Ah, Shillong! To me, the name conjures up memories of emerald green grass, clouds floating feather-lite in a powder-puff blue sky, and deep droughts of cold, clean air!
Sometimes it conjures up images of grasses that grow tall as an adult’s head, of water shimmering crystal-clear through rushing waterfalls, of mirror-like lakes with ducks floating gentle by the side.
But most of all, it conjures up visions of enormous, plump, buttery, aromatic, steaming, dumplings!
Why dumplings? As recounted in Jungle Submarines, my very first experience with dumplings was with the “King Momos” that I had as a child in Shillong. That memory remains with me to this day, and I have tried but never recaptured that experience. I have tried the thupka dumpling soup in Leh; the wontons and dim-sums in countless restaurants across India, Europe, and the US; the Italian ravioli, tortellini, and gnocchi; the German spätzle, the Japanese gyoza… All delicious in their own way, but none as big, juicy, and stuffed as the King Momos!
From my research, I understand that the humble dumpling has been with humankind for two thousand years or more. Different civilizations invented the dumpling independently and at different periods in history. The Wikipedia entry for the dumpling says it all! There’s even a separate Wikipedia page simply to list out all the different dumplings in the world, and at last count there were a 144 of them starting with the agnolotti and ending with the zongzi!
But I am looking for something more: for the origin of the gigantic dumplings that I encountered in Shillong. The internet has very few references to big dumplings. There are scattered references to giant soup dumplings in Shanghai and in San Francisco. Although I never found the origin story, after some digging, I came across a reference to the restaurant where I originally encountered them – Shangri-La.
If you’re wondering why I’m so obsessed with the King Momos, ask yourself this question: What do you really like in dumplings? Is it the delectable, flavorful, chewy interior? Or is it the plain, placid, dull exterior? It’s like asking someone whether they like the cake or the box that the cake came in better. I, for one, like the interior! The more the interior, the better! And that is precisely where the giant Shillong dumplings excel. They have an enormous amount of interior in proportion to the exterior! I won’t bore you with the proof, but we can even prove this mathematically!
I have a hunch that the average size of a dumpling corresponds to the level of kindness and good-heartedness of the people in a city. Bangalore, for instance, has dumplings that are roughly 75% the size of an egg – not really very big; Delhi has even smaller ones, and in one city close by that I shall not name, they look like grapes! In other cities I have encountered some slightly larger than the ones in Bangalore (Tokyo) and some slightly smaller, but never the mammoth size of the King Momo!
How big are the average momos in your city? Add a comment below and if I get enough feedback, I will develop a momo niceness index for the world! Or, time permitting, I can scientifically eat through the 144 different types of dumpling listed in the Wikipedia page and come up with the index myself! But first and most important of all, I need to plan a quick trip to Shillong, to feast once again on the King Momos.