Local flavors

By Luo Yunzhou Source:Global Times Published: 2018/8/23 19:24:36 Last Updated: 2018/8/25 7:20:56

Tibetan yoghurt farm stays true to tradition

Yak farmer Tsring Thondup shows off a bowl of his homemade yogurt at his farm near Lhasa on August 12. Photo:Li Hao/GT

Tsring Thondup's younger pours milk into a pot for boiling. Photo:Li Hao/GT

Tsring Thondup's eldest son milks a yak. Photo:Li Hao/GT

Just like the important role alcohol plays at social events in Western countries, yogurt enjoys an equivalent status in Tibet. "It has become part of local life. When they spend time together, yogurt is an indispensable snack," Wang Yongjiang, the owner of the Old Tree Yogurt Shop near the entrance to the Potala Palace in Lhasa, said as he offered me a bowl of fresh yogurt with sweet Osmanthus syrup.

"This is our specialty," Wang said.

Taking a sip, the mixture of  sour yogurt and sweet syrup made for an unforgettable taste.

"How do you made such a tasty yogurt?" I asked.

To answer my question, Wang took me to a local farm so I could see things for myself.

Right from the yak

After nearly an hour drive from downtown Lhasa, we stopped at a small village named Chagu. 

"Welcome to my house!" Tsring Thondup greeted me as he walked out of his home. A traditional Tibetan farmer, Tsring Thondup owns a flock of yaks from which he gets the milk he and his family uses to make Tibetan yoghurt.  

My companions and I entered his backyard, where fresh yak milk and homemade yogurt had been set out to welcome us. 

"This is the first time I've had fresh yak milk," Denis Xiong, another visitor to the farm who couldn't stop recording himself drinking milk, said.

"Look! It is as white as jade!" he exclaimed.

Different from cow milk, yak milk has much higher fat content. Just a minute after the milk was poured into a bowl, I could see a layer of yellowish skin appearing on the surface of the milk. 

After we finished enjoying our hot milk, we were treated to some fresh-made yogurt.

"You have to drink it quickly as it goes bad after only a few hours," one of Tsring Thondup's daughters told us.

When dusk arrived, we could hear the sound of yaks baying nearby. The young girl began hurrying us along so we could see the yaks come down from the mountain.

The yaks were herded into a shed, where Tsring Thondup's two sons began tying them up to a timber pillar.

"Tying them up is part of the preparations for milking them," the girl told us.

When all the adult yaks were secured, a baby yak was released from a neighboring shed so it could walk to his mother's side.

"The baby yak helps us to get the milk quicker," the girl explained.

As soon as the baby returned to his mother, he began nursing on his mother's milk.

"He's really into it," the two boys laughed as they did their best to separate the baby yak from his mother.

Once the two succeeded, Tsring Thondup's other son grabbed a bucket and started milking the yak. Quickly moving his hands up and down, he squeezed the milk from the yak's udder, after which it splashed into the bucket like drops of rain. 

When the bucket was about half-full, the man took the milk and poured it into a small container for storage.

"The milk needs to be boiled and then allowed to cool down in the air," the girl explained.

"Usually a single bottle of milk has to be boiled and cooled five to six times."

Daily ritual

"We usually milk the yaks three times a day; in the morning, at noon and during the night," Tsring Thondup told us.

"Let me show you some milk that has already been cooled."

Tsring Thondup lead us into a large room with a long table upon which sat 10 bowls placed in two rows. After pouring some milk into the bowls, he placed a small cloth cover on each of them. "Now all we have to do is wait for seven hours," he noted.

Despite the fact the family milks three times a day, the demand for yogurt and milk still exceeds supply.

"Some neighbors are always coming to buy milk and yogurt, also we received orders from many shops. The Old Tree Yogurt Shop is also one of our regular clients," Tsring Thondup explained.

When night arrived, we drove back to our hotel.

"I tried a hundred places before I found this place," Wang said, recalling the time he first opened his shop.

"Their yogurt tastes the best. I wanted to share this amazing flavor with all my guests. This is the true taste of Tibet!"


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