Lobsang Delek has been making momo (Tibetan dumplings) since he was a young boy. He learned from his mother and father in Tibet before moving to work at a restaurant in India. In 1996 he arrived in Sydney as a refugee and settled in Dee Why, among Sydney’s Tibetan community.
Delek used to run Tibetan Food, a traditional restaurant serving butter tea, noodles, soup and his signature momos. Since that space was sold he’s been roaming across the north shore, popping up at weekend markets.
Delek says because of Tibet’s harsh conditions its cuisine is based on a slim range of produce, centred on barley, meat and yak dairy products. “There’s not much taste in Tibetan food because it's such a high and cold place. It’s just momo I really like,” Delek says.
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They are similar to Chinese jiaozi, with thick, chewy dough folded up either with a dinosaur-like spine or a single wrinkly dimple. Although ultra-traditional momos would have been filled with just yak, lamb or mutton, and maybe some onions and spices, Delek’s momos are more representative of what you’d find in modern-day Tibet.
“Momos are a very big thing in Tibet. On the outside you have flour but inside you can have anything.” Delek’s stall serves four different kinds, either steamed, pan fried or frozen for later. They’re all handmade by Delek and his wife. “In one hour, me and my wife together can make 300,” he says. The vegetarian moon-shaped dumplings are filled with soft cheese, carrots, spinach and onions. The meat dumplings are spilt between the more delicate chicken and coriander combination, and the fattier, meatier pork or beef varieties with onion, soy and chives.
“They're really special for Tibetans. Normally they are served somewhere special, like a party. Families eat them once a week or once a month. Meat is hard to get because it's expensive.” Although traditionally reserved for special occasions, the spread of Tibetan restaurants has seen them become more common in Tibet and across the world.
In Tibet they are usually served with vinegar and chilli-based dipping sauces. Delek makes his own; a spicy, savoury, red chilli sauce with fried garlic and red chilli, and a zesty, fresh mint and green chilli dip. “It’s very special, mint with chilli. A little chilli, onions, tomatoes – I don't tell other people the recipe.”
The only other dish Delek sells, simply advertised as Tibetan soup, is made from boiling down fatty beef bones (yak in Tibet) and adding winter vegetables. Delek’s is astoundingly buttery and herbal, and only costs $3.
Delek says he’s looking for another space to house Tibetan Food as a restaurant because he misses serving butter tea, a Tibetan staple consisting of butter, milk, salt and dark Tibetan tea leaves.
The Tibetan Food market stall can be found at the Beaches Market at Warriewood on Fridays from 8am–1pm and at the Narrabeen markets every third Sunday of the Month from 9am until stock runs out.
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