Ladakh, truly described as high altitude cold-arid desert is one of the far most eastern regions of J&K state, India. Because of unfavourable and hostile environment prevailing over the region, cultivation is limited to a very less scale
(both time and place). Under these conditions, one of the major reasons behind human habitation is the ingenuity of local people, who has devised new and sustainable way of living. One major product of this ingenuity is the traditional foods and beverages, which over the time has been evolved (through outside influence and local resources available) and established in the fooding system of Ladakhi people. An attempt has been made to bring forth those dishes and beverages, which are true representative of the region. The very common dishes like kholak and paba has been described in detail including the preparation methods.
Keywords: Ladakh, Traditional foods, Beverages, Ladakhi, Kholak, Paba
Ladakh constitutes the easternmost trans-Himalayan part of J&K state of India, bordering Pakistan and China. Truly described as cold arid desert, it covers an area of 59,146 sq km situated along the valleys of the Indus river1. Intensive sunlight, high evaporation rate, strong winds, and fluctuating temperature (30-40°C) characterize the general climate. With spare vegetation, there is little moisture in the atmosphere. Because of high mountains all round and heavy snowfall during winter, the area remains inaccessible to the outside world for nearly six months in a year (Fig. 1)2. The growing season is only a few months long every year. But over the centuries, the people of Ladakh developed a farming system uniquely adapted to this unique environment. Farming is small scale; traditionally, each family owns a few acres of land, and their whitewashed mud houses are grouped together in villages whose size varies according to the availability of water. The principal crop is barley, the mainstay of traditional Ladakhi food. In the valleys there are orchards, and up on the high pastures, where not even barley grows, people husband yaks, cows or sheep. The poorest people drink chhang (local barley beer), often in place of the more expensive tea3-6.
A drink called tsigu chhu is made from ground apricot kernels and water, at least in Dhomkar area of lower Ladakh (Fig. 2). A wild fruit, chasta ruru, usually known as tsestallu (Seabuckthorn, Hippochae rhamnoides), is used for preparing juice and jam
(Fig. 3). Regarding the interventions made by various research and developmental institutions, there has been a tremendous improvement in the diversity, quantity and quality of cultivated crops (especially vegetables). It has been demonstrated (on field conditions) that around 64 different kinds of vegetables can be successfully grown in Ladakh. Presently, local farmers in Ladakh are successfully growing newly introduced crops like kale, parsely, celery, summer squash, okra, and various cucurbits. The increase in crop diversity has helped them to increase their income and improve the nutritional uptake. It is providing income to the local farmers.
Traditional foods and beverages
Most of the foods and beverages described are made throughout the region. However, the elevation of the cultivable land affects both the length of the growing season and the choice of crops produced. The staple diet of region is huskless barley, or grim, which is roasted and ground for use as flour, tsampa (Tibetan) or namphey (Ladakhi), or for making the local beer brew, chhang. For a quick, nutritious and warming breakfast or lunch it is hard to beat butter tea with kholak. These foods are easy to make, simple, least fuel consuming, ingredients available locally and preferred. The majority of the dishes that follows are sustaining food for the people of a remote region.
Breads are made from wheat flour (Paqphey) as well as barley flour (narjen– meaning uncooked barley) or a mixture of the two. At times breads are also made from pea or lentil flour. Sometimes, pea and wheat are mixed and ground into flour which makes it more nourishing and palatable7.
Tagi Khambir or Skyurchuk (Browned sour dough bread)
A bread (tagi is the general name for bread) eaten throughout Ladakh. Skurchuk is the name by which the bread is generally known in the villages (Skyur means sour, chuk means mixed with); thagi khambir is its Leh name. Before baking powder was available, Ladakhis use local soda (pul) from the Nubra valley. In a traditional kitchen the dough would first be cooked on a cast iron plate placed over one of the cooking holes in the stove, under which is the fire of wood or cow dung (Fig. 4). Then it will be finished off on the ambers inside.
Tagi Buskhuruk (Puffed unleavened bread)
The dough is the same as for tagi shrabmo (similar to chappati), but the rounds are made thicker and small in size (Buskhuruk means unleavened). They are cooked briefly as above, but are allowed to puff up, and are then, if possible, put in the ashes of stove or fire. Traditionally, it is backed on a plate placed on a cow dung fire, covered with another plate and more dung.
Tagi Thalkhuruk (Bread uncovered and baked in ashes)
This is lighter than tagi thalshrak (covered and backed in ashes) and is therefore good for people who are not well (Fig. 5). The dough is made in the same way but the bread is cooked uncovered on a plate, on the ashes – thalkhuruk.
