LIFESTYLE

Momo Is Not A North-East Indian Staple, In Fact, It Didn't Originate In India

A fact or two about everyone's favourite street food.

31/01/2017 1:46 PM IST | Updated 02/02/2017 12:52 PM IST
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Imagine my horror when while passing by the Assam food stall in Dilli Haat, my eyes fell on the menu. 'Momos', it read. And the smattering of people seated before the stall, all had identical plates before them -- ones heaped with pale white momos. Now don't get me wrong -- that's a plate that lights up the darkest of my moods. However, in a place that claims to advertise India's heritage and culture, momos were the last thing I was expecting in an Assam food stall.

Unless my entire childhood was a lie, Assamese people have as little to do with momos as Farhan Akhtar with singing. One might try to force the two together, but it is all so wrong.

In fact momos have as little to do with the Nagas, Arunachalis, Manipuris, Khasis, Mizos and the Tripuris. In short, it has absolutely nothing to do with traditional North-Eastern cuisine.

In fact momos have as little to do with the Nagas, Arunachalis, Manipuris, Khasis, Mizos and the Tripuris. In short, it has absolutely nothing to do with traditional North-Eastern cuisine.

So instead of asking your North-Eastern friend to make momos, because you think that's the best thing to have come out of North-East India, do yourselves a favour and read this. If you are is genuinely interested in real North-Eastern food, you could also ask for maasor tenga, a refreshing Assamese fish curry prepared with lime. Or shya phaley from Sikkim that is a type of fried bread stuffed with a filling of your choice and served with a chutney. There's also Khasi jadoh, a preparation of rice with meat. The North-Eastern cuisine might seem primarily non-vegetarian but it also has a wide range of scrumptious options for vegetarians. You can go for the Assamese preparation of kol dil, a dish made from the banana flower. The Sikkimese preparation of aloo tamaa, made of potatoes and bamboo shoot is another great option. And this is just a minuscule fraction of the fascinating variety of North-East Indian food.

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Freshly cooked dumplings inside of bamboo steamer ready to eat

So, where exactly did momos come from?

Momos, that are akin to Japanese gyozas and Chinese jiaoz is a Tibetan dish. However, Tibet's proximity to Nepal, India and even to Bhutan meant that the dish travelled across the borders. According to NDTV Cooky, one of the ways this percolation could have happened is through the Monpa and Sherdukpa tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. These tribes live in the West Kameng and Tawang districts which share a border with Tibet.

Another explanation is that when Tibetans left their homeland in the 1960s, they brought their food, culture, and lifestyle along with them to India. As they settled in the hill towns of West Bengal and the North-Eastern states, momos were not only accepted gradually but also were relished in these places.

As Tibetans settled in the hill towns of West Bengal and the North-Eastern states, momos were not only accepted gradually but also were relished in these places.

Mary Lalboi from Manipur opened Rosang Soul Food in south Delhi to offer the city a taste of authentic North-Eastern food 15 years back. Yet, when they opened, she had included both vegetarian and non-vegetarian momos in the menu. Lalboi told HuffPost India that though momos don't figure in the authentic culinary traditions of North-East India, they are ridiculously popular as street-food in Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. She suspects, the momo's popularity in North-East India has got something to do with other Indians mistaking it as an original dish from that part of the country.

Another theory around the momo's entry into India says that when the Chinese settled in the Eastern states and ultimately formed a Chinese colony around more than a century ago, they brought along with them jiaoz, their version of momos.

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High Angle View Of Chinese Dumplings In Containers On Table

What happened to momos in Delhi, really?

For the life of me, it is really difficult to answer that question. Delhi has not only accepted this dish but also has moulded it to suit the North Indian palate to such a degree that it is barely recognisable from its original version.

Most North-East Indian food establishments in the city invariably have to have momos as a part of their menus.

If you take a stroll down the lanes of Delhi markets, you will see the innumerable variations of the dish. If a place is making the carnal sin of serving momos with mayonnaise, one place is frying it in a tandoor. If one stall is serving a curry-fied version of the dish, the other is serving multiple options like paneer, aloo, or simply cabbage that is sold in the guise of vegetarian momos.

To each his own, maybe. But as a result, most North-East Indian food establishments in the city invariably have to have momos as a part of their menus. That because not only are people disappointed to not find momos on their menus, some are known to express shock at the absence of the same.

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Pot Stickers

Talking to HuffPost India, Karen Yepthmi, who has been running Dzoukou Tribal Kitchen for around four years now mentions that their menu originally offered only traditional Naga cuisine. However, after a while, they had to rework the menu to adapt to the demand for momos. As mentioned before, momos are not part of the Naga cuisine but Yepthmi says that they now offer pork, chicken as well as vegetarian momos. She says, "Delhi people love momos. We started serving and kept it on a special menu as well. We also got a very positive response for the pork momos which not a lot of eateries offer in Delhi."

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