It's 1:30 pm and Sanjiv, 35, is getting ready for a day of work. His younger brother brings out the dough, shredded chicken, and vegetables and the two get on with their task: chopping the greens, expertly fitting just the right quantities into delicate patties, stirring the flame red chutney… They are making momos, or Tibetan dumplings that have become Delhi's favourite street snack over the last few years.
And they're making the Capital’s ubiquitous finger food in a tiny, cramped village in south Delhi, which is fast emerging as a 'momo factory' to beat old favourites like Chanakyapuri, Lajpat Nagar and Majnu Ka Tila.
Chirag Dilli Village or CDV, near the Chirag Dilli flyover, is where most of south Delhi has been getting its momos in recent times.
As many as 40 or more homes in CDV make momos from their kitchens, with materials sourced from the village itself and supply to adjoining areas. The activity, they say, supplements their earnings in times spiraling inflation.
Santosh Tamang, 32, who has been making and selling momos since the last 4-5 years says any regular job doesn't fetch him more than Rs 2,500-3,000 a month.
“I can earn around Rs 3,000-4,000 just from momos,” says this native of Darjeeling who also sells soup in winters. Starting work at 8 am, most homes wrap up by 3 pm when the deliveries go out. Some men also hold other jobs, like Sanjiv who also works as a cook at a hotel in Malviya Nagar. His shift starts at 7 pm, which leaves him with enough time in the day to make momos.
The residents are largely migrants from Nepal, Manipur and West Bengal — with Darjeeling leading the way — who've come to Delhi looking for jobs and have settled in CDV given the low rents and its central location. The village is located in the heart of south Delhi, from where its easy for the boys to deliver to areas like Greater Kailash, Panscheel Enclave, Malviya Nagar, Sheikh Sarai, Sadiq Nagar, Saket, Navjivan Vihar, Eros Garden near the Haryana border.
Except for an odd Shambhu who has set up a one-man kiosk at the 'kuan' in the village's sabzi mandi area, the rest just supply to momo outfits in and around south Delhi.
Raju, 27, a native of Nepal who earlier lived in Noida and worked as an audio-video delivery boy, moved to CDV five years back. His Rs 3,200 job couldn't make ends meet. That's when his brother Vishnu told him to try his hand at what their neighbours were doing.
“Ek doosre ko dekh dekh ke hum logon ne ye kaam shuru kiya hai.” (I learnt from observing others). Each family manages to sell anywhere between 25 to 40 plates of momos a day, he says.
Momo-making is an art, says Raju. “The vegetables have to be cut fine, you can't overstuff the dough, steaming has to be just right… It's something we all automatically know how to make because we've grown up on them."
The village's economic activity has also led to an interesting mesh of personal exchanges. Tamang says their neighbours get their native delicacies in return for a plate of rajma-chawal or kachauris, which he relishes. “The way people are addicted to momos, I am addicted to their rajma-chawal,” says Tamang.