It is thick round bread, dough made off lour mixed with molten butter and well beaten egg white. To make the bread more attractive and shinny, egg yolk is spread on the upper surface of the bread. These are baked by placing them over flat sheets of iron covered with hot ash from all sides. After it is fully backed, it gives a mouth watering flavour and is removed from the iron sheet.
It is similar to tagi mer-khour except the butter and egg. It is backed directly in hot ash, charcoal or dung fire.
It is soft to eat and resembles a dosa except that it is thicker and is served with milk or tea. It is made by putting a thick paste of wheat flour (fermented overnight) over moderately heated tava spread with a thin layer of fat or oil.
It is made as tagi tain-tain where wheat flour is substituted by buckwheat flour.
It is made by making dough of flour and sheep fat, given the shape of an ibex horn and then backed on charcoal. While consuming it is broken, and the bread along with the fat is heated in a bowl and mixed together. It is made especially during losar (Ladakhi New Year–generally falls in December-January), decorated on the kitchen shelf and is presented to close relatives and neighbours (Fig. 6).
Thick round bread made of wheat flour. The edge is turned, twisted and pressed to give a woven appearance, cooked in oil medium and sugar may be added as per the taste. It is presented when a girl child is born. In Baltis and Shin tribes (in Kargil district), it is also presented by the grooms family to the brides family during the betrothal and marriage ceremonies. At Losar the Dard or Shin tribals of Drass, stuff the makhori with animal fat and send it as present to the close female relatives like daughters, sisters, and close cousins.
Tagi Tsabkhur (Ground sprouted wheat bread)
It is very easy to cook and the taste is very sweet, but making the flour from the sprouted wheat or barley is a little complicated and interesting. Tsabkhuruk means sprouted grain and cooked covered (as opposed to thalkhuruk, which means not sprouted and uncovered). It is said to be good for pregnant women.
Sephe Tagi (Freshly sprouted wheat bread)
This bread is made in springtime in the Zanskar valley. The grain is sprouted as above, but is used fresh when the sprouts are about 1 cm long. The sprouts are crushed in a pestle and mortar and then mixed with water. This mixture is added to flour to make moist/loose dough. The dough is cooked with a little fat, or dry, on a heated stone or griddle. It swells, like tagi khambir, and is eaten split with a little fat or butter added inside.
Khura (Sweet deep fried biscuits)
It is made especially for Losar. When a married girl visits her parent’s home during Losar, she will carry with her plate of khura for the family members (Fig. 7). In olden days, local flour would be used, and may be still in use in some villages. Nowadays, a few people use rice flour to achieve an even finer consistency. The technique for giving shape to this biscuit is quite tricky. They can be salty, in which case uses salt syrup instead of the sugar one.
Ready to serve Kholak (tsampa/namphey mixed in butter tea)
It is the most commonly used food that involves no cooking. The dish is the ultimate quick and easy breakfast, lunch, trek or anytime food. The flour is made by grinding the roasted grains of barley (generally known as tsampa in Tibetan and namphey in Ladakhi), foxtail millet (tse-tse phey), or wheat (chop-tsos) to a fine powder which is generally referred to as phey. Kholak is made by adding the powder to any liquid or semi-liquid and bought to a consistency, where it does not stick to the hand through proper mixing and accordingly named (Fig. 8).
Tsiri Kholak (diluted chhang kholak)
In some villages, especially in the Sham area they boil peas, then dry and ground them into flour, shranphey, to be used with namphey or kholak.
In the Zanskar valley, in place of tea, kholak may be made with tsiri or singri, which is diluted chhang8.
Sbangphe (Chhang residue kholak)
The chhang (fermented barley drink) residue is dried and ground together with roasted barley. It is then mixed with butter tea, or sometimes water, and left overnight to be eaten the next morning, with snamthuk.
Chuu means water. Phey is added to water with a pinch of salt or sugar. Mostly used by hunters or travelers when nothing else is available.
Cha means tea. Kholak made by adding phey to tea (made from green tea leaves and salt in place of sugar).
Derba means butter milk. This is made by adding phey to butter milk.
Chhang means local barley made fermented drink. Phey is added to chhang. It has a sour taste and is mostly preferred by travelers.
Phemar (Kholak for the sweet-tooth)
Phemar is usually served only to guests or on special occasions such as weddings. Phey is added to salt tea with a lump of butter. Sugar can be added depending upon individual’s choice.
