Yak Butter and Fermented Barley: Eating & Drinking Like a Ladakhi

by Angela Dollar - Travel with a Purpose
( March 10th, 2010 )

One thing I love about the homestay experience is that you eat and drink just as the locals do. During my homestay in the remote village of Lingshed, in the northern Ladakh region of India, I enjoyed the simple but creative diet the locals have put together from extremely limited resources.

My host father, Tsering, made us little Tibetan dumplings he called thukpa for breakfast in the morning. They are made of simple barley dough that are boiled and served with a sort of buttery gravy-like sauce and greens. Thukpa is Tibetan (as most of the Ladakhis’ cuisine is) and often is made into noodles for soup as well.
The villagers make their own yogurt, but with no electricity or refrigeration I was hesitant to go there. My host mother nudged the bowl of fresh yogurt towards me every day, and every day I would venture an additional spoonful’s worth than the day previous. It was surprisingly delicious and probably the reason my stomach stayed harmonious throughout my time in India.

ladakhi table
Chapati (a simple wheat bread like a hearty tortilla) is a staple all over India. Here it is shown with more yogurt and a small cup of yak butter tea. Yak butter tea, I’m sorry to say, is not my favorite food. <shudder>

Villages the world over have found delightful ways to marry local ingredients with the magic of fermentation with intoxicating results. In Ladakh, they ferment a plentiful local crop, barley. The result is chang – a mildly alcoholic fizzy libation. (Yep, those are little dollops of yak butter you see floating at the surface)

At a festival at Lingshed’s main temple and monastery grounds, the whole village came out and shared chang, dances and songs for days. Young boys refilled the cups of the elders, and even the babies were given sips of the bubbly!

Hungry for more? Check out more international eats at WanderFood Wednesday!

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