Posts Tagged With: arunachal pradesh

Sepen (Spicy Tibetan Dipping Sauce) and the Nightshade Fairy

Tawang Monastery, Arunachal Pradesh

Tawang Monastery, Arunachal Pradesh

Tibet in a bowl!  I have never been to Tibet as such, but I’ve been close on a number of occasions, visiting various Tibetan regions of Northern India.  Tibetan culture is alive and well in India (unfortunately the same cannot be said of Tibetan culture in Tibet, but thats a whole different blog. post.  See here for more details regarding the present state of affairs in Tibet).  Once, on a hike in Himachal Pradesh (North West India) I thought I’d made it across the border when a Indian army fella popped out from behind a boulder with an AK-47 and politely asked me to turn around and don’t look back.  Shame, it was the absolute middle of nowhere!  Tibet looked like a majestic place, all icy peaks and vistas to take the breath away and inspire sheer awe..

Tibetan Monks, Tawang Monastery - March '14

Tibetan Monks, Tawang Monastery – March ’14


The food in Tibet is designed to fuel some of the worlds most hardy folk, many of them nomads.  Living at very high altitudes, with extreme temperatures and very little water, most Tibetans are rock solid folk and they need alot of sustenance.  Salted yak butter tea is one way of getting fat and energy into the body, but we would definitely not recommend it as a tasty beverage.  I normally opt for soemthing like Jasmin tea and Green tea is also common.

Tsampa is normal fare for breakfast, basically roast barley gruel (which grows well up there in the rare airs and windswept plains), sweetened or salty and we like to add banana to it for a luxury version.  Tsampa is lovely and reminds me of a very nutritious and fortifying ‘Ready Brek’ (a British brand of thin porridge that most kids were rasied on in the ’80’s).  ‘Balep’ is a light, spongy and chewy bread that is excellent dipped in a cup of hot tea on a crisp mountain morn.  ‘Tingmo’ is a light, dimsun like bun that is popular as a snack and can sometimes be found by the side of village and town streets, served straight from the steamer.  A welcome sight on wet and chilly day (seemingly very common in most of the Tibetan areas in India).

Noodles are an ever present and are made into something resembling what we’d call ‘Chow Mein’, sometimes with a broth, sometimes with bags of oil.  Basically different sizes and styles of quite bland noodles.  They normally call it Chow Chow, or they did in Arunachal Pradesh anyway.  ‘Thentuk’ is like a soft tagiliatelle noodle in broth which I find the most appetising way of noodling in Tibetan parts.  ‘Thukpa’ is another shape of noodle.  Seasonal vegetables are an ever present in these dishes and you normally get a good amount of greens mixed in.  The humble cabbage is well loved and creeps into most dishes.  Fermented bamboo shoots are very popular and add a wonderful flavour contrast to meals with a very, very funky smell indeed.

Our handmade noodle dish in Menchuka, Arunachal Pradesh.

Our handmade noodle dish in Menchuka, Arunachal Pradesh.

We hand made noodles whilst up in Menchuka village, Arunachal Pradesh (the north east corner of India, sandwiched between Bangladesh, Tibet, Bhutan and Myanmar).  We were staying with a lady named ‘Nana’ and she cooked us local specialities every night.  These noodles were made as a second course, eaten after momos.  The stock used was the water left after steaming the momos, she added some local vegetables (grown in the garden) and greens to the stock and let it simmer for a while and there it was, a gorgeous bowl of broth-y noodles, one of my favourite foods.  Definitely what we’d call a ‘bowlful of soul’.  I like the way Nana used the steaming water from the momo cooking, this type of cooking trick makes me very happy, it always seems that more traditional cooking techniques are far less wasteful than modern and the zero waste policy is something that we try and put into practice in the BHK.  The beloved family Mithun (a cross between a buffalo and a cow, only found in A.P.) ate the vegetable scraps and seemed very happy with them.

Wild Mithun

Mithun (when a cow merges with a buffalo)

Tibetans love cheese and make many varieties, normally using Yak milk.  Dried yak cheese looks alot like parmesan and certainly smells like it.  They also make fantastic little pastry parcels (like a British pasty) which I normally avoid as they’re stuffed with meat, like beef, or cheese. They do look delicious though.

Tibetans love a tipple and normally afterwards, a little boogie.  Chang (not the terrible Thai lager) is a barley beer drank in most households and distilled grain alcohol, called Ara, is something resembling rocket fuel that gets you there very quickly, especially when huddled around a blazing fire.  Falling over and dancing like a happy loon is quite common in Tibet (or maybe that’s just me!)

Being a vegan/ vegetarian couple, we find travelling around Tibetan regions quite easy, there are always plenty of vegetable based options to be had.  The ‘usual suspects’ on menu’s (mentioned above) can become a little repetitive, especially when compared to the fabulous diversity of food in the plains of India.

