It's the classic image of monsoon-a plate of steaming, tender momos against a backdrop of the rain dripping off the eaves of your neighbourhood momo pasal. On a damp rainy day, Nepal's favourite snack takes the prize as the best warming device, no contest.
Still, although Kathmandu residents can probably claim the most momos eaten per capita or the most momo joints per square kilometre, the humble dumpling travelled a long way before arriving in the Valley.
Xi'an, the ancient Chinese city that served as the seat of 12 imperial Chinese capitals, is regarded as the home and birthplace of the great dumpling tradition. Dumplings were included in arrays of delicacies called dim sums, literally translating as 'to touch your heart'. Approximately 600 years ago, during the Ming dynasty, ear-shaped dumplings resembling the silver and gold ingots used as money began to appear. Called jiaozi, these became part of the traditional Chinese New Year celebrations.
Dumplings began their southward march across the Himalaya when traditional Chinese dishes were passed on to Tibet. There, they changed shape and were usually paired with a hot soup to ward off the cold. These hardy treats crossed the mountain passes into Nepal, and then down into Sikkim and beyond. The jiaozi also travelled north to Japan, where they are called gyoza. Momos today are generally bite sized, although varieties range from kothey, which are the same shape as the ancient Chinese jiaozi, to open, palm-sized momos with a variety of fillings. Everyone has their own favourite little momo spot, and debates can rage for hours on which size, shape, dough and filling is the best. The best, or worst, thing about momos in Kathmandu is that everyone has a different place where they claim the most delectable and juicy momos are served. It is impossible to list all these, but here we have tried to put together a comprehensive guide to the momo haunts of Kathmandu.
In Kathmandu's largest chain of restaurants, momos are the most popular dish. Nanglo even hosts an annual momo festival every February. This year, there were 18 different varieties to choose from. Nanglo's momos are remarkably consistent, being the same size and served with the same sauce in each of their outlets. The ingredients and sauce are prepared at the central Darbar Marg kitchen and then distributed to the other branches to ensure that the customers receive the same product everywhere. Multiple locations and strict quality control have made Nanglo a household name.
Momo King and Jamal Junction
These two restaurants are managed by the same group but cater to very different stratas of society. Momo King, despite its royal name, is aimed at the working class and students with affordable prices, combo meals and special offers. Momo King's momos are made at a centralised kitchen in Lazimpat, frozen and then distributed to the other outlets. US-trained restauranteur Mahendra Shakya explains that this is more hygienic and efficient and was inspired by McDonalds frozen fries and burgers. Jamal Junction at Kantipath caters more to the upper middle class, with freshly made momos, milder spices and higher prices. Between Jamal Junction and Momo King, you will definitely find momos to suit your palate and pocket.
Sui Mai Restaurant
Teku's Sui Mai resturant gets its name from it's renowned Sui Mai momos, which are different from everyday momos as they are open from the four corners on the top, making them square rather than your average everyday round dumpling. Sui Mai serves special momo sauces: peanut, tomato and green chilli. Take your pick, or take all three. Sui Mai momos are bestsellers and there is a special momo section in the kitchen just to keep up with the demand.
Diva's Delight is synonymous with 'C' momos, or chilli momos. Chef Narendra Thapaliya first invented these in 1985 while working at the Malla Hotel, where he noticed Chinese cooks using hot Sichuan sauce. Originally called Sichuan momos, 'C' momos got their present name from voracious customers. Special Chinese spices (sorry, it's a secret) make Diva's Delight a hot favourite with people who love to have their taste buds tingling.
Momos and More
Momos and More in Battis Putali is the place to go if you have a discerning palate. As proprietor Niti Rana says, "Others cater to the mass, we cater to class." The speciality is the thinness of the blanket of dough, which makes the taste of the filling more prominent. Their two sauces-coriander with sesame paste, and a garlic chilli paste-are also a class apart.
Belle Momos on Darbar Marg has a growing reputation for exquisite momos. The house speciality is the offer of 'Mongolian' and 'Aryan' versions of each filling. This is probably the only place where you can get garlic cheese, peanut paneer or special low-cholestrol momos, all part of Belle Momo's proud total of 25 varieties.
Though popular for its Bhutani dishes, Dechenling offers a variety of momos including the dhapoo, a palm-sized dumpling with a very thick skin that has more yeast than average momo dough. In Dechenling, the dhapoo size has been reduced, though you can request for the original jumbo version. Dechenling also serves pan fried kothey and the traditional Newari momocha.
Ever since Jawalakhel Kitchen opened two years ago, it has campaigned relentlessly-and deliciously-to take pork cuisine mainstream. Udhyan and Babita Rai's hole-in-the-wall establishment owes much of its success to its succulent pork momos, which tempt even the wariest of customers. Their reputation has spread, and often people hunt down the restaurant only to find they have to wait for a table-but one juicy momo later, all that is forgotten.
Everest Momo is the original local galli momo. It caters to everybody: from taxi-drivers to schoolchildren to businessmen, and epitomises the momocha culture in Kathmandu. It started as a small local momo shop and now is a mega momo mall with a huge turnover. Very affordable, very accessible and taste that takes you to the top of the world.