One Last Savory Bite

Pictured while my darling sister-in-law and two sisters making those beautifully pleated pouches filled several boards.

Pictured while my darling sister-in-law and two sisters making those beautifully pleated pouches filled several boards (not yet cooked).

As an expatriate, the journey afar from North America back to my motherland, the Tibetan plateau, has always been very special. Just the thought of a trip home uplifts memories of my upbringing in the majestic land where I feel most connected.

Spending two months with my loved ones, visiting historic spots, as well as most vulnerable villages and nomadic areas, taking part in my inherited traditions like folk and spiritual rituals, participating in a donation marathon event honoring my mother’s life was a golden experience. And soaking up all the positivity of returning to the snow-capped mountains and flower-carpeted grasslands offered my stay another whole level.

And how about the food that still nourishes, comforts me, and fills all my senses like no other? Classic Tibetan dishes like Shemar (tsampa), Jojee, Tholma, Teltug, Gema (sausages), Sho, Shatum, and Tsolma (dumplings)….

The night I arrived home, my very first meal started with Chutsom (small dumplings) with mutton. While the rest of my family came to welcome me at the airport, with colorful khadag/khataks (ceremonial scarf) in their hands, my sister Lhago stayed home to make those morsels of goodness and cooked them just in time so they would be fresh and juicy upon my arrival.

And they were. Artfully pleated one–bites piled in my bowl, in a few sips of savory meat broth, accompanied by refreshing greenery sides. It was exactly what the doctor ordered for that midnight meal. I was home. My soul settled.

Ready to pile up trays–cooked just in 12 minutes on stacks steamer.

Ready to pile up trays–cooked just in 12 minutes on stacks steamer.

 

Speaking of dumplings, Tibetans have a deep affinity for wrapping fillings inside dough pieces and then baking, pan-frying or steaming them. Almost every family I visited during my stay carefully prepared some sort of dumpling, either with meat and scallions, garlic chives, daikon radish or squash. And I didn’t even feel guilty for being less successful at curtailing my gluttony every day.

I dived into those juicy morsels that splash in my mouth and with spicy condiments my brother prepared.

I dived into those juicy morsels that splash in my mouth and with spicy condiments my brother made.

 

No surprise. My last dinner with my family before my departure for America also came to dumplings. Steamed ones this time. Yak meat with scallions, seasoned with Yerma (གཡེར་མ།, aka Sichuan pepper) and sea salt. And my brother turned his keen eyes on selecting quality ingredients for the dumpling morsels, while my father spun his mind with healthy sides. We decided to use the naturally grown, grass-fed yak meat that we purchased in Haiyan–the seat of the Haibei Tibetan Prefecture–on our way back from visiting Qinghai Lake (མཚོ་སྔོན་པོ, Tsongon Po) two days earlier.

My last dinner with my family in Xining on the Tibetan plateau–Dumplings with yak meat and scallions, and veggie sides.

My last dinner with my family in Xining on the Tibetan plateau–Dumplings with yak meat and scallions, and veggie sides.

 

Yes. Food brings people together. And having intimate conversations with my loved ones while making those wrapper discs, meticulously crimping decorative pouches was meditative at many levels. The complex flavors trapped in juicy purses burst in my mouth, at once pleasing the palette, eyes, and warming my heart. And I treasure those moments that create memories…

 

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15 Responses to One Last Savory Bite

  1. Michelle October 16, 2014 at 8:00 AM #

    Amazingly beautiful!

  2. David October 16, 2014 at 8:02 AM #

    Yes food does bring people together, I love reading your articles!

  3. Pam October 17, 2014 at 2:26 AM #

    Jolma you paint pictures with both your words and your photography. I’m transported each time I open your page. I look forward to seeing all the good that comes now from this inspriational trip!

    • Jolma October 20, 2014 at 9:59 AM #

      Thank you very much, Pam. I’m thrilled that I’m painting pictures with my words and transporting you to Tibet. I hope you stay along for the ride.

  4. Josh October 19, 2014 at 6:54 AM #

    Love the insight and info. You are a good writer!

  5. Anna October 21, 2014 at 7:44 PM #

    Beautiful! I could never get my dumplings to look like that. I need to work on my pleating skills.

    • Jolma October 27, 2014 at 7:24 AM #

      Thank you, Anna. Now that I’m returned back in town, we should get together and make some juicy dumplings!

  6. Lhago October 28, 2014 at 2:22 PM #

    Beautiful, visually and emotionally!

    • Jolma November 2, 2014 at 10:28 PM #

      Thank you very much, Lhago.

  7. Peggy Gilbey McMackin November 16, 2014 at 8:47 PM #

    Jolma, These dumplings look delicious and so perfectly shaped! The combinations including those with mutton and yak are very interesting. Thank you for sharing!

    • Jolma November 17, 2014 at 5:11 AM #

      Thank you, Peggy. Tibetan food culture is a bit different from those of neighboring societies in Asia. Most Tibetans choose mutton or beef, meaning yak meat over seafood because many Tibetans think fish consume many small fish or other little creatures so there are more lives in one fish than a single yak or sheep. The other reason I think is that Tibetans were traditionally animal herders of yak and sheep, and that’s what they had at hand. The tradition still lives on, but modern Tibetan families nowadays enjoy pork and seafood for alternative.

  8. David Kasten May 12, 2015 at 10:09 AM #

    It always look so good, I bet it smells and taste yummy. I always enjoy reading what you write and the pictures bring us along. Keep up the good work

    • Jolma May 12, 2015 at 12:47 PM #

      How sweet of you, David. Thank you and I will.

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