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Your Guide to Momos (Tibetan Dumplings)

Making Veggie Monmo
Making steamed veggie momos in the half-moon shape.

What are Tibetan momos?

Momos are dumplings stuffed with a variety of ground meat, veggies or cheese, and prepared in various ways, but usually steamed. They are the most well known and beloved of Tibetan dishes.

Steamed veggie momos
Steamed veggie momos in the half-moon shape.

Momo Recipes

Styles of Cooking

  • steamed (most common)
  • fried (Deep fried if the momos are not steamed first. If momos are steamed first, then just pan fried.)
  • boiled in soup (Momo soup is called mothuk.)

You can see how steamed momos are made in this video of a momo-making party at the home of our friend, Chef Tsering Tamding  🙂

Momo Shapes

  • Round
  • Half moon
  • Tsi-tsi momo (“Mouse” shape, commonly used for momo soup, mothuk.)
  • As you like 🙂
Various momo shapes
Some momo shapes: half-moon, round, and a blend of both.
Shamey Mothuk is ready to cook
Tsi-tsi momo shape for “sha mothuk,” beef dumpling soup.

History

We don’t know of any proper history of momos, but they probably originated from the Chinese jiaozi.1. In Chinese, the word “momo” —  馍馍 — means steamed bread. They likely passed through Tibet — where they began to be made from yak meat for the first time, and took on uniquely Tibetan flavors and styles — to Nepal, and throughout the Himalayan regions. 

Momo Fillings

  • Ground Meat
    • Yak meat (in Tibet)
    • Beef (common both inside and outside Tibet)
    • Pork (mainly in the Kongpo or Amdo regions of Tibet, but also some in central Tibet)2
    • Mutton (mostly in Nepal and Tibetan communities of India, and some in Tibet)
    • Chicken (not as common as other meats among Tibetans; more popular in Nepal and for non-beef eaters)
  • Veggie
    • Potato (This style was developed in exile, and consists basically of roughly mashed potatoes with onions and maybe a little shredded cheese, like a mozarella, or maybe a hard cheese like parmesan or romano.)
    • Finely chopped vegetables, like cabbage, bok choy, mushrooms, with some tofu or ping, which are crystal noodles. (This style of momos was also developed in exile, where these vegetables are available.)
  • Cheese
    • Chura momo: Soaked dried and grated dri cheese (chusip)3 with sugar (pretty much only in Tibet)
    • Cheese and spinach, for example, or cheese and mushroom. The cheese could be any of a variety of soft cheeses, like feta, marscapone, or mozarella4.
Tsi tsi momo shape in "shamey mothuk," veggie dumpling soup.
Tsi tsi momo shape in “shamey mothuk,” veggie dumpling soup.

Other Ingredients

  • The skins are made of simply water and flour, usually white wheat flour.
  • Most meat or veggie momos will have some combination of the following: garlic, onion, and ginger, bouillon, soy sauce, emma (Szechuan pepper), cilantro.

How do you Serve Them?

  • Tibetans eat momos served hot with dipping sauces, usually hot sauce and soy sauce. For the hot sauce, it can be Tibetan hot sauce (sepen), Chinese hot sauce, or Indian pickles or relish. Our personal favorite is a mix of soy sauce and one of Lobsang Wangdu’s hot sauce (sepen recipe), or soy sauce with Patak’s Indian Lime pickle. Yum!! (You can get a second hot sauce recipe from Lobsang free when you sign up for our Tibetan Culture Newsletter in the box below this post.)

Variations on Momos

Logo Momo: Pan Fried and Steamed Bread.
Logo Momo: Pan Fried and Steamed Bread.
Tingmo: Steamed Buns.
Tingmo: Steamed Buns.

Momo Tips:

  • Steamed momos are great as leftovers: we pan fry them (no oil needed), on medium heat, just long enough to heat the inside filling, for a little crispy shell. Yummy!
  • Momos are not traditionally served at Tibetan New Year (Losar) in central Tibet — their closed shape is  considered by some to be inauspicious for a time when we want to promote generosity and abundance for the upcoming year.
  • Adding a tiny bit of emma or yerma (Szechuan pepper) to meat momos (though not veggie ones) really puts them over the top taste-wise. 
  • In general, at least in central Tibet, it is best to keep the dough wrapper quite thin, to keep the momo from becoming too doughy where they are folded over.

Footnotes:

  1. Wikipedia entry for Momo (dumpling)
  2.  Food in Tibetan Life, Rinjing Dorje (Affiliate link)
  3. Dri cheese comes from the female of the yak species.
  4. From Cafe Tibet Menu
Tibetan Home Cooking

Tibetan Home Cooking

Bring joy to the people you love by making your own delicious, authentic Tibetan meals


Comments

8 responses to “Your Guide to Momos (Tibetan Dumplings)”

  1. Thank you for all the info and recipes!
    Never had the chance to taste momos outside of Europe. Best momos I know are from Snow Lion, Tibetan restaurant in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

    1. You are so welcome, Raffa! And thanks for the tip on the restaurant. One day we plan to have a listing of the best Tibetan restaurants around the world 🙂

  2. Brigid Yeshe Avatar
    Brigid Yeshe

    Great recipes and advice YoWangdu! I couldn’t agree more Dan and Mona! I was in McCleod Ganj in 1986 and I still remember those momos as some of the very best ever! And I lived in Nepal/Tibet for 14 years. Thanks for the informative and lovely web sight it’s in my favorites now!

    1. Thanks so much, Brigid Yeshe! We appreciate so much having you here. If you ever wish to write a guest post about your experiences in Tibet let us know 🙂

  3. Oh yes, McLeod Ganj momos! A lady vending steamed and fried momos with a chili sauce from a stall near the market place, 10 rupees for 3. The best, ever!

    1. Awesome, Dan! We will check this out the next time we’re in Dharamsala!

  4. Best momos ever were eaten in McLeod Ganj where they are wonderful street food. Worst were in Kalaw, Burma at a Nepalese restaurant on the main street. I loved the momo cooking class in McLeod Ganj and have made them here at home. They were good, but there’s nothing like being there in McLeod Ganj with the smiling ladies selling their momos. If/when I ever get back there I shall eat them three times every day!

    1. We couldn’t agree more, about the McLeod Ganj momos, that is, and wanting to get back there soon 🙂 Thanks for writing in 🙂

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