Sunday, June 17, 2007

Cooking Classes from Tibetan Refugees

To try and get over some of my feelings of travelling malaise, I decided to sign up for some cooking classes while in McLeod Ganj. I had intended on trying to do this periodically throughout the trip, starting in Vietnam, but stomach bugs and timing worked against me there. So when I saw signs up for a series of three classes on Tibetan food (momos, soups and breads), Tyler and I signed up.

The classes have been fun and tasty since we get to eat the fruits of our labor. For our first class, we learned how to make three different kinds of momos, or dumplings--vegetable, spinach and cheese, and sweet momos. We learned how to make the three fillings and how to form the dumpling shape as each type has a different style. We were lucky to have this first class to ourselves, just Tyler and I with our teacher, Lhado, a beautiful 24-year-old Tibetan woman. She would patiently demonstrate how to construct each one, then have us practice until we got it right. Then we would do it once more to make it stick.

We didn't have our camera with us, but I found this on someone else's travel blog who took the same class. It's a bit blurry, but from the 12 o'clock position going clockwise, you can see the sweet momo, vegetable momo and spinach & cheese momo.

During the fifteen minute wait for the momos to be steamed, we started talking to Lhado. We learned she had left her small village in Tibet at 18 to move to Lhasa for an opportunity to get an education (she said she didn't even know how to write her name in Tibetan when she left home). When she got to Lhasa, there weren't any opportunities, and the city was becoming largely populated by Chinese. Leaving a note for someone to give to her parents, she made the trip to become a refugee in India. She's been here six years and hasn't seen or been able to communicate with her family since. She is married, and she and her husband don't have children of their own, but some of children from their brothers and sisters have made the trip and live with them to go to school in India. She also explained that she and her husband can have the cooking school since it's in their home, but they can't open a restaurant since they don't have passports. Some local Tibetans find Indian partners to be the owner in name, but they often have trouble with the police. As she put it, when the policemen want to drink, they'll go around and ask for passports and basically scare the refugees into paying them bribes to stay out of trouble.

The next morning, we returned for our second lesson on Tibetan soups: Mothup and Thenthuk. First we made the dough for the two different kinds of pasta. The mothup includes small tortellini-like dumplings in a broth based on garlic, ginger and salt with lots of fresh vegetables, including tomatoes, onion, spinach, carrots, bell pepper and potato.

Fresh mothups, before being added to the soup

Mothup soup

The second soup, thenthuk, is a similar broth with thin thumb-sized noodles garnished with thinly sliced omelette on top.

Starting the broth for thenthuk

Rolled and cut noodles, ready to be torn off into thumb-sized pieces and added to the hot broth

Thenthuk, ready for eating!

This class was taught by Lhamo, Lhado's husband, and he also shared his story with us. He and a friend left Tibet with about 20 other people by paying a guide to cross the mountains. It took them two months, and at one point they were stuck in the snow with no food for six days while the Chinese blocked the one pass over the mountains. At one point, they ran into some tourists who helped them by giving them some food, water, and sleeping bags to complete their journey. In Nepal, they were able to get some assistance, and--I'm a little fuzzy on all the details--at some point Lhamo ended up in the hospital in India for three weeks, where he became friends with an English doctor who suggested and helped him set up these cooking classes for tourists. He hasn't seen his family in over ten years, though he sometimes gets news about them from other refugees who are from the same area. His family doesn't leave Tibet because they have land, animals and a home there that they will lose if they leave.

Lhado and Lhamo, our cooking instructors

And we still get to learn bread tomorrow!

The food has been delicious--we'll have to have a Tibetan night when we return to share our new recipes--but being able to connect with some people here has really been the most worthwhile part.


eddybles said...

What an inspiring and wonderful post Sarah! I love the step-by-step photos and the end result looks positively mouthwatering. I hope that things are looking up for you in India and that you soon discover a bright patch of high-highs.

The General said...

Yeah, the cooking classes have been a lot of fun. Sarah and I just got out of our third and final one ("Tibetan Breads"), but I'll leave it to her to blog about it... though it might not be for a few days since we are about to embark on another 22 hour bus ride.

Is there any other type in India?

Rachael said...

Hi Sarah,

We recently took Lhado's cooking class and really enjoyed them. Especially the special bread! I can't wait to try the recipe back home and impress friends and family.

We took photos and wanted to send them a copy but unfortunatley we lost Lhomo's email. Do you have it?


Sarah said...
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Sarah said...
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Sarah said...

Hi, Rachael--weren't they wonderful! We made the momos at home several times, and they are delicious. I still need to try the breads again...

Here's the email address I have: lhadontsering (at) yahoo.

I don't want to enter it exactly so they don't get spammed like crazy. Hope it works for you!