Chubtsos (one of the major ingredients of phemar)
For chubtsos, wheat grain is boiled and made soft. Then it is strained, sun dried and roasted in a big pan, it is then mixed half and half with namphey and kept specifically for this dish (Kholak). To make kholak, chubtsos is added to tea with a large lump of butter and sugar to taste. It taste better than the rest of the kholaks, and is mostly served on special occasions only.
Kushi Phey Kholak (crushed dried apple with namphey)
This is made in villages for wedding and the parties to celebrate a baby’s first year.
Chuli Phe Kholak (Powdered dried apricot with namphey)
This is a refreshing food mostly used by travelers. It is mildly laxating.
Baril (Walnut and apricot kernel dip)
This is from Sham area, or anywhere where there are walnuts. It can be eaten during breakfast or lunch, with bread or kholak.
Fig. 8—Preparation of Kholak
Thud (Butter and dried cheese brick)
Common in Changthang and Zanskar valley, it is made by mixing local butter, ground dried cheese and sugar together. This mixture is then shaped into a brick. It will keep for a long time, especially in winter.
Ruskhu (Soup made from bones)
It can be eaten with kholak or paba, or on its own.
Yogurt, curd and vegetables (especially roots like radish and swede). Kholak can be taken as such with tea, butter, vegetable/meat preparations, tsamik, chhang etc.
Paba (Mixed grain and legume flour pudding)
Another most commonly used food in Ladakh is paba and is popular in all the classes all over the region (Fig. 9). It is another healthy dish often taken to the fields, for lunch at sowing or harvesting time. Paba flour is called yotches and can have different ingredients, depending on what is grown in the area.
It can include barley or wheat or both with any of the legumes like peas, broad beans or lathyrus to male it more nutritious and palatable which is half roasted and ground7. In some places, they grind caraway (locally known as kosnyot) seed with the flour to give a good flavour3. Traditionally, paba is cooked in a special stone pot called doltok. Some of the dishes or soups are oftenly taken with paba.
It is a sauce made from coriander and mint leaves, radish and onion. All the items are pounded in a mortar. To this, chilly powder and salt is added. Sometimes, curd or butter milk is added to obtain a thick paste. The simplest tsamik is a mix of dried and crushed chilies with salt. In the Zanskar valley, radish leaves as well as dried leaves of wild plants are used; it is a yogurt dip for eating with paba.
Tangthur (Green-leafed vegetables and buttermilk or yogurt)
Quite a variety of green leafy vegetables are grown in Ladakh such as spinach, ldums
(cos lettuce), mongol, salad (Chinese cabbage), sugar beet (leaves only), radish leaves, celery
(leaves only) and cabbage. Some people also use chrysanthemum leaves (pato). In villages, tangthur made with wild green vegetables is served. The proportion of vegetables to butter milk (or yugurt) depends on choice.
Zathuk (Nettle soup)
Nettle (Urtica hyperboria) grows high up in Ladakh. In winter, especially in villages, people
take it with paba. People in Tibet and Ladakh, believes that the great Tibetan Yogi Milarepa, while meditating in the mountains survived by eating nettle.
Tsong chhu (Onion soup)
Fig. 9—Preparation of Paba
This is very simple and quick to make.
Markhu (Tsampa with melted butter)
A little tsampa is added to melted butter.
Sharjen (Thick dried or frozen meat soup)
In former times this soup was common in most part of Ladakh, but nowadays it is found mostly in Chang-thang and Zanskar areas.
Tsha chhu or Shespa (meat broath)
This is another soup from the Zanskar valley and it has two versions8. In one, meat, salt and spices are boiled up in water with a small amount of paba, and eaten with it. In the other it is simply a soup, made without paba and eaten with it.
Thukpa is the generic term for a variety of soups (using wheat or barley flour in many cases) and what we might call stews with wheat flour noodles. Literally, it means over cooked. It is a thick soup or noodle cooked to taste. It is made from namphey, wheat flour, or rice and is accordingly named. In the villages, the flour used will be the strong local variety. Chhurphe, the dried cottage cheese is what gives those dishes a special zip (Fig. 10). The procedure varies with the main ingredients and is supposed to provide warmth in winter, cure cold and also as an elixir for curing constipation in the elderly people.
Tsap is flour made from pre-germinated barley. The barley grains are washed and kept in a sunny place till they germinate. The germinated barley seeds are dried and then ground into flour. The flour is cooked in plain water. No salt or sugar is added. It has a sweet taste.
