Amdo Tsering’s earliest days were spent herding the 25 yaks his family owned across the hills of the Amdo province in Tibet and helping his mother prepare breakfast and lunch. This, Tsering said, was the initiation that Tibetan chefs in Bangalore could possibly hope to get: The home kitchens of Amdo have a reputation in Tibet as the unofficial culinary academies.
Rallying to table
Tsering crossed over to India in 1992, lugging a satchel-load of recipes, secret ingredients and half-remembered folklore. His roof (and his world) now stands relocated to Austin Town, at a five-table restaurant called Amdo Corner, open from noon to 10pm every day.
We took our first bite of the ‘fejouze’ and crispy ‘langsha’ kebab (thin slices of beef, batter-fried tempura style) with large helpings of ‘shaemog’. “I miss Tibet every day,” says Tsering, for whom a transition from the kitchen to pro-Tibet rallies is as smooth as the yak butter he speaks of. “I miss my land, my people and even my yak, but most of all I miss my parents. I miss my mother’s food, especially the yak butter she churned.”
A regular at one of the other four tables, Jangchup Lingshar, leaned across to say: “Tibetan food is served with great respect, just like you do Indian food.”
Bite of the light side
Tsering adds: “Tibetan food is not spicy at all and does not use any masala. It is light and good for health. I should know. I walked for two months to reach Dharamsala from Tibet. Now, this small business is my way of promoting our food and culture. This is the true food of Tibet.”
Taste of Tibet: Amdo Tsering serves up tingmo and shaemog.
Tsering is the kind who’d call for the salts at the very suggestion of a packet of that “evil Chinese ploy”: monosodium glutamate. In fact, his larder appears to be largely stocked with salt, chilli powder and coriander (used as a garnish to please his Indian customers), apart from the aromatic spice aerma, rarely found outside Tibet. It has a coriander powder-like consistency and taste, but when cooked, perfumes the dish without overwhelming the original flavours.
Tea and true taste
When talk veers towards “true food”, Tsering immediately references breakfast at his mother’s place—’tsampa’ and Tibetan salted butter tea, or ‘tsampa’ with cheese, salt and yak milk. Lunch was meat and more ‘tsampa’ with (some more) salted butter tea.
“These days it’s mostly ‘thukpa’ and ‘momos’ for us,” adds Lingshar. ‘Tsampa’, the Tibetan cousin of ‘ragi’ balls, is comfort food now available only when supplies make their way in from Dharamsala or one of the Tibetan settlements.
On momentous occasions back home in Tibet, the family would bring out rice. “Rice was hard to get in those days. Now, the one dish I would love to cook is ‘yak ra’ (yak horns).” In Tibet, the dish is fried in yak butter; here he makes do with regular cooking oil.
Tsering and other Tibetan chefs maintain stoically that the ‘momo’ originated in Tibet before making its way to China. Says Tsetan Norbu, who along with his mother Lhasa Dolma runs the hotel Shangrila on Brigade Road: “It may appear that our foods are similar because a lot of Chinese food is available in Tibetan restaurants.”
Dolma says: “I still make the butter tea using Amul butter. It does taste very different.” She adds: “I do keep some Tibetan dishes here at the hotel and use beef instead of yak meat. In fact, I took ‘maniribu’ (a bitter sweet preparation made from herbs and used as an offering during religious ceremonies) to Tibet from Bangalore. They cannot find that there anymore.”
While most Bangaloreans craving ‘momos’ find themselves at Shangrila or Taste of Tibet on Rest House Road, those who subscribe to more exacting standards eat either at Amdo Corner or Little Tibet Kitchen. It’s the simpler eats that regulars frequent these places for. Top recommendations: The ‘pingsha’ and the fluffy ‘tingmo’, perfect to mop up sauces or stews and an ideal foil to spicy ‘shabtra’. But the most important thing is to know your ‘langsha’ from your ‘paksha’.
• Amdo Corner, Austin Town (9916048243)
• Shangrila, 182, Brigade Road (51121622)
• Taste of Tibet, Indo-Dubai Plaza 5, Rest House Road (41478237)
• Little Tibet Kitchen, Langford Road Cross, Nanjappa Circle, Shanti Nagar (41237875)
Fejouze: Soup-filled momos
Tsampa: Barley flour porridge
Po Ch: Tibetan salt yak butter
Thukpa: Thick soup with noodles
Yak ra: Horn-shaped savoury cake
Shabala: Meat- or veg-stuffed pastry
Thonthuk: Flat noodle soup
Tingmo: Pinwheel-shaped steamed bun
Shabtra: Chilly beef
Pingsha: Noodle and meat
Aerma: Aromatic spice
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