Butter tea-fuelled laughter

February 20, 2015 06:09 pm | Updated 06:09 pm IST

Butter tea

Butter tea

It was the first evening of a three-day trek in Ladakh, and our homestay was in the lower valley of the village of Yang Thang. The village was small—only three families lived there—and self-sufficient—construction material came from the poplars and the willows, food from land made cultivable by the Indus River, and dairy from the burly yaks and cows.

Inside the kitchen, static and the crackled whisper of Ladakhi news emerged from an old Philips radio as our host, Tsaten, kneaded the dough and passed it to Tserin, our trekking guide. Tserin then flattened it with a rolling pin, and divided it into circular pieces with a stencil. These pieces then made their way to the trekkers. We folded the pieces as instructed – “curl around your finger, and pinch the top” – and passed them back to Tsaten who dropped them in a pot of boiling water.

We had formed a happy assembly line for Ladakhi pasta. Happy, but slow. The local women moved on to chopping vegetables while I took my time folding the dough with a sculptor’s focus. I was rewarded with cups of warm butter tea, known as po cha in Ladakh. Whenever I finished a cup, Tsaten would immediately refill it from what appeared to be a never-emptying flask.

It had taken Tsaten a while to make the tea. She had first prepared, over several hours, a black tea concentrate called chaku . She then added salt, milk and butter to itand churned the mixture. The resulting po cha can be an acquired taste for many; unlike the popular masalachai, it is salty and tastes like melted butter. But it was a taste that I took to instantly.

“I’m taking this recipe back home to Chennai,” I said.

“Good?” she asked.

I smiled, and nodded, “Very good!”

Tserin then dropped a spoonful of barley powder into my cup. “Try it now,” she said. It tasted even better. The barley stuck to my palate, and so I washed it down with another sip. I beamed as my whole body felt the warmth of the tea and the people around me.

“Which cow gave the milk and butter for this tea?” one of the trekkers asked.

“The black one,” Tsaten replied.

“Well, I shall thank her tomorrow morning,” he said.

Tsaten laughed in response, a delightful, contagious laughter, and soon the kitchen was filled with it.

Niyantha Shekar is a travel and fiction writer. You can read his work at niyantha.com.

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