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Food Fit For A Dalai Lama

By Iris Brooks
Published August 25, 2008

Tibetan food is largely a product of its geography, and ranges from everyday tsampa barley cereal to the festive momo dumplings, sometimes stuffed with symbolism akin to fortune cookies.

A Tibetan doctor once reminded me that a fish would always be a fish, even when it’s taken out of water. He likened this to the Tibetan people, who have managed to preserve their culture despite China’s attempts to hasten the disappearance of Tibetan history since invading the country in 1950. Nowadays, the Olympic torch is shedding new light on Tibet, a land known for its traditional medicine, Himalayan mountain peaks (the highest in the world), throatsinging monks, and their leader-in-exile, the Dalai Lama, dubbed “the most influential man in the world” by Time magazine.

While pressure to eradicate the Tibetan language and associated traditions is mounting, the Tibetan people remain devoted to their leader and proud of their culture. Beyond the more fanciful fare for festivities, Tibetan cuisine is in large part the food of nomads who cooked simply and quickly before moving on.

I recently tasted Tibetan food, prepared in nomadic style, at the home of a Tibetan friend named Tashi Dolma, who now lives in America. She is a recent recipient of the Women Of Compassion Award for her work as the co-founder of the Tibetan orphanage and school known as Jian Za Home Of Hope []. She took time out of her busy schedule to share her knowledge of Tibetan nomadic cuisine.

With the precision of a surgeon, she quickly cut up a daikon radish in mid-air, without a cutting board, and mixed it with bok choy in a soup broth seasoned with ginger powder, salt, a special prickly pepper grown in the Himalayas, and fresh cilantro. This herb serves as a natural antibiotic, but it was the translation of cilantro’s Tibetan name that I found particularly fascinating: it literally means “Chinese dead bed bug smell.”

The preparation of the nomad noodle soup continued as the dough was rolled into oval strips and then broken off by hand into small bits and added to the soup pot as it cooked along with the daikon and bok choy. I was told the daikon (the large, white Japanese radish) is good for cleansing the colon, liver and kidney. It is fibrous and detoxifying, helping the meat (which it often accompanies) to pass through one’s colon more quickly. “Unlike humans, lions don’t have colons they are made to eat meat,” my hostess explained as she added the prickly peppers, which are als