By Utsab KC, Adelaide
20 April 2017
“I think we should open a momo take-away!”
“Yes! That’s what I was thinking! It will be a huge success!”
“Momo could be the next thing that will identify Nepal and Nepali food in the international food industry!”
How many of us are familiar with such light-hearted conversations? Especially, when few friends and families gather in for a momo party?
A Nepal-lover in Adelaide also had similar thoughts in her mind but unlike most of us, she did not just “think” but decided to act on it. As a result, the Australian woman has been running sold-out momo-making classes for the last two years with a view to popularising the iconic Nepali dish in Australia.
Joh Sherma, “daughter-in-law” of Nepal and mother of two gorgeous kids, met her Nepali husband back in 2003 when she was visiting the mountain nation. The young family lived in the country until they migrated to Australia in 2009. Joh’s emotional need to remain connected with Nepal as well as her close family associations inspired her to open Kutumba – a handicraft shop in Adelaide. While in Nepal, she ran a café by the same name in the lake city of Pokhara.
Kutumba specialises in selling crafts from Nepal to local Australians. It was her business that put her in contact with people who have been to Nepal or who love the Himalayan nation and therefore want to learn more about it. Her passion for Nepali tradition, culture and food inspired her to introduce momos to the local community in Largs Bay. People who never knew about momos or had simply heard of or read about it can now taste the little flavour bombs from Nepal, thanks to Joh’s creative enterprise. Kutumba also takes care of the nostalgic need of those who had been to the mountain nation decades ago but can now remember little of their trip except the tasty and ubiquitous Nepali dumplings.
“Momo is such a great meal to share and enjoy with others!,” the mother of two said when asked “Why momo?”.
The “hands on” process involved in making momos which lets diners come together and cook a meal with a team spirit is another thing that inspired her to run the cooking classes, Joh further mentioned. She enjoys the lively chat and carefree laughter around the table that are part and parcel of the Nepali momo-making process. The friendly, fun-filled environment reminds her of the way her husband’s family members back in Nepal huddle together to prepare their dinner. She misses foodie interaction as an elaborate preparation is made for the family dinner.
Joh reckons Australian way of life lacks that collective cooking culture. So she started the classes for likeminded people who love to do so for fun. Ever since she began in 2015, she has been running these three-hour classes up to two times a month. She is amased that the classes have been running booked out for every session for the last two years.
When it comes to authenticity of traditional momos, you can count on Joh.
While most ethnic Nepalis in Australia use the readymade Chinese dumpling wrapper for momos, Joh makes them from scratch – just the way it is traditionally done back in Nepal. She recalls her mother-in-law once pulling out the “plastic momo maker” while they were preparing for a momo party. She intervened and quickly explained to her that the whole idea was to do it the traditional way which would encourage interaction and a feeling of togetherness. Surprisingly, students who participate in her classes enjoy the wrapper-making part the most!
Initially, Kutumba sold handicrafts only from Nepal but then she added other crafts from Cambodia, Africa, Vietnam and South America. However, handicrafts from Nepal still form the greatest share of Kutumba’s merchandise. She travels back to Nepal two to three times a year to hand pick the hand made treasures.
There is a good reason why she travels to Nepal to buy handicrafts: she wants to buy them directly off small social enterprises or family-owned craft businesses instead of big business houses. Buying through bigger suppliers will result in the handicraft artisans losing their individual creativity because those businesses will force them to make crafts according to demands, Joh explains. Also, a direct procurement forgoes the middleman costs too.
Joh’s feelings for her husband’s country became evident when she sprang into action following the mega earthquake of April 2015. She was devastated when the 7.8 magnitude tremor hit Nepal. She organized two fundraisers at Kutumba — a silent auction evening and a garage sale which raised approximately $8,000. She donated the proceeds to grassroots organisations in Nepal bringing immediate support to those in need.
Kutumba has an ongoing fundraising project for Nepal. It is called Cataract of Kindness which aims to raise funds for cataract surgeries as part of Himalayan Quest’s free health camp in rural Nepal. The generous Kutumba community donates pre-loved books and 100% of the sales go toward these cataract surgeries. After just one month in operation, Kutumba had raised enough to cover all costs and after-operation care for five cataract patients in Nepal!
At Kutumba, patrons can enjoy freshly-ground “Himalayan Java’ coffee (grown in Nepal obviously) in Nepali earthenware tea pots and cups.
Joh is set to offer a series of “DAL DINNER NITES” in April and May, creating opportunities for the local community to come together and enjoy elements of Nepali food and culture that mean so much to her.
Adelaide locals wishing to learn how to cook up sumptuous momos can do so by visiting Kutumba’s website (kutumba.com.au) where they can secure their spots in the momo-making classes.
Apart from the now popular momo-making classes, Joh has also been simultaneously running “Dal Cooking Classes” that also draw fair bit of interest from the locals.
A former television journalist from Nepal, Utsab KC is based in Adelaide.