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The Recipe for Connection

Growing up with a Newar father and a white, American-born mother meant my father was solely responsible for imparting his Newar heritage. He made attempts to pass on traditions and language, though I imagine those attempts were inconsistent given the absence of any nearby Newar family or a local Newar community. By and large, my father shared his culture with me through Newar food and the accompanying values; To serve food to the elders before anyone else is to show respect. To make use of an entire ingredient and leave no waste is to honor the labor and land that went toward producing the ingredient. To eat a traditional meal prepared by your father each night is to receive a form of unconditional love.

As I’ve grown older, cooking has become not only my most tangible connection to my heritage, but it is one of few instances when for a brief moment, I can access a window into my father’s past; we stand side-by-side, time suspended as the task at hand anchors our feet to the kitchen floor while our hearts and minds are set free to wander out of the kitchen to a more vulnerable space:

He chops garlic, onions, daikon, and cabbage to prepare the momo filling, simultaneously instructing me on the best technique for shredding ginger. I shred the ginger, listening and waiting for an intermission. When he pauses his instructions, his focus scattered by the sputtering pot of browning garlic and onions to which he adds a blend of peppery spices, I have the perfect opportunity to pose a question.

I begin with a simple question. Something to ease us into this conversational journey: “Who taught you to make momos?” As he adds the ginger, cabbage, and daikon into the pot, he gives a vague answer; nothing too detailed, but enough that as the vegetables cook down, I can sense that his mind is traveling somewhere into the past.

“Oh, you know, I just watched people here and there.” He adds the ground pork to the softened vegetable mix. “Ba’aa liked to play cards with other older males from the community. They would ask me to make snacks and food for them, and I would get some money from them here and there. That’s a lot of how I got my practice cooking,” he reminisces.

I acknowledge his words with a thoughtful, “Mmm,” every now and again, taking care not to disrupt this time-traveling journey. He speaks, and I listen intently. Eventually the pork turns from pink to a light brown, and my father pauses his storytelling to announce, “Okay, let’s allow the mixture to cool before we begin wrapping the momos.” While we wait for the pot to cool, I find myself imagining a young version of my father hastily taking orders from the card players, eager to pocket some coin and please his father and the guests.

Bringing my attention back to the present, I take a dough wrapper in my hands. I dip my index finger in a small dish of water, swirl it around the edge of the dough wrapper, then use my other hand to scoop some meat and vegetable mixture into the center. I struggle to wrap the first couple momos with even pleats, but slowly I find my rhythm. Wet the wrapper’s edges, scoop mixture, pinch shut, pleat. I repeat the sequence over and over again in my head until the process feels second-nature. Once my hands outpace the sequence in my head, my mind drifts to a similar scene in which I had envisioned my father cooking for guests as a kid. This time, I am the one cooking: I gather in my phoophoo’s (aunt’s) kitchen with my didis (sisters/cousins) and our mothers; we laugh and joke, swiftly wrapping momos without even paying attention to the movement of our hands. This version of me could probably neatly pleat momos in her sleep.

“You’ll remember how to make this recipe for the next time you want momos, right?” my father asks. My attention shifts back to the present reality and I smile softly and nod my head in agreement. As my father removes the lid from the steamer pot and gently sets down the freshly wrapped momos to cook, I watch the steam frantically escaping and it dawns on me that our journey is almost complete– until our next recipe for connection.

Editors: Sam Luthiya, Uzayer M., Joyce P.

Image Source: Unsplash


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