Making Dumplings for Strangers Is My Way of Helping My Family in Nepal

Our house in Kathmandu has been destroyed and the temples that were part of my identity are gone. Stuck in London, I wanted to give something back to the country that inspires my cooking.

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May 6 2015, 10:00am

I cancelled last week's supper club when I heard about the earthquake. I was about to set off to buy ingredients but I couldn't bring myself to go. In a panic, I tried to call every single one of my family members but nobody answered. Helpless and powerless, I even considered jumping on a plane to Nepal.

When I finally got through to my mum, after hours of trying, she was saying things that didn't make any sense. Trapped on the fourth floor of our house, she thought she was going to die because she couldn't jump out the window or get to the bottom floor. Finally, she managed to reach the ground floor by literally hanging onto the railings of the stairs.

Our house in Kathmandu has been destroyed and all the walls have fallen down. The temples that were part of my identity and heritage are now gone. These thousand-year-old buildings have all collapsed and everything is ruined. When I go back to Nepal, it's going to be a devastating sight.

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Stuck in London, I want to give something back to the country and the community I grew up in. How best to celebrate what my country has to offer than through food and flavour? Nepal is where my passion for food began. I have already done two fundraisers and am doing another charity event with Grub Club this week. There will be one hundred guests and I will be cooking alongside Michelin-trained chefs, Pratap Chahal and James Mossman.

I grew up in a very large extended family where food was everything. I learned how to cook from simply watching my mother and my granny. Their love for food, spices, and flavours became embedded in me.

Growing up in Nepal, we'd go back to our village during the holidays to go foraging. Our granny used to make us go hunting for special mushrooms that grow underground after a day of heavy rainfall. I remember she'd say that the mushrooms were more expensive than gold, but back then, I didn't know what truffles were.

How best to celebrate what my country has to offer than through food and flavour? Nepal is where for my passion for food began.

A bit like London, Kathmandu is much colder than the surrounding mountains. You find oranges, apples, papayas, and guavas growing everywhere (well, maybe not that like London, then.) In Kathmandu, we had our own little garden where we grew all our own fruit and vegetables. I'd pick fresh tomatoes, beans, potatoes, and chilies for my mum and our spices would be sent to us from people in the villages. We didn't go to the supermarket; we were completely self-sustainable.

But there is a big street food culture in Nepal. You can find food everywhere. In fact, I hear from my friends and family that there is now more street food than ever. Momos—Tibetan dumplings – are on every corner. In Kathmandu alone, there are more Momo places than the KFC and McDonald's combined in all of America. It's the unofficial national dish. But while there might be thousands of Momo places, every single one tastes different.

Outside of Nepal, people know little about Nepalese cuisine. Even in London, the scene is non-existent. If you go to Nepalese restaurants in the UK, nearly all the dishes are North Indian. It's not a known cuisine in England and people want to make money. I don't think that way but others want to play it safe.

When I saw a gap in the market, I decided I wanted to change people's misconceptions about Nepalese food and introduce them to new things.

I think Nepalese food is one of the least known cuisines in the world. People seem to think that it's either Indian food or Chinese food but it's half and half. And when you mix the two together, you get something completely new and totally different.

I moved to London eight years ago now. I came here to do a degree in business information technology but London sucked me in. I started cooking properly a year and a half ago. In 2013, I was diagnosed with an illness so I couldn't go to work for seven months. Stuck at home the whole time, I started go mad with boredom. Doing nothing really takes the life out of you.

One day, a friend said, Why don't you start a supper club from your house? It seemed like a nice sociable way to meet people and enjoy food. At first, I'd only have about seven guests from close friendship circles but this quickly grew to include strangers. I continued doing it and quit my job at a bank. Now I do a couple of supper clubs a month with up to 40 guests. At the moment, I'm doing even more to raise money for Nepal.

I think Nepalese food is one of the least known cuisines in the world. People seem to think that it's either Indian food or Chinese food but it's half and half. And when you mix the two together, you get something completely new and totally different.

Although Nepalese food uses similar spices to Indian cuisine, we use them very differently. It's lighter and fresher. There are no thick masalas. It's nice to introduce people to new things and surprise their palates.

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The momo is the perfect example of how Indian and Chinese cuisine comes together. The dumplings are Chinese but the fillings are spice-based and more similar to Indian. While the Chinese dumplings you'd eat at Dim Sum are quite bland, momos are very flavoursome.

My favourite momo is pork. I use a slightly fattier but still lean cut of pork so I don't need to add any butter. The recipe is very simple. We use lots of garlic, chopped onions, spring onions, and ginger and a tiny pinch of coriander, cumin, and turmeric. We don't use any salt because the side chutneys are quite salty already. Momos are a big part of my identity.

Since organising fundraisers for the earthquake, overwhelming numbers of people have contacted me asking how they can help. You always think we live in a selfish world but when something like this happens; it's amazing how everyone comes together. I'm so happy to be flying the flag for Nepal.

As told to Maya Oppenheim.