UPDATED with more details about Losar, July 2, 2016.
It’s exciting to be back home in Rebgong (Reb gong, Tongren)—the home still nearest and dearest to my heart, even after making a new home in the West. Returning to my roots for Losar, the Lunar New Year, is special.
Traditionally, Losar falls on the first day of the first lunar month of the Tibetan calendar. This year, it’s February 19, 2015, of the Gregorian calendar.
Losar is the grandest and most widely celebrated tradition in all three regions (Kham, Lhasa, and Amdo) across the Tibetan plateau. From a cultural perspective, it’s like Christmas for Westerners, except the Tibetan New Year in our corner of the world lasts 18 days.
Losar mixes sacred and secular rituals but is primarily for laypeople. Year after year, we relish this heritage of what the New Year holds. Ancient traditions practiced on Losar eve and the next morning, symbolizing purification and greeting the new. Included are rituals of sang—offerings of smoke and fabric—to please local spirits and deities. In Reb gong (Rebkong) of Amdo, the Bön and Tibetan Buddhist practitioners perform a series of religious ceremonies from the 7th through the 16th. Bön cham (sanctified dance), the Gelugpa Monlam Chenmo, great prayer festival, the butter lamp festival, the unfolding of a massive Buddha painting, and a showcase of sculptures of sacred art made of dri (female yak) butter at monasteries are part of the Losar celebration.
For the general public, Losar preparation is a serious, elaborate business for weeks. It includes yearly deep cleaning of the house and shopping for gifts, specialty food items, and alcohol. It is also the time to make a variety of treats and bake breadstuffs for gift giving.
Luckily, I arrived home one day before my aunt’s last day of baking. Watching her and her daughter-in-law bake 33 of 54 total pieces they needed reminded me of my girlhood trying to help my grandmother and mother produce many crusty pieces of bread. With round gor thud, oval kha thud and holed go re na ji, Rebgong loaves boast a hundred-year-old fermentation. It’s the way it has been baked since a time before active dry yeast was invented.
Although Tibetans use electronic equipment and easier baking techniques on a daily basis today, it is this centuries-old method of earth baking that makes the “Reb gong bread” well-known and contributes to the famed “Amdo bread.” And only traditional baked goods like these are used for Losar gifts.
A gift package included the combination of a large piece or two of cooked meat and shole (a slender deep-fried bread), fruits and steamed dumplings stacked seven-high and wrapped up tight atop a loaf of this kind of special bread.
This ritual of bread making is what Tibetan women continue to practice for all special occasions—and especially for Losar.
I am hungry now.
Really enjoyed your beautiful blog on Tibetan Bakery. I love Amdo Bhaklep. Never knew that the bread is actually baked this way. Thank you so much. Lossar Tashi Delek !! you are lucky. Can I have the recipe please?
I’m glad you enjoy my blog. And thank you for stopping by. I will make sure to share the recipe in the future. Losar Tashi Delek!
Jolma, Happy Losar! Looks like a tradition I would embrace. Gifts, food, new clothes — what’s not to love. I’m curious – did you say modern techniques are used sometimes? Also, when eating the bread, is it dipped in anything like olive oil. Just curious. Enjoy! You have a beautiful blog!
Yes, Kris. I feel lucky to be able to travel home for this special Tibetan celebration.
My great-grandmother era and early years of my grandmother, this old-fashioned of baking method was practiced for almost all breads other than steaming and pan-frying. But today, it is only used for special occasions like Losar, wedding, donation of honoring one’s life, religious ceremony, birth celebration and such, mainly because labor intensity (and dust I’m sure).
When eating, it’s often companied by a dollop of butter over hot milk tea or dipped in flaxseeds oil, and, of course, with soups and stews.
And today’s ladies bake breads in pans, tins using electricity and other electronic tools.
Happy Losar Jolma! The bread technique looks quite interesting and delicious too. As always, thank you for the cultural insights into Tibet, its foods, traditions, and people! Enjoy.
Thank you, Peggy. Ancient traditions in every aspect of life, and I appreciate more today than ever.
I always wondered how Tibetans traditionally made bread. I asked my husband and he told me but he couldn’t explain it very well. Thank you so much for sharing! Have a wonderful Losar and I wish I could be in Amdo too. Perhaps next year.
Thank you, Kimberly. I’m glad you learned something. If you are in Amdo next year, tell your in-laws you know how to bake Tibetan bread. 🙂 Losar Tashi Delek to you.
Jolma, the narrative explanation was very well done & the photos were excellent. It really makes me hungry. Take care. Larry
Thank you, Larry. Smiles from the Tibetan plateau.
I can just imagine how wonderful the bread must smell baking outdoors!
Wonderful. The whole experience of being part of the baking day for Losar was just phenomenal. Thank you, Sara.
It looks delicious.