Friends Tom and Fiona’s excellent adventure take us to Tibet: Rooftop of the World, The Land of Snows.
Call it what you will it is a truly remarkable place high in the Himalayas, home to the most devout Buddhist pilgrims, monastaries, nomads, prayer flags and of course yaks. In Lhasa, the capital, you can get virtually anything made of yak fur at the markets, beautiful shawls, rugs and yarn of all colours that are surprisingly light and immensely warm. On our four-day journey across the Himalayas, we came across several herds, grazing in the mountains and having seen them from up close, I can confirm that these are large bovines.
It goes without saying that yak meat is a major feature of Tibetan cuisine. The staple food in Tibet is actually meatless – a bland porridge made of roasted barley flour called Tsampa but for the visitor, yak meat is readily available to be consumed in every meal and any which way! The most popular choice that is found in all restaurants would be yak stew: a not-too-spicy potato and yak meat curry served with rice and dal. The second favourite would be shemre, a rice, yoghurt and yak meat curry. Then of course you can get yak meat momos (steamed or fried dumplings, served with chili sauce – and in my opinion much better steamed) or yak and potato momos or even yak and chili momos.
For variety, you can try yak fried rice, noodles with yak meat (thukpa), yak steak, yak sausage, bobi (chapati-like bread) stuffed with yak or maybe some dried yak meat, which is salty and really rather difficult to chew. There is often little else on offer on menus and so during our seven day stay, I hate to admit it but we tried it all.
Yak milk and yak butter is also readily available everywhere.. and not just for eating either … many pilgrims carry packs of yak butter to light candles in the many temples and monasteries; they either add butter to a large vat containing wicks or light their own little candle if they had a recent death in the family.
The most bizarre of all is the immensely popular butter tea, brewed tea that has globs of yak butter added to it. Tibetans drink this and they drink it all day, everyday. It is consumed for calorific energy and for warmth in the cold mountains. Every Tibetan we asked claims to love the tea, every visitor however pulls a face when you ask if they tried it. One traveler said its like drinking pop-corn and that’s a pretty spot on description. Butter tea is a thick soup-like drink and not very easy on the taste-buds. My conclusion is that butter tea can only be an acquired taste!
You can follow Tom and Fiona’s travels on their blog.