Foreign Flavors

The Origins of: Mo Mo

“Think about you when I’m goin’ to bed. When I wake up, think of you again.”

— Becky G, musician (Obviously talking about Mo Mo)

“I’ll have more Mo Mo please!” This seemed to be a common theme throughout our time in Nepal. I think within a ten day span we each probably consumed fifty of these delectable, savory, and sometimes sweet dumplings. Dumplings ahhh. That doughy ball of goodness that has gradually been creeping into my diet since we hit Vietnam. Two month and four countries later, the theme and the cravings for more continue.

I wasn’t expecting to find dumplings after China, but the Nepali people have founded their own style with many different varieties and fillings. Anything from breakfast to snacks to dessert, just eat a Mo Mo – fo sho. Plus, who doesn’t want to eat bountiful amounts of that carb loaded, filled concoction? Just look at the name, Mo Mo – it basically tells you to eat more. That is enough to draw me in, and give me a good ole giggle.

Where does it come from?

The Mo Mo craze supposedly originated in Tibet. This southeast asian dumpling is native to not only Tibet and Nepal, but also Bhutan and the Northern Indian state of Sikkim and the Darjeeling district. However,  as I am writing this from Agra, India I notice that there are several Mo Mo shops within the city walls. Thus showing that the span of Mo Mo is expanding and we should all be eating it, just saying.

MM is super closely related to the Chinese jiaozi and baozi, the Mongolian buuz, the Japanese gyoza, and Korean mandu. A dumpling is a dumpling is a dumpling. However, the spread of this particular form of dumpling was caused by the Tibetan diaspora. A Tibetan traditional food, the Mo Mo has traveled with the Tibetan people as they have settled in areas across Southeastern and Central Asia. The large scale diaspora is a result of the cultural and religious persecution  of the Tibetan people from China. Beginning in 1959 following the Dalai Lama’s escape to Dharamsala, India.

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Tibetan Citizens and religious figures alike, have been under scrutiny for over fifty devastating years, with little hope to return to their homeland. With the refuge of thousands of families, their culture, language, and foods came with them. It is believed that the Mo Mo trend gained popularity and began to take over the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal, particularly the Newar cultural community. According to legend, the Nepali Newar merchants bought the recipe and the name from the Tibetan people, along the trade routes between Kathmandu & Lhasa.

Fast forward to today and Mo Mo is one of the most popular dishes in Nepal and Northern India. Slowly, the fast food is gaining followers (#MOMOMOMO) throughout the Western world into countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States.

How is it made?

I’ve only seen the production of Mo Mo firsthand once. It was on one of our final days in Kathmandu. After visiting a beautiful monastery atop a hill overlooking the city, my friend and I were walking the two miles back down to the bus stop when rain hit. Intermittently hiding under overhangs and dodging raindrops, we stumbled into a hole-in-the-wall restaurant with a single gas range, two tables and a refrigerator. Being a nameless restaurant, no menu was available. Using our mime skills and lots of smiles, we ordered two plates of scorching hot Mo Mo.

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The wide mouthed chef with tousled hair laid out the simple white flour and water dough on a less than sanitary wooden table. Using a tin can to cut curricular forms and a tiny rolling pin, he gently glided across the dough I couldn’t take my eyes off him. From a hidden pouch he spooned out what I think was a minced mutton filling into the dough. Using his nimble fingers to pinch together the dough he quickly created the beautifully scalloped design of Mo Mo. The dough is normally covered either in a round pocket or in a half-moon or crescent shape, though each hand works differently. With quick movements he placed the hand carved morsels into the steamer and allowed time to take her toll.

Although Mo Mo is traditionally served steamed with a minced meat filling, the recipes have evolved and become more elaborate with time and technique. Different types of meat provide various flavors; salty, chewy, fragrant and warm. Typically chicken, mutton, goat’s meat, lamb, buffalo, or yak are used. Mixed with onion, garlic, ginger and cilantro, servings sizes range from five Mo Mo up to family servings of twenty.

Vegetable options are most so readily available, probably because of the large influx of hippie/vegan tourists in these areas. Anything from a mixed vegetable medley to spiced paneer cheese, mashed potato, or any combination, there is a Mo Mo for everyone. If sugar is your calling, a wide range of dessert Mo Mo’s have erupted on the scene as of late. I tried a fried chocolate Mo Mo that was to die for, and more so a Chocolate and peanut Mo Mo with a chocolate and caramel drizzle that basically tasted like Snickers and I want them right now, omg.

Whether you are chomping down on a savory or sweet MM, there are always accompanying sauces and dips for both steamed and fried varieties. Chutneys, normally made with a tomato and saffron base are called for, while hot sauces and sriracha are also available. Dessert varieties often come with a side of extra chocolate, because why not?

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So, what do you think? Are you ready to try some Mo Mo?


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To learn more about the displacement and persecution against the Tibetan people, please follow this link –>Tibetan Center For Human Rights of Displaced People

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