Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Justified ancients of momo

Almost everyone in Dubai has access to the food that reminds them of home. One thing that always surprises me, however, is the shocking lack of Nepalese food. It’s like: Where are you from, sir? Oh, the Galapagos Islands? Wonderful! Darwin burgers this way. And you, sir? Nepal? Forget it mate, the airport’s over there.

So although my trip to Kathmandu wasn’t governed by my stomach (for once, as I had come to Nepal to do some voluntary work at some orphanages), I was looking forward to trying the local grub.

I hadn’t expected much of the food at the hostel I spent my first two nights in, though, and my suspicions were proved to be correct. The food was Nepali alright - something approaching the ubiquitous dahl baht tarkari or lentil soup with boiled rice with a simple vegetable curry - but it appeared to have been given the once-over by some kind of spice vacuum, rendering it utterly insipid.

The night I was sent to my host family - the completely brilliant Aryals - I went out to a touristy place called Bhojan Griha to meet up with the other volunteers in my group. The restaurant was in a stately building, once the home of the royal priest to the King of Nepal, and it was set up for tourist groups with set menus, music and traditional dancing. 

And booze. Loads of lethal, 60 percent rice wine, in fact. I didn’t touch any of it myself, you understand, but the Everest lager did make me think more beers should be named after double-glazing firms (sorry, dodgy English gag).

First up was a plate of traditional Nepali murali makai, or popcorn to you and me. Yes, it was no different to the stuff enjoyed by lobotomised cinema-goers the world over, but it’s apparently a popular and nutritious snack in the rural areas of the Kathmandu valley. It was followed by something far more palatable - momos.

Momos are basically steamed dumplings made from thinly rolled flour-and-water dough stuffed with meat or vegetables, and quite often both. It doesn’t do momos justice to call them Nepali dim sum - that would be like saying pizza is just Italian cheese on toast. In any case, they almost certainly originally hail from Tibet, and are popular all over the eastern Himalayas. Anyone who’s had Russian pelmeni or overly-stuffed ravioli will know how good momos can be. I believe these ones were stuffed with minced pork and chopped onions, garlic and coriander. They were splashed with a fiery chilli sauce, which I couldn’t get enough of. It may be traditional comfort food for those long winter nights up in the mountains, but I could have carried on eating it through summer.

After badgering the waiters for extra momos, I took delivery of a thali dish, which was steadily filled with boiled rice, sauteed spinach with cumin, spicy mushrooms, cauliflower, and so-good-I-still-dream-about-them crispy pieces of mildly spiced fried trout. There were bowls of dahl and chicken curry to splash onto the rice, not to mention plates of zingy achar or vegetable pickle to give it that extra kick. Everything was combined and eaten by hand, but it could have been administered to me via a cement mixer and I’d still be happy.

Dessert was a simple affair - a bowl of sikarni, or sweetened yoghurt with chopped cherries - which rounded things off nicely.

The rest of my meals in Kathmandu were cooked by my host family, the Aryals. Like all the best home-cooked food, it was authentic, traditional, plentiful and made with special care and attention. The everyday staples of rice, dahl and curried vegetables were always present. Just before mealtimes, I would hear the familiar pounding of garlic, ginger and spices from the kitchen, and when the food was ready the flavours were every bit as resonant. Some days we'd have side dishes of cabbage with peanuts, or cauliflower and potatoes (like aloo gobi) cooked slowly with cumin, coriander and turmeric. On my final day, we had a plate of gundruk, a very traditional dish of fermented spinach-like leaves with a mildly acidic flavour.

I loved the food here, but what was just as good was the act of coming together around the table at the end of the day to eat, chat and listen to the Aryal’s special teenage son Sushant inquire as to whether I had lungs, or to wax lyrical about an imaginary American wrestler called “Big Foetus”.  I didn’t want to spoil these precious moments by whipping my camera out and snapping the roti - I’ll leave the food paparazzi stuff for the restaurants, if you don’t mind. But just look at that kitchen and use your imagination.

Dubai doesn't know what it's missing.


