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Tingmomo Is a Tibetan Treat You Should Know. Here’s How to Make It.

The soft, fluffy steamed bun’s many iterations reflect the journeys of Tibetans in exile

A basket of pinwheel-shaped tingmomo sit in a steamer basket next to some scallions, a pair of chopsticks, and a small white bowl of red chili sauce, along with a single tingmomo on a white plate. Everything sits on top of a colorful placemat. Louiie Victa

What comes to mind when you think of Tibetan cuisine?

It probably depends on which part of the world you live in. If you’re in North America, it may be the famous Tibetan butter tea, or bhocha, as it is known to Tibetans, which inspired the once-viral bulletproof coffee trend. But if you live in the Himalayan region of India, Bhutan, or Nepal, home to some of the largest Tibetan exile settlements of the past seven decades, you will likely know of momo, Tibetan dumplings that have become widely adopted in these Himalayan countries.

Tingmomo is another Tibetan treat you should know. A steamed bun with a soft, fluffy texture, its name, some say, is a contraction of tingba, the Tibetan word for “cloud,” and momo, the Tibetan word for “dumpling.” The buns, called tingmo for short, are typically paired with phing sha, a savory stir-fry of glass noodles with mokru (wood ear mushrooms) and chunks of meat; or with shapta, thinly sliced meat stir-fried with velvety gravy that you sop up with pieces of tingmo.

My favorite childhood memory of tingmo is actually of the leftover tingmo that Tibetans like to eat for breakfast. Since the buns lose some of their softness overnight, they’re sliced into halves and lightly pan-fried in oil, which results in a dense flatbread with a delicious crunchy bottom and a bit of chew. In my family, we’d wash it down with some steaming hot cha ngamo, or sweet milk tea. And sometimes, if our modest income allowed it, we would enjoy the lightly pan-fried leftover tingmo with some strawberry jam or marmalade, which for me as a child was utter bliss.

Over the years, the making of tingmo has evolved, much like my journey as a Tibetan in exile; I am one of the third generation of Tibetans displaced from Tibet, and a first-generation U.S. citizen. Just as some of our Tibetan foods, like momo and thukpa (noodle soup dishes), have been widely adopted by our Himalayan host countries, you will see that current variations of tingmo made by Tibetans in exile are influenced by the accessibility of ingredients commonly used in the cuisine of our Himalayan host countries.

So, while you can enjoy tingmo made the traditional way with just flour and yeast, it is increasingly common to see Tibetans of my generation, who grew up outside Tibet, making our tingmo using ga-se (turmeric) and/or sonam penzom (cilantro). If you happen to see white tingmo at a Tibetan restaurant, it’s being served the traditional way. If it has a yellow hue or is flecked with green, you’re being served the more contemporary version.

Neither is any less authentic — the iterations of our food are reflections of our journey as Tibetans. We are trying to preserve roots that have been forcefully uprooted, all while trying to fit into and survive as exiles in our host countries, which, for many Tibetans like me, are the only homes we’ve known.

Tingmomo, Two-Color Tibetan Steamed Buns

Makes 8 buns

Ingredients:

For the white dough:

2 cups (280 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
23 cup plus 2 tablespoons water, divided
2 teaspoons sugar

For the yellow dough:

2 cups (280 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
23 cup plus 2 tablespoons water, divided
2 teaspoons sugar

Vegetable or any other neutral oil for brushing

Instructions:

Make the white and yellow doughs:

Step 1: In two separate bowls, sift together the flour and salt. In one bowl, add the turmeric and mix well. Set both bowls aside.

Step 2: In two separate bowls, proof the yeast by combining 23 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees, or warm to the touch), sugar, and yeast. Stir gently to dissolve the yeast, then set aside to sit undisturbed for 10 minutes. When the yeast has finished activating, you’ll see frothy bubbles.

Step 3: Mix the white dough first. Put the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. (You can also mix the dough by hand.) Add the activated yeast mixture on a low speed until the dough comes together. Add 2 tablespoons water to further hydrate the dough if it seems too dry. Switch to a dough hook and knead for about 8 to 10 minutes to develop the gluten.

If kneading by hand, knead on a lightly floured countertop for about 12 to 15 minutes.

Repeat the same steps to make the yellow dough.

Step 4: Lightly oil two separate bowls and place the doughs inside them. Cover with plastic or a damp towel, then place in a warm area of your kitchen, such as an oven that is turned off. Note that 77 degrees is the ideal temperature for proofing.

Step 5: Proof the dough for about 1 to 2 hours or until it has doubled in size. (Proofing times can vary greatly; if you live in a warm climate, the proofing may be done in as little as 45 minutes.) You can check to see if the dough is ready by poking it with your finger — the indentation should remain but the dough will still spring back a little.

Assemble the tingmomo:

Step 1: Starting with the white dough, dust your work surface with flour and transfer the dough to it. Flatten the dough into a rectangle with your palms. Then, using a rolling pin, roll the dough as thin as you can into roughly a 15-by-17-inch sheet, maintaining its rectangular shape as much as possible. Set aside; repeat with the yellow dough.

Step 2: Lightly oil the surface of the white dough. Then place the sheet of yellow dough on top and lightly oil its surface as well. Use a rolling pin to lightly press the sheets together.

Starting from the short end, roll the dough into a tight log, jelly roll style. Trim both edges and cut the dough into eight equal parts. For smaller tingmomo, you can cut the dough into 10 parts.

Cook the tingmomo:

Step 1: Add water to a steamer pot (or any large pot suitable to accommodate a steamer). It should be at least a couple inches deep but not touch the floor of the steamer basket or rack. Bring the water to a boil.

Step 2: Lightly grease your steamer basket with vegetable oil. Place the tingmomo in the basket, leaving at least 1 to 2 inches of space between each bun to allow for expansion. Cover and steam for about 10 to 12 minutes.

Step 3: Remove the cooked buns from the steamer. Enjoy them hot. You can dip them in hot sauce or chili oil, or use them to sop up stir-fry dishes. Got leftovers the next day? Slice the tingmo in half and lightly pan-fry them, and then enjoy them with jam.

Kyikyi is a third-generation Tibetan living in exile and a first-generation U.S. citizen. She does seasonal pop-ups, teaches Tibetan cooking, and writes about Tibetan culture through the lens of food with the aspiration to help preserve at-risk Tibetan heritage.
Louiie Victa is a chef, recipe developer, food photographer, and stylist living in Las Vegas.
Recipe tested by Louiie Victa

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