monks, meditation + making momo
The kitchen has always been a place of meditation for me. The chopping, the stirring, all of it are moments of pure engagement, where the rest of the world melts away. Even in the bustle of a restaurant kitchen, mid service, I find that still point where it feels that all of our movements have blended into seamless oneness. A ballet of sorts.
When a language barrier exists between two people, another sort of peace can arise. When there are no - or few - common words between you, there is no attempt to talk. With no means of chit chat, silence loses its awkwardness. I love silence.
So I had the pleasure of cooking with a Tibetan Buddhist monk in our test kitchen the other day. It was an honor because I have never had the opportunity to be in such close company with a monk, and honestly, they’ve always held an intrigue.
Sonam speaks little English, and he was there to teach me how to make his country’s traditional dumplings, called Momo.
As he set himself to work, he was, as I would have imagined, calm and steady in his approach. There were 500 dumplings to be stuffed and pinched that day, and me hovering over with camera and notebook. But he went about the project with the confidence of someone who had been doing this since 7 or 8 years of age. I would guess he is in his 30s now.
The sun was perfect in the test kitchen that day, hitting the stainless steel in exactly the way that thrills me, and makes documenting a recipe feel like a collaboration with god. It was perfect, because as Sonam chopped a field of chives, and then rolled the dough into little balls and flattened them with a broomstick handle cut into a dough pin, the sun danced with him. And I watched, in silence.
I am not suggesting that Sonam did not talk much because he is a Buddhist monk. That is only a fantasy that I, as a practitioner of meditation and admirer of Buddhism, might like to project onto him. On the contrary, I believe if we shared a common language, he might have filled my head with all kinds of stories while he worked. His constant smile and occasional attempts to explain something indicated he might have liked to talk. A lot.
And some language would have come in handy when he finally finished the dough - nothing more than water and flour - and started trying to teach me how to stuff and shape the little dumplings the way he did. The way his mother taught him back in Tibet. And the way he has done in every monastery he’s lived in since leaving her kitchen.
The chives were the hardest. Slippery with oil, it was hard to wrestle them into the pocket while at the same time pinching the dough in just the right way. When we moved on to crab with grated potato and carrot, it was easier. But it was never easy and I only managed to get it right twice all day.
I’ve learned to roll grape leaves and make empanadas and some other little foods shaped by hand, but the Momo was hard. Despite the fact that Sonam would take the time, over and over, to slow down and let me watch his method closely. His patience was boundless. But I learned that mine was not. I learned that there can be a point where I will give up.
Meanwhile, he swiftly continued to stuff and pinch the rest of them himself into perfect little scalloped purses. We were lucky for my mistakes though. We steamed and ate those at the end, saving his beautiful ones for our customers at Ramsi’s Cafe on the World.
prana is the common thread running through everything i love....the sun on my face...the sunlight through my camera.... breathing the ocean air... the sound of my breath...laughing with family + friends.
A cookbook no cook should be without