All in all, my trip to Delhi served its purpose. I returned to Mumbai with the most ghastly flu, but mentally and emotionally restored and ready to start over. During my two weeks there, I sought refuge and reassurance in friends and food, most often these two together. Minus my disastrous solo Momo binge in Karol Bagh which left me with a terrible stomach, the rest of my foodie forays were carried out with friends and family in tow.
And no respectable foodie foray in Delhi would be complete without Momos. Tibetan in origin, these steamed dumplings of thin flour sheets stuffed with meat and condiments are wrapped in different styles and serve with a water thin clear soup and spicy chutney. Momos are omnipresent in the Capital. As a group of voracious 18 year olds in Delhi, almost a decade ago, we would descend on the small street side stall of ‘Momo aunty’ at Lajpat Nagar Market and gorge on delicious mutton (and then chicken when those were exhausted) Momos. It wasn’t the prettiest sight unless you were part of the pack. It was a surreal time when my frighteningly fast metabolism allowed me to eat three plates of pork Momos at the Nagaland Stall in Dilli Haat, then move on to the Sikkim stall for another two plates of deep fried mutton Momos. The Momos at M Block market weren’t bad either, stuffed with chicken and served with a biting chili sauce. And nothing revived you from a marathon bargaining session at Janpath than the numerous Momo stalls in the market.
At 22, I was back in Delhi, this time in Delhi University’s North Campus. I discovered the revered Momo’s point in Kamla Nagar Market where I stuffed myself, albeit in more modest portions. But I will forever be indebted to my friend Nina who introduced me to Majnu Ka Tila and the most divine beef Momos at Tee Dee restaurant.
You can understand that it was not without a generous helping of sentimentality and nostalgia that I began to retrace my old Momo Haunts. I planned my pilgrimage so that it would culminate in Majnu Ka Tila, with Tee Dee’s beef Momos as my Holy Grail. I walked through the labyrinth that is Lajpat Nagar Central Market and returned broken hearted as ‘Momo Aunty’ was nowhere to be found. My cousin consoled me later. Apparently there’s a fabulous little place called Chingwa, run by a Tibetan that may satisfy my Momo cravings the next time I’m in Lajpat Nagar. The Momos at both the Nagaland and Sikkim stall were faithful like my favorite verses in the Bible.
Momo’s Point at Kamla Nagar was, if it’s possible, shadier and shabbier than before. The Momos not up to par, I stepped out and walked over to Noodles, the slightly fancier and better lit restaurant next door and cleansed my palate with an understated thukpa, noodles served in a clear soup of vegetables and meat.
I scheduled an entire day to visit Majnu Ka Tila. If you get time to visit on your trip to Delhi, you’ll understand why. Nothing on the vast arid highway prepares you for the time warp that is the Tibetan settlement next to Majnu Ka Tila gurudwara.
You step in to find signs in Tibetan script, maroon(ed) robed Tibetan monks and Tibetan men of all ages sunbathing, playing carom or cards or just loitering on narrow streets. Those parts of the streets not occupied by them have stalls which sell everything from precious stones, silver, Tibetan literature, to goods from China.
To get to Tee Dee, one has to walk to the courtyard outside the Tibetan school and climb the stairs to the restaurant. The interiors were just like how I left it in my memories. Always crowded, guests are given a blank notepad to write down their orders (very dangerous, when you see the things the offer on the menu, from innocuous thukpa to tongue chilly fry).
Orders all written, we waited with bottles of fruit beer to keep us company. The food arrived and we dug in.
It wasn’t the same at all. Even the beef Momos tasted more like their sanitized Mall food court cousins. Nirvana was nowhere to be found that Saturday afternoon. But as I write this, the Pavlovian foodie in me still salivates in honour of the Momos in my memory. Taste buds, like elephants never forget.