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Momo mania

SHILPA NAIR ANAND
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A mushrooming of dedicated momo outlets in the city is proof of the Kochiite'sgrowing love for it

Many versionsMomo fillings are being spiced up to suit Indian tastePHOTO: THULASI KAKKAT
Many versionsMomo fillings are being spiced up to suit Indian tastePHOTO: THULASI KAKKAT

Small, neat, moon-shaped white pouches with pleated edges arranged in a circle around a red dot. This plate of momos, from Shifu’s Momo’s, looks more like a ten-petalled white flower with the fiery red chutney as a centre. Steamed, fried, white, brown, red, sweet, pungent….momo in its many avatars is in. In fact the city has stand-alone kiosks with momos as the main item.

Kashyap Saigal started his momo counter in Panampilly Nagar market in March 2012. It was, then, an informal stand outside the verandah of a shop. Today Kashayap has a shop in the market. When he started out, he was sending out 50 plates of momos from his kitchen, today he sends anything between 200-250 plates. Ten momos make a plate.

Similarly the year-old Momozz Corner on Subhash Chandra Bose Road. It is all set to open its second outlet in Thevara. Both, Shifu’s and Momoz, have other eats such as chowmein, noodles and pasta. Wow Momos has counters in the food courts at Lulu Mall and Centre Square. Tibetan Chef’s restaurant in Fort Kochi also has popular momos.

Rani Cecil of Panampilly Nagar, along with her daughter, is on her way out after ordering a batch of momos with Shifu’s. She will pick them up later. “We were introduced to momos by my son-in-law. My family likes it and the biggest plus is that it is healthy and tasty,” she says. Momos are a regular on her table even when she has guests.

The popularity of momos is unlikely. Momos in their avatars as dumplings and wontons were available in Chinese and specialty restaurants.

The perception is that the momos’ blandness doesn’t go down well where the palate is used to, generally, spicy and/or fried fare as savoury snacks. The red tomato chutney that accompanies momos is a foil to the blandness. The other put off is the meat filling – usually chicken – which is mild. “I don’t like it because it is so…” says Meena K. looking for an expression. Blandness and the perception that the meat is ‘not done well enough’ are two among the factors she agrees.

“Not at all. It is so different from anything else that is available. And we love how it tastes,” say friends Roshan Koshy Thomas and Ganesh R. They were introduced to momos in Bangalore and they continue to indulge. Between them is a plate with brick-red something, the outline of which hints at momos. “Schezwan momos, these are the newest version here so we thought we’ll try these,” says Roshan. Exposure as a result of travel could be a possible reason for the popularity of momos.

Schezwan momos and chilli momos are spicy and it is unlikely that these were ever imagined in Tibet or Nepal where momos are said to have originated. The ‘modifications’ are in keeping with popular demand maintain Kashyap and Jayant of Momoz Corner. “People ask for ‘more spicy’ momos and therefore we improvised,” Kashyap says. Brown momos, which come as a shock after the porcelain whiteness of traditional momos, are another.

Made of atta these are for the ‘maida-haters’. “The covering is made of maida and that puts off the really health conscious. So I thought of this version,” Kashyap says. Is it popular? He laughs with a shake of his head which indicates a no. The vegetarian momos have a filling of cabbage seasoned with spices. The momos are made by ‘experts’ from the Northeast or Nepal.

“The ‘elderly’ like the steamed version and the younger lot likes the fried momos,” says Jayant. At Wow Momos at Lulu Mall, youngsters head straight for the counter, bypassing fried chicken and Chinese food counters and order pan fried momos. Shameer N.K., manager at the Kolkata-based brand’s franchisee counter, says he cannot tell in numbers how many momos move off the counter but “we have a good turn out. Pan-fried momos and momo sizzlers are the hot picks. People prefer those to steamed ones.”

Wow Momos has variations when it comes to vegetarian and non-vegetarian momos. Vegetarians can pick from corn and spring onion, mushroom and even paneer. Prawn, chicken and fish for the other group. Thukpa, a clear soup often served with momos or separately, too is available here.

Momo sizzlers aren’t the only modifications, there are ‘moburgers’ – momo burgers and chocolate momos apart from the Schezwan ones. Purists may cringe at the idea of sweet momos but the kids love them, Shameer says.

A plate of 10 steamed chicken momos cost Rs. 80 and fried Rs. 90 at Shifu’s and Momozz. And at the mall these cost more.

As more eateries with momos open, it looks like the diminutive, simple snack has made Kochi home.

SHILPA NAIR ANAND

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