As evidenced by my personal journal, the one thing that I can't stop thinking about is food. I recently tipped some balance so that instead of usually feeling hungry I am now usually not hungry. I suppose there are a lot
of reasons that I was already counting the hours to my next meal while still eating the last one, and I'm not quite sure how it happened that I stopped wanting to eat all the time, but I hope this new digestive norm will be better for my health.
However, that quandary is only part of the reason that food is on my mind. Amalah's cooking would give anyone sweet dreams (though sweet is the wrong word--Tibetans don't like sweet things), and the process she goes through to produce three meals every day has got me thinking a great deal about this life-sustaining activity, the key to survival anywhere around the world.
In Kipling's "Mandalay," the narrator pines for the spicy garlic smells of India, a single sensation that defines the nation quite well. "Rikki-tikki-tavi" is all about food--the mongoose eats the snake who eats the baby bird. The story is a drama of the food chain. All the trouble in A Passage to India happens because of a special picnic breakfast, one which Dr. Aziz plans meticulously so that no Hindu or Muslim or Christian will eat anything that does not please and satisfy them. The Poisonwood Bible dwells on food and its preparation for a huge portion of the text, since that is the Price's biggest challenge in the Congo.
Of course, I've always known that food doesn't grow on grocery store shelves, but as an American I take the extraordinary convenience of the supermarket and drive-thru window for granted. There is no such thing in McLeod.
Amalah makes everything from scratch. Last night we made momos, a traditional Tibetan food whose Lhasa shape is the same as "potstickers" from Costco. She made the dough, which we rolled out into small circles and filled with a potato-onion-parsley-masala mixture (note the Indian spices). Then we pinched up the edges into beautiful Lhasa-style momos. The process of rolling out noodle dough and filling the momos takes at least an hour with all four of us working quickly. Then Amalah steams the momos and we eat them with chilly and vinegar. They are sublime! And the deliciousness doesn't stop there--we make so many momos that we cannot eat them all, even with my host siblings back for summer break. So, the next morning, Amalah fries all the leftovers and we eat them will chilly vinegar and tsampa. Let me tell you--fried momos and chilly vinegar and tsampa are as good as it gets!
Tsampa is: barley flour, boiled water, and butter. It is not cooked but mixed. I love it a lot, but not as much as His Holiness the Dalai Lama who eats it at 3 a.m. every day when he wakes up. My host family tells me it's his favorite food, and indeed he mentions tsampa on the second page of his autobiography My Land and My People. In His Holiness's birthplace in Tibet, called Amdo, tsampa is a staple food, essential for proper nutrition.
Even here in McLeod, where you can buy mango cheesecake at Nick's or, at the market, a mango so divine that it will make you regret ever eating its stringy American cousin, it is hard to imagine a place so far removed from Wal-Mart as Amdo. There, tsampa is necessary for survival, not the occasional special breakfast it will be when I go home.
Food is the universal necessity, one major commonality among all cultures around the world. Thank goodness for Amalah--without her I'm sure I'd still be hungry. As one who is inordinately excited to get married so I can have someone to cook for, I believe learning and thinking about food in McLeod and Amdo will arm me with simple, nutritious, and delicious meals for my someday family.