Its use is restricted to the winter months and is believed to be good for stomach and effective in couch control. It is a food used during extreme cold months.
Half cooked barley grains are beaten in a pestle and mortar. They are rolled into small balls. These balls are frozen and stored for use during long winter months. Small quantities of this chhan are added to thukpa and mostly cooked with the head and leg parts of goat/sheep.
Ngamthuk (Tsampa soup)
This soup can be eaten at any meal, generally at breakfast, when it makes a cheering start, especially in winter. It is given whenever somebody catches cold. To make it more nutritious, small pieces of meat, local pea and chhurphe is also added.
Jamthuk (Unroasted barley flour soup)
This soup is the same but is made with unroasted barley flour.
Pakthuk (wheat flour noodle soup)
Pakphe means wheat flour or dough. This dish can be eaten at any time of year and is very cheering in the winter. In this season, the labuk (local radish- large pink-skinned), dug up from an underground storage pit and the spinach reconstituted from what was dried on the roof of the house during the growing season; those who have a green house, have fresh green leafy vegetables, Pakthuk in the Zanslar valley is made using butter instead of the vegetable oil8.
For this dish, Ladakhis do not use potatoes, carrots or swedes, as these are sweet. Before onions were widely available, villagers would have used skotse (Allium przewalskianum) – wild garlic, as flavouring, and in some remote area they still use it. Nowadays, some people add tomatoes to the onion. The simplest version omits the cheese, peas, and eggs.
Guthuk (9 ingredients soup)
Made like pakthuk, this is a special soup for one of the days of the Losar celebration. These ingredients, which are some of the 9 for the soup, would be specially obtained for Losar.
Thenthuk (Soup with hand made noodles)
Thenthuk, the Tibetan name for this dish, meaning something torn. The dish is like pakthuk but with short noodles.
Gyathuk (Chinese thukpa)
Chinese cuisine has influenced this sophisticated modern version of pakthuk, often made for parties. It is sometimes served with meat only.
Lama Pakthuk (Monks’ wheat flour soup)
This dish is often made for monks when they came to the house to say special prayers3.
Trimthuk (Soup with hand rolled noodles)
A dish which is made mainly for people who are sick.
To make this, add salt to the liquid in which drapu dumplings have been boiled (drapu is dumplings with ground apricot kernel sauce). It is more common in apricot growing areas, such as sham. Drapu is a very nutritious dish, eaten for dinner on its own, particularly after threshing, or on fast days.
The liquid in which the dumplings have been cooked is known as trapthuk. The sauce can be kept for
Chhu Tagi (Bow-tie noodle stew)
The literal meaning is water bread (chhu means water and tagi means bread). This dish would originally have been very simple with just a little salt and perhaps onion to flavour the tagi3. These days, vegetables are added to it. The dough can be made into different shapes (Fig. 11). Potatoes and carrots are a common combination, although it can be taken with green leafy vegetables. Adding meat to it is also common (for which the meat has to be cooked earlier before putting the shaped dough, so that both is cooked simultaneously). In the Zanskar valley, this dish is known as chubtse (chubtsos)7.
Skyu (Cap-shaped noodles stew)
This dish is similar to chhu tagi and, like it, originally very simple. The ingredients are as for
chhu tagi. Generally, moderately less water is added, compared to chhu tagi, but it should certainly not be as dry as kholak or paba. If meat is added, then
it has to be pre-cooked with ginger or garlic, or both as in chhu tagi. In the Sham area, apricot kernels are sometimes used if there is no meat available.
There is another version of skyu known as O-Skyu in which milk (oma) is added with water for the sauce.
It is made mainly in villages, where there is a ready supply of fresh milk. It is a very tasty variant.
Paktsa Marku (Noodle balls in water)
This is a version of Skyu often made at the beginning of the first Tibetan month for fasting, during which many Buddhist devotees do not eat ‘hot’ food like onions or garlic. It is also made in gompas (monastery), when it is known as lama paktsa. There the sugar, and sometimes butter, will be omitted.
Timok (Streamed bread twist)
This steamed bread (Fig. 12) dish originates in Tibet and is made mostly in the eastern (Changthang) area of Ladakh. Timok are good with cooked vegetables or dal.
Mok Mok (Steamed dumplings filled with meat or vegetables)
A dish that originates from Tibet, probably with Chinese influence (Fig. 13). The meat version is often served as a starter at parties or on special occasions when it will be eaten with pickle or chutney. As a super dish for the family it will probably be accompanied by a simple soup made from either mutton bones or vegetable stock, also served with a salad of tomatoes and onions (a modern introduction).
