Have you ever eaten a meal grown directly from your own backyard? How many meals can you make from scratch? When was the last time you looked at the ingredients list on the bag of bread, let alone knew what they all were? Your favorite candy or jam?
A majority of our foods, barring local fruits and vegetables, travel down a long line of processing and creation. A bag of bread packaged on the shelf in North America will contain anywhere from 8 to 20 ingredients and on occasion even more. Often this list is added on to by preservatives to extend the shelf life of a particular product. Our food can travel very far to reach our plate, sometimes across countries and borders with regulatory standards and restrictions. Even with all these measures, popular estimates suggest that 40% of food in North America is wasted before it even reaches the shelf. This has to do with a variety of factors: restricting sell by dates, expected food quality and perfection, and errors in transporting food. The bottom line is our food, which is congregated and connected through millions of miles before our plate, can go to waste because our culture disconnects us from the emotional and physical energy contributed to its creation.
In Tar we circumnavigated this system. Stepping into the heart of local agriculture, we discovered the most vital ingredient of Tar cuisine – flour. Flour seems to be the all knowing and all powerful factor to every single meal in Tar. And while a bag of flour in America is riddled with a list of mysterious ingredients, the flour in Tar is made straight from wheat or barley that is personally grown by each family. Add a little water to a big bowl of flour, and you have magical dough that seemingly can be transformed into an endless variety of specialties.
For your viewing pleasure we have composed a brief list of our favorite dough food creations:
Mouthwatering Momo – these pockets of power are, in our experience, usually filled with chopped vegetables. However, they can have a mix in range from meats to chocolates. We have made many different artistic shape expressions of momo as a group. We clearly stray from the usual moon-like dumpling architecture that most Ladakhis utilize. When momos are to be made it is not a simple or small process – usually it is for a party or celebration and there are no less than 150 made, especially for a group our size.
Chapati – This is part of the soul of Indian meals. It is a spoon of bread, we use it to sop soups, to lap liquids, and to wrap up rice. It has all the powers of a fork and spoon, but it defeats the spork and its edible. This spectacular utensil is also delicious and can be paired with all foods. It’s a flat pancake shaped bread that is cooked over a stove.
Puri – The rolled out dough is thrown into a pot of water and oil to expand into a magical puff of bread that you can tear open to fill with breakfast soups or jam, whichever you prefer. Angmo will make you eat at least three of these delicious creations before you go out for the day, even if you’re not hungry, you must eat more.
Biscuits – These hardy and thick cookies have a crunchy and sometimes burnt shell, but the inside surprised you with a corn bread consistency. They were always on excess supply, since you just take some dough, form it into a ball, and throw it into the “oven” to take out at any time you remember. These simple snacks were perfect to dip into a hot cup of tea and the cats seemed to love stealing them out of bowls.
Chutagi – Pinch pasta— put it in the soup.
This dough is so powerful it is used in other recreational ways beyond our quick kitchen list. It can be fed to cats and tossed at them: a great all around cat toy – try building your own with the dough! A delightful replacement for Play-Doh: give it to small children for the sculpting of a range of animal figurines. Or, if you’re really feeling floral, like our host parents just toss spoon fulls of the raw flour in your mouth.
There’s something delightful about eating meals on the kitchen floor of our Amalay or Abalay’s chilled homes. Knowing that everything in our bowl is made from only ingredients grown in the yard before us. However, even Tar, a village that can only be reached by a two hour hike, has been slightly infected with the phenomenon of globalization. Only a few familiar items can be seen: honey, peanut butter, etc;. It is clear that even these small few items cause a disruption in the perfect cycle of life in Tar. Before, nothing had to be thrown away as it could all be fed to the cows and other animals, and everything was put into reuse. Now, the people of Tar are being exposed to a new problem: trash!!!!! The creation of trash introduces a whole new dilemma, however the people of Tar have come to a small solution. They burn it. Burning plastic and other items is obviously not the best solution, but on a small scale it is the best option available for the people of Tar. Regardless of the onset of peanut butter and other packaged biscuits, we loved the experience of Tar’s cuisine so beautifully centered around one multiple use dough. Like the chapati plucks rice we were scooped out over lovely homestays, but the memories of such doughs will remain warm in our hearts and stomachs.