Probably the most ubiquitous of Tibetan foods is the mighty Momo (see here for our post on these bite size pockets of supreme tastiness) and Sepen, or something similar, is the sauce you will find on most Tibetan tables.  Momos are normally quite bland and need some jazzing up and this Sepen is the John Coltrane of condiments.

Menchuka high street, Arunachal Pradesh - March '14

Menchuka high street, Arunachal Pradesh – March ’14

This bowl of bright red wonderment is destined to accompany the MOMOS, but it also makes an awesome sauce to stir into noodles and can be used as a spicy little dip when canapes and nibbles are on the horizon.  You can use it like any Indian style sauce, stirring it into freshly roasted vegetables is a thing of extreme tastiness.  Its a good all rounder and one of our favourite things at the moment (even better than turmeric milk.  Yes, that good!)

This is pretty much the exact same sauce as you get in little momo shacks all the way across the Himalayas and to eat it in the Beach House Kitchen (North Wales) is quite a tastebud twister.  We have just recently been sorting our way through the local tomato bombardment, no not La Tomatina (that festival in Spain where they all lob tomatoes at each other), no, this is more like massive boxes of local tomatoes landing on our doorstep (twas the nightshade fairy we’re told!!)  We have been trying to figure out what on earth to do with the big old tom glut and sauces like this are perfect.  Ideal frozen (leave out the fresh coriander until you re-heat) we are amassing little red bags of sauces and chutneys all over our freezer.  Of course, Sepen is by far the finest, thats why we’re sharing it with you guys.

The work of the nightshade fairies (aka John and Pippa and their amazing farm in Bethel)

The work of the nightshade fairies (aka John and Pippa and their amazing farm in Bethel)

Make a big bowlful:

The Bits

1 tbsp oil
2 tsp 
crushed garlic
2 tsp
 crushed ginger
¼ tsp
 fenugreek seeds
dried red chilli (finely chopped) or 1/8 teas chilli flakes – to taste
500g ripe tomatoes
½ cup
 fresh coriander (chopped)

Sepen in the pot

Sepen in the pot

Do It

Gently fry the garlic and ginger in the oil over a medium low heat, taking care not to burn. After a couple of minutes add the fenugreek seeds and the chilli and stir until the fenugreek starts to turn a darker shade of gold.  Add the chopped tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, then blitz up in a food processer with the fresh coriander until smooth.


You can have this sauce warm or cold, both are very tasty.  Like most sauces/ stews, it does get better with age.  We’d recommend an evening of chilling in a fridge, to mingle and merge the beautiful flavours.

Couple of our mates from Arunachal

Couple of our mates from Arunachal

Foodie Fact

We love our tomatoes and we love our raw food, but the two don’t exactly mix.  Tomatoes are one of the only fruits/ vegetables that benefit nutritionally from a little warmth.  Cooking tomatoes stimulates the lycopene (a phtyo chemical found in the red pigment of tomatoes and other red fruits and vegetables) content, but does reduce the vitamin C content.  For example, lycopene content in tomato paste is four times higher than that of raw tomatoes.  Its a balancing act, I imagine warm tomatoes are the way forward; not totally raw, not totally roasted.

Lycopene has been shown in tests to reduce the risk of cancer, but like most nutritional research, the evidence is debatable.   Tomatoes are good for you, eat them by the barrel-full (if you’re not allergic to nightshades that is!)  That’s the B.H.K’s advice.

Categories: Sauces, Travel, Vegan | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Tibetan ‘Magic Herb’ Momos


Momos a la GayBoo Homestay.  Made bt the magnicficent Nana and Gemma in Menchuka Village

Momos a la GayBoo Homestay. Made bt the magnicficent Nana and Gemma in Menchuka Village

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.

Some people say that Menchuka is the fabled ‘Shangri-La’ but it was normally raining and cloudy when we were there, this is picture is taken from Wikipedia (we’ve been to this exact spot, but couldn’t even see the village below due to cloud cover).

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!

Crossing creaky rope bridges......near Menchuka, Arunachal Pradesh

Crossing creaky rope bridges……near Menchuka, Arunachal Pradesh

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….…

Jane and Nana gettign warm pre-momo 'fest.

Jane and Nana gettign warm pre-momo ‘fest.

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)

Momo Filling
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!!)

Momo Dough
2 cups white unbleached flour
½ – ¾ cup of water (depends on the type of flour)
¾ tsp salt
2 tsp oil

The Tibetan 'Cornish Pastie'

The Tibetan ‘Cornish Pastie’

Do It

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.

Momo's steaming on an open fire....

Momos steaming on an open fire…….Gayboo’s Homestay, Menchuka

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.

Traditional Menchuka Momos and a good read

Traditional Menchuka Momos and a good read

Foodie Fact

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!

Slow moving traffic, waterfall meets road in Arunachal Pradesh.

Slow moving traffic, waterfall meets road in Arunachal Pradesh.

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

Categories: Recipes, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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