This is the second of a two-part series on Tibetan New Year food traditions.
In part two we will look at the Losar holidays themselves. To get a fresh image of what Losar looks like in central Tibet these days, we called a large family of farmers near Lhasa that we know to ask them what they would be doing for the important first three days of Losar, and here’s what they told us:
Losar: Day One
The father of the family gets up incredibly early — at 3 a.m. — and brings in the important first water of the year (chupu), while the mother prepares changkol, which is a sort of sweetish soup made from barley beer (chang) and a little each of roasted barley flour (tsampa), dried cheese, butter, khapsay, and sugar, all cooked together.
The cheese and butter will come from the female of the yak species, which Tibetans call dri.
By 3:30 a.m., the parents will serve the changkol, also known as kunden, to the rest of the family in bed.
Some families might instead serve a savory porridge with yak meat called drothuk as the first dish of the New Year. (For a video recipe for beef drothuk, sign up for our free Tibetan Culture Newsletter in the box near the bottom of this page.)
Before sunrise, the family will cook and eat droma dresil, a lightly sweetened dish made of rice mixed with butter, raisins, sugar and droma, a small sweetish root found in grasslands in Tibet. (Click here to get the free written recipe for droma dresil. A number of the other dishes mentioned in this post are available in the Tibetan Home Cooking eBook and video series.)
Video: Lobsang Teaches You How to Make Droma Dresil
Through the morning, families will munch on khapsay, deep-fried dough twisted and cut into beautiful shapes, and sometimes called Tibetan cookies, though some larger khapsay are created primarily as shrine decorations.
At some point in the morning all the family members, dressed in their new Losar finery, will make a chemar offering from the bo for an auspicious start to the New Year. (See more about khapsay and the chemar bo at Your Insider’s Guide to Losar Eating — Part One.)
For lunch, a sister in the family told us they will sit down to a big spread of meat and veggie dishes, like:
- yak meat with cabbage (pedze) or potato
- chinese celery
- shamdrey (yak meat with rice and potatoes). (See Tibetan Home Cooking.)
Though this first day of Losar is devoted mostly to only the closest family, after lunch, a couple of members from each family in the village, carry the family’s chemar bo around to the nearby neighbors to exchange good wishes.
At the neighbors’ homes, they will be cheerfully forced to snack on khapsay, other sweets, and fruits; and drink butter tea or sweet tea, or the ever-popular chang.
It is important during Losar to generously offer food and drink to anyone who comes to your home, no matter if they are friend or foe or a stranger.
Dinner that night will be a soup with a long, fat noodle (thukpa chizi), or necha (pounded barley porridge, similar to drothuk).
Losar: Day Two
After breakfast of khapsay or pa — which is a dough made of tsampa with dried cheese, butter tea and sugar, the family will burn incense offerings on the roof while setting up new darchor — the long, vertical style of prayer flags often flown from the roofs of Tibetan homes.
For lunch, our farmer friends will gather at one of the oldest sibling’s houses to eat yak meat momos, along with a veggie dish of green peppers, Chinese celery or cabbages with yak meat, and maybe some drozoe marku (cooked droma with butter).
Interestingly, though Tibetans love momos like life itself, it is not considered auspicious — in the Lhasa area anyway — to eat momos on the first day of Losar, since they are pinched shut. The idea is that the New Year should begin with openness and generosity.
The rest of the day will be spent drinking chang, visiting with family, singing, and snacking on khapsay.
Losar: Day Three
A little worse for wear from Days One and Two, a member of the family gets up at 3 a.m. to trek 45 minutes up the freezing-cold peak of the tallest nearby mountain, to pray and burn incense offerings.
Up on the mountain, 200 people gather from the village, fortified with khapsay and chang, and stay until sunrise.
Other members of the family may go to the nearby monastery to burn incense, and to offer prayers and donations.
On this day, the whole extended family will gather at the main family home for a huge lunch.
On the menu this year, they say, is labsha (yak meat with radish), pa (tsampa with dri butter, dried cheese and a special sugar called parong), and drozoe marku (cooked droma with butter).
And of course more khapsay and chang!
Dinner is thukpa chizi, or drothuk or necha.
On the fourth day, things become less formal and everyone visits around with friends and family, and these days that is the last Losar for our farmer friends.
In the old days, they say, Losar lasted the entire 15 official days of the New Year, but now everyone returns fat and happy (maybe more fat than happy ;-) to work on the 5th day of Losar.
From Lobsang and Yolanda at YoWangdu, wishing you a joyful, healthy and prosperous Losar!
- The written recipes for droma dresil, pa, shamdrey, labsha, po cha (butter tea), drothuk and momos are available in the Tibetan Home Cooking eBook and video series, which is available for sale here for $27.
- For free, you can get the video recipes for beef drothuk, pa (tsampa with butter tea), and po cha (butter tea), along with some others, when you sign up for our Tibetan Culture Newsletter in the box below.
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By Lobsang Wangdu