All you need to know about the hottest dumplings in Hackney!
Step aside gyozas, xiao long bao and wontons, momos are stealing the dumpling scene.
For those of you who are wondering, momos are steamed dumplings filled with minced meat or vegetables seasoned with spices. They are a traditional delicacy in regions such as Tibet, Nepal and among Nepalese and Tibetan communities in Bhutan, Sikkim and the Darjeeling District.
The Momo Shack was founded by Alex Lobsang in 2016, which started out as a pop-up food stall at The Patio on Finsbury Square, Moorgate. Due to popular demand, The Momo Shack moved to Netil 360 during the summer and continued to satisfy dumpling cravings on the biggest rooftop in London. Last November, Alex successfully secured a temporary venue at Brunswick East Café in Dalston and the love for momos is still going strong!
From a young age, Alex was taught how to make momos by his Tibetan father, who passed on the old family recipe and traditional techniques to him. In 2007, Alex travelled to a Tibetan Children’s Village in McLeod Ganj, India where his father lived for a few years. He took the opportunity to learn more about authentic Tibetan cuisine and sampled a lot of momos. The idea of introducing momos to London began to form and he finally ditched his corporate job to pursue his dream. Desperate to find out more about these lesser-known but enticing Tibetan dumplings, I ventured to The Momo Shack and interviewed Alex about his growing momo empire.
LT: First of all, what is the difference between momos and other dumplings, such as gyozas or jiao zi?
AL: I think the main difference is the texture. When I go to Chinese restaurants, I notice that people usually have dumplings as a starter because they’re quite delicate. Momos are made in Tibet, where people are in the mountains and they often look for something stodgy to fill their stomachs. So, the dough in momos tend to be quite thick.
LT: What is the most common type of momo? Which one is your favourite?
AL: When I first started making momos, we always used beef mince. In Tibet, yak momos are pretty common. I tried them when I was visiting India, they’ve got a very gamey flavour. Personally, I’m a fan of the lamb momos, which has a strong and distinct taste.
LT: When do people eat momos in Tibet?
AL: They generally have it as a main course, which is what I’m trying to do at The Momo Shack. That’s how I’ve always had it. When I was visiting India, everyone had it as a main.
LT: How do you make the perfect momo?
AL: Momos are very simple to make. The dough is made with plain flour, water and pinch of salt and you just knead it until it’s the right consistency. When I was still learning how to make them, my dad would always knead the dough out and break it off into little chunks. I would take over and roll it out. You want to make the dough fairly thick so that it doesn’t break. For the filling, you can use chicken, beef or lamb mince and add a pinch of Indian masala. I also include garlic, ginger, coriander, onions and a touch of soya sauce. Then the momos are steamed for 12 minutes.
AL: The best thing about momos is that there is no right way of making them. Whatever you like, put it in and give it a try. The flavours can be mixed together, you can add more ginger if you like or some people like to put lots of coriander in them. There’s a certain style but the flavours can differ.
LT: Where did you get inspiration to open The Momo Shack?
AL: When I was growing up, we would always make it a big family occasion to make momos. My mum would always make a vegetable stir fry and tomato chili to go with the dumplings. I’ve grown up knowing this fantastic dish and I’ve always wanted to share it with others.”
LT: What did you do before?
AL: After school, I went to University, did a bit of traveling and got a job. Initially I was an account manager, then I worked for a start-up tech company but I didn’t enjoy it very much. I kept telling my friends that I wanted to do my own thing and be my own boss. I started inviting friends over and making them momos. They really enjoyed the dumplings and said that they would work really well in the street food market.
AL: Eventually it became clear that the job wasn’t taking me anywhere so I quit. Also, a colleague of mine at the tech company left the job and started his own café. He came to one of my supper clubs and told me to ‘get your own stall, make your momos and start selling them’. He inspired me to do it. Initially, I was only planning to try it out for two months as a little project but it just snowballed.
LT: What was your biggest challenge in this journey?
AL: The biggest challenge was getting used to the quickness required in this trade. Especially when you’re working at a food stall, customers expect to pay for the food and get them hot and fresh immediately.”
LT: What was your proudest moment?
AL: Definitely opening this temporary venue in Dalston. I started in a tent in the rain so having a venue made me feel like we’ve come really far.
LT: Do you have any advice for people who might want to ditch their jobs and pursue a similar dream?
AL: “One thing that I’ve definitely learnt is that starting a business is not as daunting as it may seem. I wasn’t sure if I was an entrepreneur but I realized that you shouldn’t look at it that way. If you’ve got an idea that might work, just give it a try. I also learnt that this industry is very friendly because they know that it’s very difficult. So, another advice I would give is make lots of contacts! It’s all about meeting people.
LT: Are there any future plans for The Momo Shack?
AL: Yeah, I might do a few more pop-ups during the summer and branch off into a few festivals as well. I’m just going to take it step by step and see where it takes.
The Momo Shack will be open untill the 18 of February at the Brunswick East Café, Gillet Street, Dalston, N16 8JH from 6 – 11pm. Don’t miss out on these delectable dumplings! I highly recommend the shapale, lamb and chicken momos on the menu. The Momo Shack also hosts events such as wine tastings, live music and board game nights, check out their website for more information.