Rude Food by Vir Sanghvi: Give me dim sum

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Which two oriental (mostly dry) snack foods have taken off in India over the past decade? The first, as you may have guessed, is the sushi roll, now served all over an Indian avatar as a way to spit in the face of Japanese people who think they know what sushi is.

But it’s the second one that surprises me the most: dim sum. Now you get dim sum everywhere: in mall restaurants, snack bars, high-end grocery stores, and take-out outlets. Here too, the genius of the Indian chiefs is at work. Chinese people would cut their wrists if they tried some of India’s most popular dim sum.

There are two parts to the dim sum boom. The first is the dumplings which are described as dim sum. And the second is the now ubiquitous momo.

You could argue, probably with historical justification, that momos and dim sum are actually the same dish. The Chinese invented dim sum over a thousand years ago (Tang Dynasty: 618-907 AD) and took it to all corners of their empire. They also exported them: Japanese gyoza and Vietnamese banhbot loc come from the Chinese tradition of dim sum.

When it comes to momos and dim sum, chef Vikramjit Roy says the trick is to respect the gender while polishing the dumpling.

Even if you don’t agree that Tibet was part of the Chinese Empire, there is no doubt that Tibetans got their dumplings from the Chinese. They in turn took their momos with them when they fled to India in the 1960s after the Chinese takeover. Because Tibetans are an adventurous and entrepreneurial community, they have spread all over India. And wherever they went, their momos accompanied them. I guess the first people to adopt momos as theirs were the Nepalese, both in Darjeeling district and in Nepal itself. Then momos spread throughout the northeast where they are considered a local specialty, which of course they are not.

Over the past decade, momo has spread to the rest of the country and you can now buy frozen momos (you steam them yourself at home) in stores and many markets have stalls. selling momos. The Punjabis gave them the ultimate compliment when they invented the tandoori momos.

Dim sum has followed a different path. There was always dim sum on the menus of most upscale Chinese restaurants. (Taipan at the Delhi Oberoi hosted a famous dim sum lunch as early as the 1980s, and the Taj Palace opened the August Moon Teahouse as a dim sum house.) But they never really took off. before Yauatcha opened in Mumbai (and later in Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata, etc.)

Many restaurants go beyond siu mai, baos and har gow which we consider dim sum
Many restaurants go beyond siu mai, baos and har gow which we consider dim sum

The original Yauatcha is a London restaurant founded by Alan Yau (the restaurant’s name refers to “Yau at tea”), who started a dim sum boom in the West. Yau sold out, but the new owners opened Yauatchas all over the world. Then Taiwan’s Din Tai Fung started an even bigger global expansion, making dim sum an international favorite.

As dim sum grew into big business, global chains with lower standards took a look at the concept and were delighted to find that you could make dim sum in bulk at a central commissary, freeze it, and then ship it to restaurants that did. would steam them as ordered. Come in.

This led not only to the rise of chains like Ping Pong, but also to central dim sum suppliers who supplied ready-made dim sum to Chinese restaurants who claimed to have made them from scratch on the spot.

MKT's Kaushik Ghosh where dim sum is the stars
MKT’s Kaushik Ghosh where dim sum is the stars

In India, the same model can explain the rise of momo. Most of the momos served in Indian cities are not fresh. There is a huge backup industry. The momos seller that you see in your market is likely buying momos wholesale from a central commissary. The upside is that it allows people who don’t have access to kitchens and don’t have any cooking skills to open momo stalls. Thus, the rise of bulk frozen momo has created new jobs for unskilled and semi-skilled workers.

The downside is that in India too, many so-called multi-cuisine restaurants buy their momos from the same kitchens which makes them for roadside vendors and then add huge margins to their restaurants. Even restaurants that roll their own momos often rely on ready-made momo toppings.

A favorite (non-authentic) dim sum is a dumpling in a light red sauce topped with crispy fried garlic
A favorite (non-authentic) dim sum is a dumpling in a light red sauce topped with crispy fried garlic

These toppings may explain why momos can be so cheap to make. Because no one actually sees the meat that goes in the momos, the hash mix often uses the parts of the bird or animal that customers may not want to buy. (I’m not going to spoil your appetite by listing exactly what parts these are.) This keeps the cost very low for momo’s basic filling, although some filling manufacturers do sell three grades of ground beef to put on. in the momos. The more expensive filling usually contains the pieces of chicken, pork, etc.

Dim sum is different and is usually made in-house. Restaurants such as Delhi’s MKT and Cha Shi serve the same delicious dim sum menu, although the dumplings themselves are made in the MKT’s kitchen. Most of the dim sum you find in restaurants goes beyond siu mai, baos and har gow which we consider dim sum.

Varun Tuli asks his chefs to prepare interesting dishes
Varun Tuli asks his chefs to prepare interesting dishes

For a long time, when Indians innovated with oriental cuisine, it was just adding masalas and chili. But now, with sushi and dim sum, Indian chefs are breaking new ground in the spectrum of oriental flavors itself.

For example, one of my favorite (not genuine) dim sum is a dumpling in a light red sauce topped with crispy fried garlic. You get it under different names in places like MKT, Cha Shi and in many Varun Tuli operations (Noshi, Yum Yum Cha, etc.)

I asked Varun what his origins were. It turned out that the dumpling was invented in her kitchen using an unusual process. Varun first asks his chefs to create dishes that look interesting. Thus, the dumpling was created (with red sauce, toppings, etc.), using mashed potatoes as a garnish. When it looked good, Varun got to work on the taste and created the real thing, calculating the exact flavor of the sauce, adding the garlic, etc. It has now become so popular that it appears all over the menus.

Tangra Connection's chef-partner Vikramjit Roy serves both momos and dim sum.  While dim sum requires a delicate touch, momos are pretty basic
Tangra Connection’s chef-partner Vikramjit Roy serves both momos and dim sum. While dim sum requires a delicate touch, momos are pretty basic

Vikramjit Roy, the chef-partner of the new Tangra Connection restaurant on Delhi’s DLF Avenue in Saket, says the trick is to respect the gender while polishing the dumpling. Tangra Connection serves both momos and dim sum. While dim sum requires a delicate touch, momos are pretty basic. (Made only with maida, simple toppings, and one shape.) But Vikram pays the same attention to his momos as he does to his excellent dim sum. And they taste much better than momos elsewhere in Delhi.

Going forward, I see three parts booming: mass produced momos, traditional dim sum, and innovations created by people like Varun and Vikram. Because India fell in love with ravioli.

The opinions expressed by the columnist are personal

From Brunch HT, October 3, 2021

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