Loko Mok Mok (Cup-shaped dumplings)
This originates in Tibet and nowadays is mostly confined to the Zanskar valley. The dough is made as for chhu tagi, moderately dry/stiff. Break off small pieces to make into balls, and then push in with thumb to make a shape like a handless cup. The dumplings are boiled, or steamed like mom mok, and eaten with vegetables or meat.
Gur Gur Cha or Shrusma Cha (Butter tea)
Usually a supply will be made in the morning, put in a clay samovar heated with cow dung – and served at frequent intervals throughout the day. Often extra butter will be put in the tea to be soaked by bread; tsampa may also be added at times, anything from just one pinch to quite a lot.
Khunak (Salted black tea)
This is the basic tea chhathang (boil the tea leaves in an open pot and make a concentrate, is then poured off and stored in a jag or jar as the basis for the drink. It can be kept for a few days) to which water is added and boiled up with salt but not churned. People in the Kargil area tend to drink this and milk tea rather than gur gur cha.
Cha Shrul (Butter tea with tsampa)
This is butter tea with enough tsampa mixed in to make it soup like.
Chuli Chhu (Apricot juice)
Chulli is one of the less refined types of apricot and is usually dried with the stone removed. In early spring when nothing much is available, the dried fruit is soaked and the juice is drunk. A drink made out of apricot kernel is tsigu chhu. This drink is made with apricot kernels (tsigu) ground and mixed with water. It comes from the sham area, where apricot grows abundantly.
Chhang (Fermented barley drink)
In Ladakh, chhang is the general word for alcohol, but here it refers to the barley drink. Skyems is the polite word for chhang. The Ladakhi word for yeast is phabs. It mostly comes from the Nubra valley and can be found in the market in nuggets form. There are various ways of making this brew, (generally prepared in wooden drums known as Zem), resulting in different strengths (Fig. 14). This drink would be submitted to carefully tasting by one of the older ladies and pronounced good or not so good. Mostly, liberal dollops of tsampa will be put on top of the poured drink and this is called chhang shrul. As a sigh of honour, guests are served chhang with a small piece of butter on the beautiful brass pot, known as chhabskyen, from which chhang is usually served, or one put on the glass (Fig. 15).
Arak (Distilled chhang)
It is made by collecting the boiled-off vapour from alcoholic drinks. Chhang and arak is made in small quantities throughout Ladakh (only by the Buddhist households).
Rguntshang (Fermented grape drink)
Grapes are grown in the lower valleys of Ladakh, in the Da-Hanu areas, where the Brokpa, or Dards, live. This drink is mildly alcoholic.
Milk and its products is a major and important ingredient in many of the food and beverages
(e.g. o-skyu and gur gur cha, respectively) in Ladakh (Fig. 16).
Sri (Post natal milk)
It is the milk, obtained from the cow, dri or dzomo for a day or two after she has given birth. The milk is heated and is then left to stand, after which it is eaten with tagi shrabmo and a little sugar or salt. The mother of the house (in whose house the calf has been born) tries to makes it available to every member of the family and next door neighbours, especially the children.
Labo (Cottage cheese)
it is eaten fresh with chappati or kholak; sometimes sugar is added.
It is very nutritious and has the property to give instant energy. Generally farmers take it just after they have finished their work (like ploughing).
Chhurphe (dried cottage cheese)
It is made by forming labo into nuggets and then dried. It is mostly used in thukpa.
Tingmo (tibetan steamed bread) called timok in ladakh
250g plain flour; ,1/2 tsp baking powder; ,1 tsp dried yeast; ,1 cup warm water; ,1 tbls sugar; ,1 tbls oil; ,1 onion finely chopped; ,1/2 tsp salt; ,1/2 tsp turmeric; ,1/8 tsp black pepper.,,
Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Mix the yeast, baking powder and sugar with the water and add to the flour. Mix and squeeze together to form a dough.
Place in an oiled bag and leave in a warm place (e.g. in a steamer over warm water) for 30mins.
Knead the risen dough for 5 mins and then roll into a thick, round shape (about 20cm diameter).
Spread the oil over the entire dough and then sprinkle on the ramaining ingredients.
Roll up the dough into a sausage shape and then stretch and roll to a sausage about 50cm in length.
Cut the dough into half across and then in half again lengthways to give four pieces.
Tie each piece into a simple round knot.
Oil the base of a steamer and steam the dough for 15mins.
Serve hot with soup or meat/vegetable dishes.
Recipe images are not uploaded yet.