Like many cultures around the globe, Tibetans cherish our own special noodles. Noodle dishes are, in fact, a staple in Tibetan cooking across the rangelands and lower meadows. We call them thukpa ཐུག་པ (aka thug ba or thugba) and generally refer to wheat flour noodles.
Only those never recorded cookbooks knew when a Tibetan grandmother, who lived ten times before my grandma, had learned to make noodles by hand. And without a cookbook, who knows when they started accompanying dough threads with meat or milk. But one thing I know is that those grandmothers passed down the noodle goodness traditions to us. Tibetan mothers and sisters are keen on making noodles and are served for supper. We enjoy the refreshing and addictive bowlfuls year round.
For the women who rule typical courtyard houses in farming communities, city dwellings, and burgundy-hue-robed Buddhists, it is habitual to cook up a comforting noodle meal. Drokbas or drokpas འབྲོག་པ, too, go for a meaty noodle soup—Drokpas are the traditional nomadic Tibetans who live in yak-fur tents and herd yaks, sheep, and horses.
Making handmade noodles is an art involving properly mixing, kneading, and rolling out to make perfectly round and smooth disk of dough. The noodle varieties I grew up with were, of course, handmade by my grandmother and mother. They made a huge sheet using a long rolling-pin that covered the entire cutting board, the size of a half-room. They often made the noodles in the midafternoon, so it would be slightly dehydrated before cooking in the evening. Shapes vary depending on use. For a formal meal or cold dish during a steamy summer, the giant disk is folded and refolded and then cut into thin, uniform 20-25 inch long by hand. Or it is rolled with the pin and slides out before cutting into shorter lengths and widths for ease of serving. Noodles made of pea flour are typically cut in irregular squares.
Every mother has her own way of flavoring a hearty noodle dish. Often they are made into umami, hot soups though noodle salads with chili and garlic-based sauce is common in the summertime. Yak meat or mutton broth as a base, stocked with either diced wedges of meat or bone-in, but dairy-based is also served. Ingredients like daikon radish, leafy greens, and scallions are added; and it is always seasoned with sea salt and yerma གཡེར་མ least. And no dunking bread is needed for the bountiful bowl.
Today, my mother continues the tradition. She makes noodle dish a few times a week, and I do the same. My personal favorites are teb thug མཐེབ་ཐུག (pulled and cut about the size of thumb tip by hand) and pensha (two-noodle delight). Nothing more comforting or homey than slurping away a bowl of richly flavored noodle soup. They remind me of my happy childhood.
While there are no rules on what type of noodles to use, I try to get fresh noodles from Asian markets. Asian noodles are traditionally made without eggs or with fewer eggs. But dried Asian-style noodles will do if you must.
Stay tuned. I will be sharing a noodle recipe.