21 April 2010
Flour, water, salt. It seems like a recipe would need more than this. Are my readers going to believe that this is all it takes? Perhaps I’ll add something at the end. Nothing tastes exactly the same as it does in situ, but the anticipation I feel during this meditative action of kneading certainly takes me back to a cold hillside where nothing is more welcoming than steaming, hot bread. Are three simple ingredients enough to transport my readers?
Although my eyes took a while to adjust to the darkness of the room, and I immediately had to get my layers of down off for fear of melting in the smoky warmth, I knew my husband and I had happened upon one of the best places in Darjeeling. I could just sense it. Nothing was pretentious. The walls were wooden, the floor too. Even the tables and chairs were made of wood which, of course is not very unusual, but I’m guessing they were handmade. And then, the all-encompassing wool. Wool embroidered with wool became oval-shaped, carpets on the floor. The same carpets were used as chair covers or formed into cushions in the window seat for lounging on. The draughts from the door were caught by the felted woollen blanket that was tacked up haphazardly with rusty drawing pins so that you had to open the door from the outside while simultaneously pushing through the musty curtain in order to enter. What else? Buddhas. The end wall had a thanka, the Mahayana Buddhist tapestry, which just about covered it while exchanging grain for golden threads.
As I was looking for a tissue for my, now running unstoppably, nose came the deliverance of flatbreads to our table by a woman with very old looking turquoise and amber hanging from her ears and around her neck and just about everywhere else. In her free hand was a bowl of something white.
“Do you like yak cheese? Put inside, you’ll like it.”
That we did. And we did.
The next day, while visiting a Tibetan women’s collective I spotted a woollen rug that would fit nicely in my backpack. I couldn’t take home a kind-faced Tibetan woman, or fresh bread and yak cheese, nor a smoky, wooden room but a lightweight rug would be just right. It would be a souvenir that would not only serve as a good memory for me, but also as a donation to the collective.
I carried that little rug all the way home from the Himalayas and now it’s covered in flour. The only reason I can think of for keeping my treasured rug on the floor of my kitchen rather than preserved somewhere safe is that I wanted it to be alive and used as a part of my life like it would’ve been in its ancestral home. What good is it preserved forever if I can’t look at it and enjoy it and drop flour on it? A lesson in impermanence.
My water highly treated, straight from the tap and the flour bought pre-ground from a supermarket. I don’t even know where the salt came from, perhaps the New Zealand briny.
Her water fetched from the well and boiled, flour brought up from the Indian plains on over-decorated noisy trucks threatening to tip over the edge at every turn. Himalayan salt, a very grey variety.
Flour, water, salt. Wood, wool, Buddhas. Most of the recipes I write have more details, but I don’t think I’ll add anything.
You can find another version of this story as well as the recipe here.