Of music, mountains, and momos
I’ll never forget the first time I ate a momo. I was 10-years-old and an angelic 6th-grade teacher had chosen to treat the class at recess. I had heard whispers of the momo myth, from classmates well-versed in the finest Tibetan cuisine, of that perfect little combination of dough, meat, and sizzling oils that was destined to change my culinary life forever. As a soul that lives to eat and a stomach that complies with all sorts of dietary delights, my expectations were sky-high.
And when recess came along, those expectations were delivered, and my life was never the same again. I had my first fried mutton momo, dipped in red chilli with some soya sauce on the side, and I’m sure that, right there and then, I exclaimed out a shriek of joy. Then I had my second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth momos in quick succession. That weekend, I found the sources of these otherworldly delights – the original dingy little Momo shop in Mussoorie’s Landour Bazaar – and had about eight more.
Twenty years later, my passion for momos continues unabated. I enjoy them with all kinds of meat, I enjoy them fried or steamed, and especially enjoy the kothey style. I’ve compared them to dumplings, baozis, dim sums, jioazis, and gyozas, and I’m aware of buuzs and mandus, but nothing has since tugged at my heart-strings (and stomach linings) like the humble Tibetan momo. One time, my friend Parvez and I had a fried-mutton-momo eating competition at Kalsang’s (see below): I had 33 and I won (I’m gross, momos are not).
I’ve never really had a bad momo; the range is usually between ‘nice’ and ‘NOW I UNDERSTAND THE TRUE MEANING OF NIRVANA!!!’
You can find great momos in parts of Nepal, India, Bhutan, and of course, in Tibet itself. In India, which is now home to hundreds of thousands of Tibetan refugees, momos have become an integral part of the community culture in the Tibetan colonies around the country. McLeodganj, Dharamshala, Sarnath, Majnu Ka Tila, Bylakuppe, Clement Town will all have one thing in common: delicious momos.
And of course, you’ll find them in Mussoorie and Landour, home to my former school, the spark that begun my original love affair, and the Himalayan paradise that will be playing host to India’s most-unique music festival.
If you’re here, you must already know by now that The Big Gig will be returning to Landour on May 14th – 15th this year. The summer festival brings together the charm of one of India’s most beautiful mountain destinations with rock and folk music and a community outreach, all with the heritage of our beloved Himalayas in mind.
But while you’re out jamming out to your soon-to-be-favourite new bands, why not take the opportunity to dip your beak (and your hungry mouths) to Mussoorie and Landour’s finest momo destinations? The Mussoorie region is a paradise for momo-lovers, with everything from fancy family restaurants to your roadside momo-wallah with a steamer offering you constant temptation. It has been difficult to break down the wealth of momo options into a short number of recommendations, but here are some of my favourites:
- Doma’s Inn: Drop in for the beautiful and intricate Tibetan decoration, stay for the best momos in town. Momos so good that the shop owner is known as ‘Momo’ even more than his real name. Ever since Doma’s began its business above the Mullingar Hill, my Mussoorie life priorities and schedules have drastically shifted. Any visit to the inn requires a long stay (be prepared for your food to take 45 minutes to an hour to be prepared), but it will all be worth it. Doma’s gets the crisp on their fried momos just right. You may want to order a second plate before you get the first one.
- Kalsang Friend’s Corner: A popular spot near the Post Office on the Mall Road, Kalsang is not just a place for Tibetan slow jams and hair-gelled waiters. The restaurant (which also has a branch in Dehradun) happens to have some of the best momos in town, with an unmatched variety, too. I recommend you order the Chilly Chicken momos here. And of course, the mutton fried momos, because you should always order mutton fried momos.
- Little Llama Café: I’m aware that all the other items on the Little Llama Café menu, including their coffee, pizzas, burgers, and shakes, are amazing too. Every once in a while, I’ll stray from my true love to the other fish in the sea; but usually, I just order some momos. And when I’m done, I order some more.
- Lhasa Restaurant: I’m cheating a little here: Lhasa Restaurant is actually in Rajpur, about a half-hour drive away from Mussoorie proper, but their momos are so damn good that they evoke my hunger from all the way down the valley and stay in my mind long after they’ve been tasted and digested. Plus, they offer kothey momos, which are basically a mixture of fried and steamed momos and also a mixture of heaven and nirvana.
- Tibetan Homes School Staff Mess at Happy Valley: That’s right. Some of the finest momos in town will require an hour or two long walk down from Landour, all the way past Picture Palace, the Library Bazaar, way out to the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy, and down to Happy Valley. Here, you’ll find a school for young refugee Tibetan children and a cafeteria for the staff and students with a basic menu of momos and other Tibetan food. Anything other than a long walk would cheat you away from the hunger required to truly enjoy the momos’ life-affirming powers. It isn’t called ‘Happy Valley’ for nothing.
Karan Madhok is a freelance writer based temporarily out of Landour, who has a lot of music opinions and very little music knowledge. You can find him wherever you find Mutton Fried Momos. Follow him: @hoopistani
- Karan Madhok / @hoopistani