With Turkey Day fast approaching in America, I thought it appropriate to share with you a feast of a different flavor. It is a feast that went from farm to table in less than a day and less than 100 miles. It is a feast that I shared with family and friends and that was prepared with love and care. It is a feast from half a world away and many miles above sea. It is a Tibetan feast and I am very thankful that I was able to enjoy it last week when I, my grandmother, my uncle, and two lovely new friends from Canada travelled to a tiny children’s home in a far away village tucked into the arid mountainous hills of Tibet in China.
Our journey began a week ago when we made the short flight over the Himalayas and past Mount Everest from Kathmandu, Nepal to Lhasa, Tibet. Entering Tibet is like entering another world. The landscape is so vastly different from any other place I’ve travelled. It is beautiful and strange; a wondrous dessert in the mountains. It is a dry and arid land of massive hills and rolling valleys and an indescribably amazing, precious, and enduring culture of people.
The first day is spent very slowly. Moving slowly, breathing slowly, eating slowly – allowing the body and mind to adjust to the high altitude, s-l-o-w-l-y. I slept in and later had coffee and pancakes for breakfast. I lounged in bed and read my thus far barely opened book. In the afternoon a few of us journeyed out of the hotel and into the bustling city of Lhasa. Our hotel was situated near the oldest part of the city, Jokhang Temple and the surrounding area known as the Barkhor. An ancient temple first built in 642, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the spritual center of Lhasa. Pilgrims circumabulate the temple moving clockwise around and around praying and spinning their prayer wheels. Tourists also walk around and around stopping here and there at one of many the stalls full of treasure troves of Tibetan goods just begging to be bargained for.
The next day we went to the Children’s Home. We began our journey shortly after breakfast, winding our way through the streets of old Lhasa, through the newer areas and towards the edge of the city where we stopped at a bustling farmers market to purchase the fixings for our feast. There was an amazing variety of vegetables and fruit, dried goods and fried goods. There were fish and foul and lots and lots of yak, both live animals and butchered ones. We bypassed the meat stalls, this was a vegetarian feast after all. The women wore the traditional tibetan garments and took a keen interest in the traditional indian garments of my grandmothers attire. We wandered through the stalls checking quality and freshness, and seeing which of the women would afford us the least western price. Fortunately we were with our friend, a native of Lhasa, who could readily finagle us a good deal with even the most ardent of bargainers.
We purchased a great assortment of vegetables, some fresh tofu, and a few other necessary items and hopped back into the van for the remaining journey to the home. We wound are way through valleys, deeper and deeper into the rural regions of Tibet. We passed village after village, and yak after yak, and before we knew it we driving through the gate of the home where we were met by the staff and children, so beautiful with their lovely rosy cheeks and perpetually runny noses.
The day was spent talking and reconnecting with old friends, sipping yak butter tea and staying warm in the bright sunshine. We played a bit of soccer with the children and marveled at their alternative form of jump rope which involved an old piece of bicycle inner-tube tied to a tree – brilliant. We shared some songs with each other and attempted to share some dances. I unfortunately do not know many dances, but the hokey pokey went over very well.
As soon as we arrived at the home, the vegetables and goods that we had bought were whisked out of the van and into the kitchen to be made into a myriad of dishes that would eventually make up our meal. There was magic going on in that kitchen. Every once in a while a dish would emerge, more spectacular than the last. Our appetites were growing and our mouths were watering in anticipation of the deliciousness that we were witnessing.
At last all was ready. The dishes were laid out on the table and the guests were all assembled. I wasted no time and jumped up to be first in line to sample from the delicacies on display. There was a cold radish salad and dried smoked tofu, fried peanuts and saucy straw mushrooms. There was a soup of fresh tomato and bok choy, and big dish of steaming hot rice. There was spicy pickled eggplant and sweet baby sprouts. It was a feast fit for royalty and we were the humble recipients.
The meal was beautiful to look at, full of vibrant and contrasting colors, but it was even more beautiful to taste. A complex arrangment of contrasting and sometimes contradicting flavors and textures and even temperatures. It was spicy, salty, sweet, and bitter. It was hard and soft, hot and cold, crunchy and slimy, and gloriously delicious. It was a feast fit for thanksgiving and I give thanks.
I wish you all the happiest of holidays this Thanksgiving. May your bellies be full and your hearts even fuller. Thank you for following me along this journey, I hope you are enjoying the trip.
What are you thankful for this holiday season? Do you have any favorite feasts that you look back on with fondness?
Thanks for reading!