Soul food in Little Lhasa

A dense maze of lanes and alleys in the absolute north of Delhi hides away one of the capital's best-kept secrets. Peaceful and secluded, the Tibetan camp at Majnu Ka Tilla is known only to few backpackers and an even lesser number of food enthusiasts. As you walk down the dragon arch at the start of the camp and explore the hidden crevices of the settlement, you'll begin to wonder if you are in Delhi at all. Tibetan streamers from shops sell everything from incense to noodles and dried yak meat. Stalls sell lovely silver jewellery, and you can hear chants and Tibetan pop songs waft in the air. This is a world of its own, far removed from the dreary shopping crowds of GK. For once, you'll not hear Honey Singh blaring from SUVs, and this is what makes the settlement on the shores of the Yamuna such a delight to explore.

After you begin to get tired of the obsession with paneer and large malls that Delhiites inevitably suffer from, it's places like this that make you a believer. Go deeper into the lanes of the camp and you'll see shops selling thangkas for monks, and tiny places that make and sell the most wonderful carpets on this side of the border. You can sit at the chaiwallah near the monastery, and get surprised when you get served salted butter tea in a white porcelain cup. It's a new, strange taste that is perfect to warm up on a chilly morning.

Like most Tibetan settlements in the country, MKT has a network of budget restaurants serving spicy Sichuan and Tibetan food. The most interesting thing you will eat in these parts however, requires a bit more digging around. Beyond the typical momo, shabalay, and thupka menu, there are places in this little land of exiles that serve up comforting, spicy, soul food. And this includes our current obsessiona brilliant cold noodle salad called la phing. 

The word phing means noodles in Tibetan. Sold off stalls near the Monastery, la phing is a fiery, tasty, summer snack popular in the Chinese-occupied region, as well as in parts of the Hunan province, where it is known as "liang phen". The lady selling the noodles near the Monastery has a kind, wrinkled face, and a smile reserved even for outsiders like us. She speaks broken Hindi and offers two varieties of the dish, made with yellow and white noodles. The ingredients for this vegetarian dish are simple: starch, wheat gluten, soy, garlic, chillies, and rice vinegar. 

The noodle is made from a congealed block of starch (made from wheat or mung bean flour), which is flavoured with soy, vinegar, a paste of spicy Tibetan red chillies in oil, and water steeped in garlic (Recipe here). Served in an unassuming plastic bowl, it is simple, minimal, and bursting with flavour, with high umami notes. The yellow, "pancake" version of the dish calls for a sheet of the starch that is stuffed with wheat gluten and spices, and drizzled with soy and garlic water. It's an unfamiliar texture and aroma that will get you hooked, if you like garlic and chilli flavours and can handle the heat. To us, this was a taste of salvation.

Much like the perfect chargrilled buffalo skewers sold on the way to the monastery, this is more than just a snack for the many thousands of Tibetans in exile living here. For these gentle, wonderful people, this is a reminder of home, and the small joys they have had to leave behind.

2 comments: said...

Need the recepie and process of making yellow lapphing plz

Unknown said...

Nice and interesting information and informative too.
Can you please let me know the good attraction places we can visit: Hyderabad To Delhi Flights