01 September 2011

Makin' Momos

I read (on the menu of an Amdo-French restaurant) that the best cooks in Tibet are found in Amdo. Since Amalah is from Amdo, I believe it! I've been offering to help cook and saying that I want to learn to cook Tibetan food for a while now, and little by little I'm allowed to help.

I cannot even express how much I love eating Amalah's momos. I've helped with the assembly every time--it's actually a family affair (it takes a village to make a momo) and it takes us a long time. Amalah makes the dough (flour and water) and filling (potato, onion, masala, and cilantro is my favorite) and then spreads plastic on the floor. We all gather around, sitting on cushions because sitting on the floor will give you a stomach ache. There is a bit wooden cutting board and wooden rolling pin in the middle. One person starts by pulling off small segments of dough, which the rest of us form into flattened balls and then disks. Then someone rolls out the disks into momo shells (this is my newest skill) and the rest stuff them with potatoes and fold the edges into a pretty finish. We alternate tasks in a rotating assembly line, so every person gets to do each stage until we've made about 150 of them. Then we steam them for dinner and fry them for breakfast the next day. Momos are an entire dinner!
The easiest shape is "balep," bread, the flat round double thick momo, and the second easiest is the Lhasa crescent shape, the same as potstickers from Costco.  The cute round Amdo momos are tricky, but the momo soup dumplings (not shown here) win for most difficult shape.
Thenthuk is a soup full of thick, wide noodles. The noodles are flour and water kneaded for ten minutes and shaped into snakes. After the broth, chicken, and bokchoy are on the stove, we make the noodle snakes into long, flat necklaces and rip off small pieces into the pot. You would not even believe how fast Amalah is at noodle ripping! My fastest is half her speed. After those are done, we add tomatoes and cilantro and have our thentuk dinner/breakfast.

The very careful use of food, the daily purchase of fresh vegetables and daily preparation of every meal from scratch, is part of the nomadic lifestyle that Amalah left in 2003. In a nomadic society, a woman like Amalah learns how to cook when she is 15, marries a few years later, and then cooks every day. It's just part of survival. Her cooking has changed a bit in India--she uses masala and much less meat--but the pattern of her food preparation has not. Every morning she wakes up around 5:30 to make fresh balep, or bread, and every evening she makes momos, thentuk, chowmein, or rice with vegetables. She's very good at it, and I think she loves doing it, too.
Amalah ripping thentuk noodles

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