Although momos (dumplings) around the world have a controversial heritage, there is no contention over its origin in Bhutan.
One of the most popular fast foods around the world today and a palatable feature in most international cuisines, especially in the Asian cultures, the introduction of momos to Bhutan is attributed to Tibet.
However, the contention here is over who from Tibet would have brought this food to the Buddhist kingdom.
While most Bhutanese believe it came with the Tibetan immigrants, who fled following Chinese invasion of their country in the 1950s, a few academics date it further back to 1616, the year of arrival of the Zhabdrung.
Today, known as the unifier of Bhutan, the Zhabdrung had fled Tibet following dispute over inheritance of a particular Buddhist sect at home.
Some skilled story tellers take the hypothesis further back and ascribe it to Lam (monk) Drukpa Kinley, popularly known as the mad monk and the argument they use verges on Bhutanese sense of bawdy humor, especially in relation to the deign of the dumpling he drew inspiration from.
Well regardless of its origins, the little steaming stuffed dough is all flourishing, especially in the capital city of Thimphu, the population of which, is on a steady rise.
From major resorts to little restaurants in Thimphu, for that matter anywhere in the country, serves them in pieces of five and six, depending on the generosity of its owners, with its lethal sidekick, the red chilly paste.
But in the last few years, little joints dedicated to just the dumpling, Momo Corner, Momo Joint, Momo Bell and Momo Kitchen to name a few, and in the variety they can be served, have emerged in almost every nook of the city. Whether one likes it fried, immersed in hot soup with noodles, or burger-size, momos have become a fast food that can instantly perk up a day, any day. Some joining the competition have begun catering with stuffing of chicken and tuna besides the traditional ones of beef and pork. For a growing number of those turning vegan, there are cheese and potato momos to choose from.
For those of the ’70 and ‘80s vintage, such a variety served by eateries that continues to swell was unimaginable.
It used to be among a chain of two-storied traditional houses that served as shops, lodgings and rental apartments along core town of Norzin Lam those days that a handful of restaurants, mostly run by Tibetan families, served these dumplings.
Apart from restaurants, vendours (the city continues to have to this day), carrying momo-filled giant ice buckets would walk around bus terminals, vegetable markets, the lone movie hall then (Lugar Theatre), schools and residential areas around Thimphu, calling out “momo”. The steaming balls of stuffed dough were often served on newspapers cut into little squares, the size of saucers, or papers ripped out of used school notebooks.
An enduring convenience food, momos were then, as it is today and probably will continue to be, the one fast food that can be consumed any time of the day and just about everywhere.