A wonderful lunch experience early this week took me back to trace an interesting food story.
While in college, I got to know of a place known as Monastery, a Tibetan refugee colony near Majnu Ka Tila, in Delhi. Youngsters visited this place for some good Tibetan food at dearth cheap prices. This cuisine was loosely known as Chinese food. I remember having gone there with a friend and could muster the courage only to try noodles. Yes, even by the standard of early eighties, a plateful was quite cheap and very tasty. There were many other dishes sold by the Tibetan refugees but we decided to remain confined to the noodles. I was quite impressed on the first introductory encounter with the food of the Himalayan region. Thereafter, I would have visited it many times during those days but for chicken noodles only. Now it is ages that I haven’t gone there. Today, many food enthusiasts conduct food walks there to introduce you to various Tibetan / Himalayan / Chinese dishes available there. In fact I must go there, soon. Meanwhile, let’s leave it here only and stay focused on the story which has been triggered.
So, after about few years, when I was a Trainee Journalist with the Times School of Journalism, we (group of trainees) were taken for an assignment in Himachal Pradesh. As part of the tour, we explored almost the entire HP but I particularly remember the visit to Manali and Macloreganj. At both the places, there are considerable number of Tibetans and mostly we ate at the local roadside joints, the Tibetan Food- Soups, Chicken / Pork Momos and Chicken Noodles. There, I was introduced to Momos for the first time. And also discovered a dish which combined all the three !! In a bowl of clear chicken soup, there were some noodles and 2-3 chicken or Mutton momos. The taste is still fresh in my mind. Very basically seasoned chicken soup with salt and black pepper along with noodles and momos dipped into it made a complete and very satisfying meal. I was told that this dish was known as ChoCho-Momo wherein; soup is called Chocho in their language and the dumplings of meat in it are momos. It was my first introduction with momos and the name Chocho–Momo sounded very interesting to me.
After coming back from HP, I tried to find out about Chocho–Momo here in Delhi and many other places which I would have visited till date but could never ever find it anywhere else. I feel like going back to Manali (surprisingly I haven’t visited since then) to see if Chocho Momo still exists there.
A few years later, when I started earning and could afford, I started exploring better restaurants. Since, this Tibetan / Chinese food had impressed me, so I would always get attracted to Chinese restaurants. One day, in early nineties, I had gone to the Golden Dragon restaurant in South Delhi and on the menu, the description of a soup caught my fancy- Chicken Wonton Soup !! Ordered it straightaway. What came to my table was a closer version of Chocho–Momo, a clear chicken soup with bright red and green veggies and chicken filled Wontons (they are closer cousins of momos having a very thin layer of the covering which holds the meat and are normally triangular in shape). What Momos are in Tibet, they are Dimsums and Dumplings and Wontons in various regions of China. So, the Wonton Soup was very close to what I was looking for (choco–momo) and was very satisfying and flavorful. I went there quite a few times after that to enjoy that soup.
With these experiences, the Tibetan or the Himalayan cuisine had laid a foundation in my mind about its basic flavours and my liking for it. Now, this is from where I had started the story today.
Early this week, Chef Sanjay Pawar texted me around lunch time checking with me if I was willing to go out for lunch. Accompanying him for food is always a welcome thing for me (if I can afford the time) because you get to experience new dishes and the discussion revolves necessarily around food and; sometimes on cars (he owns off-roaders and loves driving). I said yes to his message and within few minutes he was driving me towards a new food experience which he told that he had explored last week with his family and had resolved to bring me there to experience the cuisine. After about 15 minutes of drive from our office in Gurgaon, we reached Sector 15 Market and entered……
Cafe Lungta- Tastefully Himalayan!! The curosity increased as I was set to taste a cuisine which you normally don’t get to eat. Something unusual and of course non-veg. The menu card read that the place offers an “introductory flavour burst into the popular cuisine from Nepal, Bhutan and Darjeeling”. This set the tone for yet another flavorful experience and I was excited.
The place, I was told by the staff, opened about six months ago and that their evenings are almost packed (they have a bar too in the basement). He proudly announced that they already enjoy high ratings on some of the online reviews. The restaurant has very basic design of earthly walls, basic flooring, tastefully used iron rods used for construction of walls, very basic wooden furniture, old time black electric switches on wooden switchboards and old style wooden doors. In short, they have created an old styled country side home to give you a feel of an authentic ambience. While I was busy observing the surroundings, Sanjay quickly ordered a starter so that we kept ourselves busy eating while deciding what to eat. After discussions amongst ourselves and the server, while I kept studying the menu, Sanjay ordered the food.
First, what came to our table was a delight for the eyes and the nose. It is known as Bhutun. In a large plate, beautifully laid were mid sized chunks of Mutton garnished with fresh coriander leaves and accompanied with colorful ensemble of carrots, Zucchini and lettuce leaves. Aroma that was coming out was that of a freshly fried meat. One couldn’t afford to waste any more moment just looking at it. First chunk of meat on to your palate gave you the taste of basic seasonings fried in oil and then a burst of flavour of juicy fresh meat. My my !! What a taste. You can’t stop only with the first one. Two three fork servings are quickly eaten to not to let stop the magic. The Mutton chunks were bite sized, flavorful, fresh, crisp on outside and juicy inside. I didn’t need any condiments to go along with it. It was a great going for me on its own. Although, I did eat the accompanying veggies.
While we were midway through the Bhutun, we were served a dish called Momocha. It came in a large serving dish where Chicken Momos were arranged around a smaller dish carrying a fresh tomato purée like broth. The momos were fresh with a filling of minced chicken with very basic spices enhancing the taste of that juicy chicken mince. The covering was soft and delicate. One bite in your mouth takes you to another level. Very delicate flavours balanced with flavour of fresh and juicy chicken. The accompanying tomato broth dip tasted of pepper, sesame seeds, peanuts and lime. The tangyness of tomato and lime was balanced with the nutty flavours of roasted and crushed sesame and peanuts, garnished with fresh coriander leaves. A few drops on to the bite of momos released a bouquet of flavours on to your palate. A wonderful experience with momos and the dip.
It was actually a child like experience for us trying to alter between one bite of Bhutun and then a bite from the momos. This went on for sometime till both the plates were done with. Till the last bite, couldn’t decide which tasted better of the two.
While we were talking about the flavours of Bhutun and Momocha, yet another dish came on the table. This was Phakshya Pa. The description on the menu card read,”Slow cooked semi cured pork with daikon radish and bok choy greens”. This is a staple of Bhutanese cuisine. What is not written in the description is that semi cured pork is a dried pork used in the dish. It is a dry dish with subtle flavour of spices and a predominantly tangy cuts of radish. Despite spices, the flavour of the meat is significant and coupled with the tang of radish it gives a unique flavour. The aroma also is of meat which tempts you to try it instantly.
Along with the dish, you are served a small mound of three large sized white and moist buns. These are called Ting Mo. When you have morsels of the Phakshya Pa with bites of these buns, you get to taste a balance of flavours which is a unique blend. It is a complete meal in itself and you love it.
All the dishes we tried were mildly flavored, significantly meaty flavored, tasty and unique. Altogether, it was a very flavourful experience, triggering nostalgia of Tibetan Food journey, was not at all heavy on the tummy and on the pocket too. I need to go there many times over to taste many other delicacies waiting there on the menu to be tasted.
However, the mystery of Chocho Momo is still not solved. The staff at Cafe Lungta suggested to me that I must try Thukpa as that is closest to what I described about Chocho Momo. Well, there is always a next time.
Bon Appetite !!