Menchuka, or ‘healing-ice-water’, is a small village in a remote valley close to the Tibetan border of Arunachal Pradesh, Norteastern India. Menchuka has a real outpost feel and is inhabited by the Memba, Ramo, Bokar and Libo tribes. A.P. is one of the most stunningly beautiful, tribally diverse and ‘off the beaten track’ regions we’ve ever visited. Its a tough place to travel around, good old fashion slog with rickety jeeps and random time tables (most leave at 5am). Arunachal Pradesh is very rich in culture, which normally means rich in food tradition and it didn’t let us down. We ate alot of Momo’s stuffed with all sorts of wonderful bits (normally cabbage based) but this little recipe by Nana really blew our taste buds away. We made Momo’s or noodles together most nights and it became the highlight of the day.
Because it’s a stone’s throw from Tibet, Menchuka is an expression of what India stands for, which is surely the most fabulous melting pot of humanity, religion and traditions. Surrounded by endless ancient forests, where tigers roam freely and with a stunning backdrop of the high Himalayan snowy peaks, it is an untamed wild-land where we felt on top of the world (in more ways that one, its sits at over 6000 feet!). The land is extremely verdant, with seemingly endless virgin landscapes stretching over countless valleys and breathtaking waterfalls. Transport is tough, small jeeps playing terrible pop music cling to the craggy and pot-hole ridden roads/ trails and the pace of life slows right down, sometimes to a halt.
Menchuka is the end of the road and it took three days travel just to pass through Menchuka Valley from the nearest large town named, Along. Each valley and turn seemed to unearth a totally different tribal culture; with differing techniques for hut construction, cultivating the land and keeping livestock, worshipping nature and dressing in a usually flamboyant and vibrant fashion. Some of our best memories revolve around the nightly fire in Gayboo’s Homestay with all sorts of rosy cheeked local characters; hitching tractor lifts along muddy roads with friendly locals (crammed in with the lumber!), searching for isolated Tibetan Monasteries and Monks in the misty pine forests, navigating our way around the local army base with the massive runway construction project underway, slurping chow chow noodles (think a greasy chow mein) with mugs of restorative hot water in local eateries and crossing wide white rivers on long and creaking rope bridges… we had a ball!
What made it extra special was finding Gayboo’s homestay; a small group of log cabins in the middle of the village. The only warm place was beside the communal family fire, where we dried out with a mug of hot tea after yet another damp and chilly hike. Gayboo, and his wife Nana, made us feel like we were wrapped up in a warm blanket in our little sanctuary home in the mountains.
Our sweet and very kind hosts welcomed us with open hearts and bright smiles. They told us the tales of their lives, showed us photographs of carpets of Spring time wild flowers blooming in secret places, and made us all sorts of Memba (their tribe) specialties.
They also taught us the art of making Tibetan Momos, their speciality dish, served with a tasty chilli herb dip, made from a recipe passed down to them from generation to generation. These momos are really special, the real deal. Of Nana’s three techniques to wrap them I liked the so called ‘pinch-pull’ method which gave the Momo a classic British Pastie look. There was also the ‘twist’ and the ‘crimp’, favoured by Nana’s daughter Gemma, which admittedly sounds like something out of the Mighty Boosh, but all will be revealed….…
The ‘Magic Herb’ mentioned in the title was intriguing at first, but turned out to be something very much like a whole Szchechuan peppercorn, which was bashed up and added to the mix. A process we have repeated in Wales to a very nice effect. The family gave Lee a whole peppercorn to chew on with comical, gurning results. We would recommend going easy on them in their raw state!!!
The Bits – for 4 (makes about 16 momos – more if your dough rolling skills are good and thin)
600g boiled potato (peeled and diced)
200g broccoli (grated)
1 medium onion (grated)
½ tsp chilli powder
2 cloves garlic (crushed)
1 inch ginger (crushed)
½ tsp salt
1 teaspoon oil
100g chard or kale (very finely chopped)
¼ teaspoon Szechuan pepper (to taste – you have been warned!!)
2 cups white unbleached flour
½ – ¾ cup of water (depends on the type of flour)
¾ tsp salt
2 tsp oil
Get the potatoes straight into a pan of salted boiling water and cook until they go soft and mashable.
While the potatoes are boiling, slowly and gently fry the rest of the filling ingredients in the oil over a low/medium heat so that they turn nice and soft. Take them off the heat before they go brown.
Mash up the potato when it is cooked, then add the fried ingredients. Give the mixture a good stir, seasoning it just as you like it. Leave to cool for a good hour until at room temperature.
Whilst the mixture is cooling down, make the dough. For this, mix the flour, salt and oil in a bowl and add water gradually until the texture is smooth and the dough is stretchy. Knead the douhg for a minute and then stick it in the fridge to chill.
Then roll out the dough into a big circle and use a standard sized mug or scone cutter to cut it into smaller discs. The size doesn’t really matter, just not too massive. Then get creative with your folding styles! The ‘crimp’ looks like a little semi-circle, the ‘push-pinch’ looks like a Cornish pasty and the ‘twist’ ends up looking like a little ‘dimsun’ style ball with a twisty top. Lee is the ‘crimp’ king, I’m partial to a ‘push-pinch’. See the pictures for a reasonable idea about what we are getting at.
There may be some filling left over at the end if the dough is a little too thickly rolled (they will still taste lovely though, so no worries!). This filling is so delicious you can just make leftovers into little patties the next day, or just snack on it while you are rolling. If you are Tibetan and an expert then you’ll probably end up with too much dough! Nana’s Momos were very thin, but we are just beginner Momo-makers. We had a little filling left over at the end of our rolling session.
Top Tip – if you try and put too much mixture in each momo it splurges out of the end…..!
These tasty little critters can steamed or shallow fried. We steamed ours, so lightly oil both the steamer and the Momos so that they don’t stick to each other creating a giant inseparable momo blob. They take about 10-12 minutes to cook through on a decent steam and when they are done there is no stickiness to the dough any more, and the filling is piping hot through.
We quickly and simply pan fried bok choi, courgettes, tamari and ginger to make the perfect veggie accompaniment; eating our fresh Momos near a picture of the Dalai Lama with our minds all Himalayan. We always serve Momo’s with ‘Senchen’, a Tibetan dipping sauce. We’ll dig out the recipe and post it soon.
Fenugreek is a fascinating plant – even the ancient Egyptians understood the benefits of fenugreek – it’s seeds were found in Tutankhamen’s tomb!
The health benefits of fenugreek include relief from anemia, loss of taste, fever, dandruff, stomach disorders, biliousness, respiratory disorders, mouth ulcers, sore throat, diabetes, inflammations, wounds and insomnia. What a plant!
Wishing you all happy momo-rolling times. There are few things as satisfying as munching fresh Momos slowly as you’re rolling more of the delicious beasts!!!!! It is a highly relaxing way to spend an evening away.
Om Mani Padme HumX