As part of my recent trip, I travelled to Bylakuppe, where lays a piece of Tibet, ‘The land of snows’. Bylakuppe is home to one of the largest Tibetan settlements after Dharamshala. One of the main reasons why I had this place on my itinerary was to try the Tibetan cuisine there.
With the monasteries around and the coloured flying prayer flags on the homes, orange-brown robed monks, Tibetan Sign boards, the high pitched Tibetan conversations of women across the roads do not make you feel like you’re in India for a moment. One thing you should definitely visit here is the ‘Namdroling Monastery’, which has a golden temple where lies a 60 ft. Buddha statue plated with gold along with Amitayus and PadmaSambhava. The temple has a serene environment inside and is a great place to lose yourself in meditation. The town also has other monasteries and a sacred pond if you would like to visit. The market place in the entrance of the town looks flamboyant. After exploring the neighbourhood around , I came to my favourite part – Tibetan food!
After having a conversation with a lady in a Cafe (Buddha Cafe – go for one of the best Carrot cakes you would ever eat), I got to know about this restaurant run by a family – ‘Potala Kitchen’. The place is actually a house, modified into a restaurant with some tables laid in a room. The Menu had lots to offer. I honestly am an amateur with Tibetan Cuisine and I was desperate to know more about it. To my luck, a monk (Tsesung Wangchuk) came and sat behind my table. He was kind enough to let me join him and patiently answered my questions and doubts.
So, what I learnt was that lots of people immigrated from Tibet seeking a refuge due to the Chinese invasions and moved to North Bengal and later on moved to various parts of India. They invested a painstaking labour to build their settlement to resemble their homeland. I was kind of wretched to see ‘Save Tibet’ sign boards on many homes. Nonetheless, these people are bunch of happy-go-lucky lads. The people close the shops and restaurants by dusk and call it a night very soon. So, if you’re in the area, please plan it before dusk.
Coming to food, I was having a doubt whether Buddhist monks are allowed to eat meat according to their religious practices. But I was told by Tsesung that, life in Tibet-Himalayas is provided with very less options in vegetables or grains and depend on meat. But the Buddhist Monks don’t take spices in their food. Their food is predominantly bland on any day. I was looking at the menu and wanted to try Thenthuk.
I was challenged by the monk that I could not complete the bowl by myself. The reason was because it would be very bland for a spice-liking palate and it is mostly ordered by monks. I accepted the challenge and in return I asked him to teach me how to use chopsticks if I win and ordered an egg Thenthuk. Then(pull)thuk(noodles) is a noodles soup with flat rice noodles in it. The first 3 spoons went well and I started understanding how great these monks are to eat that everyday without any spices, who gave up taste and live in an absolute abstinence. I gave up halfway and ordered some manchurian (Indian Version) to avoid my tongue from going numb. But I had my first Chopstick lesson anyway.
The Momos were good but I have had better ones. The layer was a little bit thick but the stuffing was flavourful and spices were balanced. The Thukpa was bit better for me than Thenthuk with the addition of ginger, chilli and garlic giving it a subtle hot and spicy aftertaste. It’s also a rice-noodle soup with lots of veggies like bok choy, Chinese cabbage, celery. They also serve this weird fruit beer, which exactly tasted like beer but non-alcoholic.
Overall, although I understood that Tibetan Cuisine is not for everyone, I had an unforgettable didactive experience and learnt many new things.