February 15, 2021
Shop 2/360 Great North Rd, Henderson
While momo is in the name, this restaurant is out to prove there’s more to Himalayan cuisine than dumplings (though they are delicious — get the jhol option, steamed in a spicy sauce). We love the shafaley, a deep-fried pastry pleated around a stuff ing of minced meat and a gingery chilli sauce; one helping is never enough. Tingmo and shapta, a Tibetan delicacy, comes with soft knotted bread, steamed like Chinese buns, to mop up the juices from the meat stir-fry.
SUSHMITA AND RAHUL GHIMIRAY
Shop 2/360 Great North Rd, Henderson
The city of Darjeeling, on the northern tip of West Bengal in India, clings to the Himalayan foothills, at 2000m above sea level. Momo Junction co-owner Rahul Pakhrin points to a photograph of his home city — clustered buildings painted in washed-out pastel and stripes of vibrant yellow. Over the speakers, a chant, common to Tibetan Buddhism, plays to ward off negative energy; om, ma, ni, padme, hum. Other photos on the wall show Darjeeling’s famous tea estates and the blue ‘Toy Train’ of the Himalayan Railway. There is, obviously, great pride and care in sharing where they come from.
Only two months ago, Sushmita Pakhrin, Rahul’s wife, and co-owner and head chef of Momo Junction, was working at a shipping company. “Opening a restaurant was always in the back of my mind,” she says, “but it just clicked this time.” Sushmita is not a trained chef, but a home cook who saw the demand for a place which serves the traditional food found in the Himalayan region — somewhere people from back home could come and eat the things they miss. Neither Sushmita nor her husband have hospitality experience — Sushmita hadn’t even cooked in a commercial kitchen before. And yet, she says things are falling into place. “You know, my husband is a vegetarian, so he’s never even tried the non-vegetarian food that I’ve cooked,” she laughs. “But he still had the trust in me. He said, ‘why don’t we start a restaurant?’”
Darjeeling’s cuisine is a mix of fare from neighbouring regions in the Himalayas — Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, and Sikkim. Their central dish, the momo, is a dumpling that has a completely different flavour profile to that of its Chinese counterpart — heavier on spices, and often served with a unique tomato-chilli sauce. Every restaurant in Darjeeling serves them, and every household in Darjeeling knows how to make them. The version here is specific to Darjeeling — the filling differs slightly, even from its sister over in Nepal. “When you think of Indian food, you may think of curry,” Sushmita says. “But we don’t have any curries here. Our spices are really different too.” This region’s cuisine is not as ubiquitous in Auckland as food from other areas in India, so people will come in without ever having had the cuisine before. But there are some similarities to other dishes New Zealanders are familiar with, touchstones that may help them to understand the cuisine. For example, the shafaley is kind of like a Tibetan meat pie, encrusted in puff ed-up deep-fried pastry stuffed with savoury minced meat; and Pakhrin’s personal favourite, the thukpa, is a chicken noodle soup, but with soy sauce and spices.
The Darjeeling community in Auckland is small. That’s another reason the couple wanted to open the restaurant — so that their kids, aged five and one, who were born in New Zealand, are able to further connect to their roots and their community. “There are probably only about 20 families here,” she says. “Everyone knows each other, especially in Auckland.”
Til Ko Achar (Sesame Chutney)
This spicy-sesame chutney til ko achar is Darjeeling-style. Enjoy with momos, rice or… actually, it just goes along with anything.
2-3 large tomatoes
2-3 cloves of garlic
75g white sesame seeds
5-6 dry red chillies
Salt to taste
Roast tomatoes on an open flame on a gas stove. (Roasting on open flame gives smoky flavour to the tomatoes.)
Peel the skin off the tomatoes.
Roast dry chillies in a pan on low flame and keep aside. In the same pan roast sesame seeds on low flame until they turn golden brown. Make sure they don’t burn.
Put all the ingredients in the blender, add salt to taste and blend.