. 1 tea spoon of chillies in vinegar
3. 1 tea spoon of finely chopped ginger 
4. 1/2 tea spoon of sesame seeds, lightly toasted
5. 1 heaped table spoon of dark brown sugar
6. A pinch of turmeric/haldi
7. 7/8 pieces of cumin seeds
8. 1 heaped table spoon of finely chopped onion
9. 1 tea spoon of chopped cilantro
10. 2 tea spoons of oil
11. Salt to taste
12. 1/4th cup of water to liquify the chutney
13. 2 heaped tea spoons of finely chopped garlic
14. 1 table spoon of soya sauce
Method:
1. In a frying pan lightly toast the sesame seeds, keep aside
2. Add 1 tea spoon of oil and then fry the onion and half the quantity of garlic  with a pinch of the brown sugar till caramel brown, keep aside
3. In the same pan add the rest of the oil, once the oil has heated add the rest of the garlic, ginger, cumin seeds, turmeric, half of the lightly toasted sesame seeds fry for a couple of minutes over medium heat
4. Then add one tin of tomatoes, mix everything well
5. Add the sugar and the soya sauce, stir well, add the water and bring the mixture to a boil. Taste the mixture, if needed add a little salt.
6. Remove from heat and let it cool.
7. Blitz the mixture till it reaches a smooth consistency
8. Pour in a bowl, add the green chillies in vinegar, chopped cilantro, fried onion and garlic and the lightly toasted sesame seeds. Mix well, cover and refrigerate overnight.
9. Bring out the chutney a couple of hours before serving with momos so that it is no longer cold
III. Momo Stuffing:
Like I mentioned the stuffing can be made of minced pork, beef, chicken or lamb. For the vegetarians the options are cabbage, carrots and cottage cheese.
Ingredients: {I used minced lamb for this recipe}
1. 250 grams of minced lamb
2. 1 heaped tea spoon of finely minced garlic
3. 1/2 tea spoon of garlic paste
4. 2 table spoons of finely chopped cilantro stalk
5. 1 tea spoon of chopped green chillies from the vinegar and chilli mixture
6. One stem of spring onion finely chopped
7. 2 tea spoons of soya sauce
8. 1 tea spoon of cumin powder
9. One pinch of red chilli powder/paprika
10. 1 table spoon of oil
11. 2 table spoons of water
12. Salt to taste
Method:
Mix everything very well together and cook on stove top till all the moisture evaporates. Keep stirring occasionally, the meat will brown in the process but not be entirely cooked.
IV. Assembling the Momos:
Ingredients:
1. Dumpling wrappers from Chinese grocery stores
2. A steamer, I have an electric one, but you could use the traditional bamboo ones
3. A little water
Method:
1. Place the dumpling wrapper on your palm, using the other hand, water the edges of the wrapper
2. Place one heaped tea spoon of momo stuffing on the centre of the wrapper and join the wrapper edges with a light hand (please refer to the youtube video in case of confusion)
3. Gently place the momos on a steaming tray and steam for approximately 10 minutes.
4. Serve hot with chutney
5. You could deep dry or pan fry these beauties, but I have never done either. Heck my momos do not last long enough for me to do anything else to them!

20 comments :

  1. this can be called culinary/food sociology. real good work, salute!

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  2. i absolutely love mo:mo and grew up eating them. I made a sauce (soup sort of) not too long ago and posted on my blog as its very appropriate for the winter months. http://www.foodpleasureandhealth.com/2013/11/soup-dumplings-jhol-momo.html

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  3. OMG, how beatifully served!
    ps. we tried out the pasta from the last post-delicious, thank you!

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  4. Yummy! Love momos and can't wait to devour some very soon :)

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  5. What a beautiful post, Suchi. Once again I feel like I have gone on an adventurous journey:) Your words are sweet and your food looks delectable!

    The only brand of soya sauce I have ever used is Kikkoman. I actually have a few of their products in the pantry. I've been meaning to buy won tons (I guess i will be a "cheater" too, lol:) I keep putting them on the list and still forget. I would love to try and make these steamed dumplings. You have provided very good instructions, thank you:)

    I'm going to save this recipe for someday, I really would love to make my own!

    Thank you so much for sharing, Suchi...

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  6. Love momos, especially the steamed ones, you have made it perfectly and that red chutney looks superb..

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  7. thanks for sharing this wonderful recipe

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  8. Wow!
    Love momos and you have made them so well. Craving them now.

    ReplyDelete

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