By Jonathon Hyjek, London Dining Review, July 31, 2012
Yam Gurung knows his way around a kitchen; after all, he started working in one when he was just 12-years-old.
Inside the Western Fair Farmer’s Market during lunch hours Tuesday through Friday, visitors cannot help but notice a delicious aroma unlike anything they may have experienced before. Just inside the doors of the Confederation Building, Yam Gurung, the owner of Momos at the Market will be found cheerfully cooking up traditional Nepalese cuisine and chatting with his regular lunch customers. It does not take long to notice his warm smile and welcoming demeanor to recognize that he enjoys what he is doing.
Yam’s story begins on the other side of the world, in Nepal, a small, underdeveloped country in South Asia. Yam gathered his experience working in a kitchen in a town 200 kilometers from Kathmandu as a child laborer in the tourism industry, often working long hours for little pay in order to survive. With no formal elementary, secondary or post-secondary education, Yam taught himself how to read and learned English through listening to the tourists that would visit locations where he worked.
He met his wife, a Canadian nurse who was vacationing in Nepal, and it was love at first sight. They carried on a long-distance relationship and it was over two years before Yam made the decision to move to Canada. His wife was pregnant, and Yam did not yet have his Canadian visa, so she went ahead to Canada, giving birth while Yam was still in Nepal. Their daughter was three-months-old when he finally landed on Canadian soil.
Knowing little English and having no formal education or training, Yam stayed home and looked after their child while his wife worked. They first lived in Oakville and then north of Hudson Bay before settling in London. His wife’s family lives in London and Yam stated that he wanted to be close to family, since his own family were thousands of miles away.
Yam’s first job in London was at a local catering company, where he was held in high regard because of his strong work ethic, and willingness to do whatever task was needed, but it was a steep learning curve. Yam stated, “I had to learn everything – food, culture – it’s all different… Even with a Canadian wife, it was still hard to integrate.”
After working briefly in a few other restaurants in London, he found a home working for Dinner Liberty, a now defunct business which specialized in homemade take-out, which also had a location in the Western Fair Farmer’s Market. Yam visited the Market and realized this was the place he wanted to be. “I liked that it was a community,” Yam commented of the Market atmosphere.
In 2009, Yam set up on his first Saturday at the market, with just a small pot on a burner, selling his homemade momos and he sold out the first day. Momos are a traditional Nepalese dumpling, traditionally filled with Water Buffalo or Yak, but in this case filled with ground pork, herbs and spices. After the success of his first day, he decided to rent commercial kitchen space where he would work in the evenings to make his momos, taking 1,000 of them to sell every weekend, while still working full time at Dinner Liberty.
With the money he made from the Western Fair Farmer’s Market, he would purchase a few utensils or appliances every month, until he could afford the larger space he has now, which includes seating for approximately 12.
Since those early days, Yam has expanded his menu to include Chicken and Vegetable Curry with Rice, Yam’s Chicken & Rice Noodles, as well as fresh juices, smoothies and delicious Nepali Tea. Everything that Yam makes is homemade, and you will often find one of his staff of three rolling out dough for his momos, or stuffing them with pork, chicken, vegetables, or water buffalo, which is often eaten in the mid-western part of Nepal, from which Yam originates.
When asked if his food is traditional Nepalese, he stated that it’s a blend of Nepalese and American. “It’s cooked the Nepali way,” Yam said, “but I make it a little less spicy.”
Spices and herbs that are often used in Nepalese cooking are cumin, cilantro, chives, garlic, turmeric and ginger, and Nepalese cuisine has influence from neighbouring countries, such as Northern India or other Asian countries.
In addition to serving lunches at the Market, he does catering for parties and corporate events, either delivering the food, or preparing the food onsite. He also offers frozen momos and a homemade tomato sauce to take home and for those looking for something different, Yam will even come to your home and cook dinner for you and your guests.
Yam’s long term goal is to open a full-service restaurant, but for now he is enjoying his time at the Farmer’s Market, making new friends and introducing them to the incredible world of Nepalese food.
Momos at the Market is open Tuesday to Friday from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm and Saturdays from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm. More information is available by visiting his website at www.marketmomos.com.