We Want Mo’ Momos! A Diwali celebration with Nepali street food

“Any other food today is going to be such a disappointment.” – co-worker after eating Gita’s Momo Kitchen sample.

Last week, friend Ravi Grover messaged me on Facebook about the new catering business he and his wife Gita started, and did I want to try some samples of Nepali food? All organic, all vegetarian.

How can one say no?

Coincidentally, he was already making a delivery to a customer working in the same River North building. He dropped by a tasting order for me and my four lucky co-workers of steamed momos and chutney, and a sampling of mattar paneer, the peas and homemade cheese (in this case, soy cheese).

Reaction in the office was swift.

I received two emails. First one with the following gif, subject line: No mo momos.

crying

Second email, subject line: Nothing compares to momos

sinead

After everyone delayed eating lunch a full hour because “any other food today is going to be such a disappointment,” we finally relented.

Hook well baited, Ravi.

Later that week, Ravi and Gita invited me to their apartment in Uptown, home base for their catering business, tentatively named Gita’s Momo Kitchen, for an afternoon of cooking and dinner to follow in celebration of Diwali, the Hindu celebration of the new year.

How can one say no?

What’s a momo?

“Momos in Nepal are street food. They sell them off street carts. They can be all veg [vegetarian] or chicken, fried or steamed,” said Gita. Momos are the Nepali addition to the great Dumpling Pantheon.

Happy Diwali! Savory momo dumplings (vegan!!) from Gita's Momo Kitchen! #nepal #food #chicago

A post shared by Sarahlynn Pablo (@sarahlynneats) on

While some dumpling fillings are left uncooked until the entire dish is assembled and the wrapper and fillings cooked together, Gita cooks her momo filling to marry the flavors of the ingredients and to ensure uniformity of the final product. Gita’s momos are filled with a magical mix of grated cabbage, textured vegetable protein, green onion, ginger and garam masala (Ayurvedic mix). Gita’s momos are bright in flavor, light, almost fluffy in texture. And then there’s that sauce. After the jump.

Watch how Gita so deftly seals each momo wrapper (wheat or corn) with a swipe of distilled water and a quick stuff-crease-pinch, repeated until the pleated bundle of joy is ready for a trip to the steam machine or a dip in hot canola oil. The ends can be sealed together to form a circle or left open like a half moon as she’s done here.

I also must talk about the chutney, or sauce, that accompanies the momos. It’s a cashew, tomato, dried chili pepper, cumin, cilantro, ginger, garlic flavor delight. It almost steals the show from the momos.

Ravi jokingly refers to it as “crack sauce.” Now, I have never tried crack, and I don’t think he has either, as he’s a proponent of clean, vegetarian and healthy living. The misnomer refers not to ingredients but to its addictive flavors that keep their patrons returning. Like fiends.

As in any great holiday feast, the momos, both fried and steamed, were just what Gita had planned for starters. Gita made a dairy-free malai kofta, potato and chickpea fritters in a thick sauce of cashew and tomato, basmati rice, and more sel roti for dessert. A few of Nepali neighbors with their little daughter joined us for dinner. It was a wonderful first Diwali.

Gita’s Momo Kitchen

Even though Gita is not a trained chef, it doesn’t seem that way to me because she certainly runs it like one.

Their production weekly schedule is all laid out: menu announced Monday, orders in by Wednesday, market then cooking on Thursday, deliveries Friday. Excepting special catering orders, Gita’s signature momos are only available on the first week of the month.

All her family recipes are in her head, memorized from repetition and years of Diwali and other holiday momo parties at her grandmother’s house in Nepal.

The small-but-mighty kitchen of Gita’s Momos Kitchen yields wonderful flavors, due to its being well organized and well run, with the jars of many spices she uses and freshly grinds with a trusty Magic Bullet blender. She even does a mise en place, though that’s not what she calls it, carefully mincing, chopping, sautéing and organizing ingredients and sauces in glass tupperware at various stages. Results speak for themselves, and I’d encourage any of you in the Chicago area to place an order. (Contact me for details, as they don’t have a website or Facebook page up yet.)

Diwali: New Year, New Prosperity.

“It’s all your fault, Ravi.” She smiled.

When I arrived, Gita and Ravi offered me some sel roti, sugared and fried wheat flour rounds (kinda like a circle shaped churro) and some chai sweetened with almond milk. She chastised him for getting the wrong sugar.

“The brown sugar is clumpy and makes the roti too heavy,” Gita said. I told her I thought it was delicious and couldn’t tell if there were something wrong.

After Gita had just about finished preparing our dinner (leaving the steaming and frying to just before we eat), I left the apartment so Gita and Ravi could pray, or make their puja, before dinner.

Ravi, quite the student of Hinduism, explained Diwali in short order:

1. Hindu new year
2. Marking good overcoming evil (multiple stories of evil being destroyed occurred on this date)
3. Inviting the light of God to remove darkness in your life
4. Inviting prosperity into your home and family

He continued,

In Hinduism when we say prayers and offer food to God the powers of the prayers also gets infused into the food. If you eat dinner at our house and all of the sudden find good luck, start making more money, find a new opportunity, etc a few weeks later then be sure to say thanks by donating to a charity! Speaking from 7 years of personal experience, I know it’s true and not coincidental.

So not only was the Diwali feast delicious but it’s also lucky!

I have no doubt prosperity will find its way quickly and abundantly in the new year to the Grover household.

Postscript: Bollywood blockbuster “3 Idiots” brings me to tears

Like any good holiday party, there are friends, family, plenty of delicious food, great conversations and a (Bollywood) movie. I would be completely remiss if I didn’t mention we watched the three hour Bollywood hit, “3 Idiots.” I laughed, I cried, I kissed three hours of my life goodbye. A tale of doing with your life what you love, pursuing excellence not wealth, doing right by yourself as is the same as doing right by your family. Best movie ever. Xoxo Aamir Khan.

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