Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Tibetan Food

Even though I was in India, I spent the majority of my time in the Tibetan community, as I was working at a Tibetan Buddhist temple. That means I got a lot of exposure to Tibetan food. What I discovered after 5 weeks in the Tibetan community is that there really aren't that many foods on a Tibetan menu (especially when comparing it to the never-ending menus at the Indian restaurants around the corner). I tried my best to document all the food I ate here, but there are a few important dishes missing. I'll introduce them later.


This dish is called Shapale. Sha is meat and Pale is bread, so basically 'meat bread'. Actually, it's like a giant fried meat filled dumpling. This was served with fried potatoes and chili powder. I heard that in Tibet, chili pepper powder is not popular, but here in India no Tibetan restaurant would be complete without several kinds of chili paste/powder.


Here is the monastery's version of thukpa. This was was lacking a lot of broth, though, it was mostly just noodles.


This is more like a normal thukpa. Long noodles with vegetables and this particular one has meat, too. The meat is 'mutton'. Now, I've always learned that mutton was sheep meat, particularly older sheep as opposed to lamb, which would be a young sheep. However, I realized (almost at the end of my stay) that generally when you order 'sha' (meat) in Tibetan restaurants, it is what they called 'mutton' however, 'mutton' in India is not sheep meat as I originally believed, but in fact is goat meat. So, I ate a lot of goat during my stay in India... and not necessarily on purpose...


Here are some momos, sha momos I believe. There were three kinds of momos I saw a lot in Tibetan restaurants. Meat (mutton goat) momos, spinach and cheese momos, and potato momos. Though, the potato momos were my favorite, though they were spiced with some kind of Indian style spices, so I don't know how authentic Tibetan they were.


This dish is called Then Thuk. Then (pronounced ten) means 'pull' and Thuk (pronounced tuk) is noodle, so this dish can be called pulled noodles. They're called this because to make them, you can make a long string of dough and pull off small flat rectangles to make these noodles. As you can see, the noodles are flat, short and wide, like little squares/rectangles. I just found this recipe online while researching this dish... it seems pretty simple to make... perhaps I'll try it some day...


This one was kind of special. This is called lapping (sounds like laughing), and is a typical street food. The noodles are served cold with a spicy sauce. I'm not sure why this particular one was so yellow, as when I search online, it seems the noodles are usually clear. It was quite fun to watch this being made as the woman had a sheet of this gelatinous substance. She then rolled it up and cut it to make many noodles. Then she just threw a little bit of all the spices on her table together to make the spicy sauce.


But, somehow I forgot to photograph one of my favorite Tibetan dishes, Chow Mein, dispite eating it on many occasions. Now, I know what you're thinking... chow mein, that's Chinese food. Well, yes, that may be true, but clearly, thanks to geography if for no other reason, it's not hard to see why Tibetan food might be similar to Chinese food. I find Tibetan Chow Mein to be much less salty and oily than its Chinese counterpart. I'm not sure how the cooking methods are different, but Tibetan chow mein is definitely worth a try.

Another food missing here is tingmo, which is steamed bread, a little bit like Chinese style steamed bread. I never took a photo of it because I guess it was just too normal to me. At the monastery, breakfast everyday was tingmo. I found it to be a little dry and bland until I discovered that when they are fried and eaten with ketchup on the side they become absolutely scrumptious.

Butter tea is another famous part of Tibetan cuisine. However, thanks to bad memories of the butter tea in Meili Xueshan several months before going to India, I couldn't bring myself to drink it on this trip...


Finally, I'll leave you with a photo of one of the restaurants in the Chauntra Tibetan colony which we often frequented. They were always open (there was a bed in the restaurant, I'm pretty sure the owners live in the restaurant) and the woman there spoke quite passable English and was very friendly. Later we found that the shop two doors down, though, had the most fantastic potato momos we'd ever tried. In any case, it's good to have options.

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