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.
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.
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.
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…