The Secret's in the Sauce

Food Issue 195 Jan, 2018
Text by Kabita Mandal

It is the sauce that defines the way we eat our momo and how our taste buds dance with each bite.

Many chefs emphasize that the real secret to a good momo is in the dough—it must be so fine that, when steamed, it gets only finer and not thicker. Be it chicken momo, buff momo, veg momo, or any other momo, with any of the uncountable varieties of stuffings, one thing we can’t deny is the fact that the magic of momo lies in its sauce. It is the sauce that changes the way we eat our momo and how our taste buds dance with each bite.

Kathmandu has turned into a momo hub. Momo eateries have mushroomed with time. From simple local momo joints to five-star restaurants, the valley is the best place to sample a wide variety of momo soup, whether it be a spicy tomato garlic achaar or a red chili momo sauce.

The three most common varieties of momo sauce are the momo achaar, which is a classic; jhol achaar, which is the perfect blend of soupy and sour; and finally, the nontraditional, very spicy sauce of C momo, where ‘C’ stands for chili. The main ingredient for all these delicious sauces is tomatoes. Tomatoes are king when it comes to momo sauce, but each sauce has a magical secret ingredient, which when added to tomatoes brings out the magical flavors that make the sauce what it is.

The magical ingredients in an unforgettable momo ko achaar are perfectly fried soya beans and sesame seeds. As they are crushed into powder, you may not see these ingredients in the sauce, but you can’t ignore the nutty flavor these seeds add to it. And then comes the king, the tomato, which is well-cooked before being blended with the crushed seeds to make momo ko achaar. Besides these, various spices such as garlic, chili, turmeric, pepper, and cumin also go in according to the taste you’re looking for. Many a time, onions are also fried before cooking the tomato sauce to add an extra kick to the sauce. And. this is how you get the perfect nutty momo ko aachar.

Jhol momo takes the already delicious momo ko achaar a step further. To make jhol momo, it is essential to know how to make the achaar, as most of its flavor comes from the achaar itself. The magic ingredient that brings the sour flavor to the jhol momo is a fruit that is found only in Nepal. If you haven’t already guessed it, it’s lapsi. But don’t worry if you don’t have lapsi, you can just squeeze in some lemons as a substitute. And, then, you add water to make the soup extra soupy. Also, add more salt and chili powder, if needed. Then, to make it look gorgeous and add in a little extra flavor, throw in some chopped tomatoes.

If you are a fan of spicy food, ‘C’ momo is one thing you cannot miss. As the name suggests, chili is what makes this momo sauce what it is. To make the perfect chili sauce for ‘C’ momo, you begin by frying your tomatoes the way you would for a classic momo ko achaar. Then, you add in tomato ketchup, soy sauce, chili sauce, chili powder, chopped green chilies, and all the other spices you want to add. It really doesn’t matter what you add and don’t add, as it all depends on your taste. But one thing you shouldn’t forget, not only in this sauce, but all the sauces, is salt. After your tomatoes are thoroughly cooked and start to dry up, you can throw in some chopped onions and capsicums. If needed, feel free to add a little water.

One of the most delicious momo soups I had recently was at Pulchowk. The local momo joint here is often crowded with a lot of customers who come in craving jhol momos. A mere bite of the momo, and the juice just oozes out. And, what accentuates the flavor of the momo is the accompanying sauce, which you can dip in as much as you want. Another time, I was at Bota Momo, which recently opened yet another outlet in Jhochhen. The variations of momo sauce there was like an art form. The aroma wafting over the restaurant was enough to rev up our appetite. Those juicy momos with a home-made sauce of tomato, green chilies, and garlic, along with a bowl of soup, was a soulful experience. To this day, I long for that experience. Momos, no matter where they come from, will always be my soul food.