  1. Very nice and informative. So you had the momo. I don't believe the momo necessarily comes from Tibet, rather the peoples of the Tibetan plateau who speak languages related to Tibetan(or dialects of Tibetan) are actually the indigenous people of Nepal...the Lamas, the Sherpas, the Tamangs, and so forth. The momo is theirs and has spread long ago to the more Indic peoples who came to settle the Kathmandu valley. The momo is one of those foods that fascinates me because I like stuff that seems to crop up in all cultures. The Korean mandu, various Chinese bao, the Central Asian and Afghan mantu and manti...then there is the ravioli, the pierogi, etc. Some of these are obviously dishes adopted due to spread of culture, but did others crop up independently? Or do they all originally come from the Mongols?

    I think Nepal is such an interesting place because of the confluence of the Sino-Tibetan and the Indic...all of the dishes you mention (I see you stayed with a Hindu family) are very similar to North and North East Indian foods. The sukarni is shrikhand, tarkari, daal, bhaat, all shared across the border.

    I have heard that there are small 'Nepali hotels' deep in Bur Dubai and Deira that serve Nepalese food, including momos, to the masses of Nepalese workers that have flooded Dubai in the past 3 years or so. I have a couple of Nepali friends who are 'professional' (wouldn't go to those types of places) and I asked them eagerly if they knew of these places, but alas they hadn't heard of them. I will keep my ears perked for any news of their location though and pass on the info if I happen to get it.

  2. Where else but The Guzzler can you find such erudite and intelligent comments as that, eh?

    Thanks, luckyfatima! I think you may be right. I don't suppose it's outside the realm of possibility that two or more independent peoples had the idea to make dough with flour and water, flatten it and stuff it with meat / veg, but it does look like the Mongols, with their far-reaching empire, had a hand in spreading the recipe.

    Do let me know if you hear of any Nepali restaurants in Dubai. I think there's one in Abu Dhabi, but not here yet. I have a momo chasm that needs filling.

  3. Hi, please let me know of any persons/places that serve or may be willing to cook Nepalese food.

    Please see www.meetup.com/taste-travel-adventure for Dubai/UAE locations

    Email: lifemaximizersdubai@gmail.com

  4. Your momo photo looks so good. Could I use it my Facebook page album for momo. I will give credit and link to your blog.

  5. Hello b @ desigrub.com, yes of course you may use the image (and include a link). Your blog looks good.

  6. iam from nepal n i know how to cook nepali food even momo.i was planning to open nepali restaurant in dubai but because of crisis.......

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  8. Nepali Restaurant -04 3939018 has great MOMOS

  9. That's great news, sharmin, thanks for that. Will try when I get a chance.

  10. Hi James,

    Tell you frankly, the restaurant which Sharmin gave you the no. is not hygienic.. I have very bad experience there.. I had to make my face red infront of my foreigner friend when I brought him there... Yes, I m a Nepali but I'll never go there rather I'll cook it at my home :)

    There are two more Nepali restaurant in Bur Dubai. One is called "Kathmandu Highland Restaurant" which far better then then the one I mentioned.

    And other one is in Astoria hotel with the name "Yak & Yati Restaurant" which is basically a "Dohori Restaurant", I've recently blogged about that too.. Read it if you can read Nepali ;) http://krishol.com.np/2011/07/08/%E0%A4%85%E0%A4%B0%E0%A4%AC%E0%A4%95%E0%A5%8B-%E0%A4%AD%E0%A5%8B%E0%A4%97%E0%A4%BE%E0%A4%88-%E0%A4%A8%E0%A5%87%E0%A4%AA%E0%A4%BE%E0%A4%B2%E0%A5%80-%E0%A4%B0%E0%A5%87%E0%A4%9F%E0%A5%8D%E0%A4%B0/

  11. Krishol: Are Kathmandu Highland Restaurant and Yak Yati Restaurant still open in Dubai? And if yes, where is the location to Kathmandu Highland Restaurant? I am specially looking for delicious Momo's with the spicy sause they provide. Would be great if you let me know.
    Thank you.

    1. Rjay - Kathmandu Highland is opposite Astoria hotel in Bur Dubai. It's in the white building across Highland Supermarket on Fahidi street. I've reviewed it up here, and it's got their number as well in case you'd like to get in touch with them. http://www.iliveinafryingpan.com/nepalese-momos/

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  13. one of the best place to enjoy your trip with friends and family is Dubai Desert Safari..

  14. Really typical Nepali food. I liked the goat meat with Nepali bhat. I will be back.....!

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