A DISCOVERY OF MOMO IN PANAJI

Wonderful world of momo or momos (both terms are in popular usage, momo are native to Tibet): ‘Nainital Momos’ is now in Panaji with its wide range of momo; momo line-up…Tibetan steamed momo; tandoori momo; soupy thupa momo and more. Go take a momo break!

BY TARA NARAYAN

Eating is Fun / Eating is Yuck! – A variety food column

YOU must know what momo is? Steamed or fried dumplings born in north-eastern kitchens or wherever you may find Tibetan/north easterners in India. I must confess that I first ate momo and thupa while on a trekking jaunt in Manali in Himachal Pradesh in my younger years and I fell for them. Momo, thupa, even the sound of them resonates deliciously. Of course there are meaty momo and thupa versions but I’ve stayed with the veggie stuffed ones and always appreciate them steamed, although momo vendors (in plenty in urban India now) have taken to frying them and so there are a host of fried momo (can’t stand them, truly yuk when oil is recycled and stinky).
Momo is very familiar to us in mainland India now, be it Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore or wherever else; I dare say momo fame spread with the vast migration of Tibetans from their homeland long ago to settle in India — they brought their native momo along. I do believe momo originates in Tibet, although in a wider context one may perceive them as Oriental food now, be it China or the rest of the south-east Asian belt. The fame of momo has spread near and far, say it is the comfort food of the Oriental people be it in India or abroad and I’ve adopted it as one of my comfort food too!
I can live on momo and the soupy version in thupa. I would consider them healthy food to eat. In Panaji whenever I feel like momo I get them either from the Caculo Mall food court or Bombay Kitchen in Panaji, the upmarket 5-star restaurants like Wan Hao at Marriott or Tamari at Taj Vivanta do exotic take-offs on the momo but instead of momo they may be called dim sums (upmarket word for what is primarily finger food in humble north-eastern homes). There are momo and momo — earthy versions or delicate, exotic versions.
I suppose before refined white flour maida came along as an industrial ingredient housewives must have made the traditional momo out of wheat flour or barley or rice flour (much like Maharashtrians do their rice flour modak during Ganesh Chaturthi festival time. Modak may come savoury too, although the traditional version is usually a sweet affair stuffed with freshly grated coconut-jaggery powder, elaichi-spiked choon, steamed and dabbed with pure ghee before being served to Lord Ganesh and then family and friends).
But to stay with momo I remember relishing them in Shillong where my vegetarian version came packed with radish and spring onion greens, a hint of mustard greens somewhere too — to be dipped in tangy tomato chili sauce and savoured. The pork-mustard greens version were popular with a friend with me. Momo may be so austere like a mouthwateringly fragrant bouquet of translucent flowers when they come out of the bamboo steamer…on their own they’re divine, dip them in red chili-garlic-ginger blended sauce and they become lip-smacking celestial! Both plain or hotted-up they’re agreeable for me, but steamed momo please.
Over the years I’ve enjoyed all kinds of vegetarian momo — stuffed with a tangy cabbage slaw or spinach-paneer or carrot-broccoli or sweet corn-green coriander or mushroom-garlic, etcetera. Momo come in round or long crescent or rose shapes, variety of shapes. Last week a friend told me Nainital Momos were in town in Panaji and they have the yummiest range of momo, also thupa. Excited I rode out on my Blue Angel. It’s located opposite Don Bosco School, a small cafeteria place, but what an eye-popping menu of momo and take-offs on them: I ordered the original plain momo version and then studied the menu…it’s a wow menu (to quote today’s lingo) but one may never tell what is agreeable and not so agreeable.
The Nainital Momos promise is that all their 100 plus types of momo are aate momo and not maida momo (à la aata Maggie noodles I suppose)! Incidentally, I’ve come across absolutely glass transparent momo, the covering made out of cornstarch…at Nainital Momos there are veg steamed momo and non-veg steamed momo — special, Mexicana, cheesy & garlic, cheesy & corn, cheesy & mushroom; the non veg fried section offers chicken lemon coriander, chicken lemon pepper fried momo, chicken Mexicana fried momo, chicken cheese with jalapeno momo, chicken and cheesy momo, chicken chili garlic momo….hey, they have a tandoori momo collection too.
There’re soupy momo collections and next time around I’ll buy the veg parsley or lemon mushroom or butter garlic exotic thukpa momo! These soupy thukpa momo may make for a wonderfully flavourful and filling early evening refreshment break. There’s burger momo collection, sizzlers momo collection…Chinese momo collection…but I didn’t get carried away by that. You may also check out the veg/veg Singapore/veg chili corn rice specials — rice specials all.
So many combos one may get confused, basically an ingenious price confusion starting at `150 (for ten momo)! But portions are more generous and two can share. Accompanying sauces to dip in include a chili and mayo-creamy cheese sauce…maybe to mix for a less spicy dip if desired. My plain steamed veg momo arrived to charm and were good enough to cheer me up, better than anywhere else I’ve tasted in small town eateries in Panaji. Generally speaking momo must come steaming hot, thin-skinned with clean tender edging (plain or styled)… and moist within, not dry and chewy. Most badly made momo in town are thick-skinned down in the dumps affairs and the accompanying red chili sauce depressing enough to blow off your brains with its lack of subtlety.
By all means make your own momo at home if you have time, energy, patience, a certain joie de vivre of I don’t know what. For the time being I’m happy to go off to Nainital Momos while they’re still new and friendly. I think I like the tandoori mushroom momo best of all, it’s my new tea-time craving!No tea, just momo! I think I like the tandoori mushroom momo best of all, it’s my new tea-time craving! No tea — just momo!

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