I know, I know. everyone is busy with Christmas decorations and baking, but we still need to eat, don’t we? and with Christmas feasting fast approaching, it’s advisable to remember about a nutritious dinner from time to time. and although England is not especially snowy and ice cold right now (looking out the window I see a blue sky and the sun, kissing my cheeks as I am writing these words), there is no harm in acquainting ourselves with this wonder soup from Tibet.
I have never been to Tibet, or Nepal. but I have visited Darjeeling and Sikkim in Northeast India and that’s where I’ve tried thukpa for the first time. Darjeeling, being in close proximity to the Himalayas is characterised by a sharp and mountainous climate, with crisp, winter air, even in the summer. last time we visited, in December, we were taken by surprise of how cold it was. we should have expected it, really, but coming from a warm and humid Kolkata we were looking forward to a change in temperature. nonetheless, we did not expect that big of a change! silly us. we ended up buying blankets to keep us warm, as they were cheaper than winter coats, and I bought a huge scarf (which could also pass as, if not a blanket, then a bed spread), which to Żubrek’s amusement and a bit of embarrassment, I continued wearing for all the time we stayed in Darjeeling.
in the unexpected cold weather, we found refuge in the restaurants, devouring incredible amounts of steaming hot momos, always served with hot and spicy dipping sauce, and slurping on thukpa. i don’t think there is a better winter food than soup: hot, comforting liquid, warming you up from the inside as you slurp noisily, trying not to burn your lips (or is it just me who prefers to have my soup at lava temperature?).
Momos and thukpa are an inseparable combo, I think. In fact, some of the Tibetan soups are served with momos in them. They both originated in Tibet and were carried with the Tibetan migrants in whatever directions they chose to travel, influencing neighbouring cultures and cuisines. Now, thukpa and momos are an established part of the cuisines of Nepal, Bhutan, and North India, especially Sikkim, Darjeeling, Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh.
thukpa is especially sought out in the winter, when the cold weather makes people crave something hot, warming, comforting. and what’s more comforting than a bowl of soup with vegetables and noodles? what’s great about thukpa though, is that it’s relatively light, consisting of clear broth enriched by a paste made with (in the Nepalese version) red chillies, fresh ginger, fresh coriander and tomatoes. even now, whilst writing these words, my mouth waters on the memory of the thukpa we had in Kunga restaurant in Darjeeling. or the handmade momos at Hot Stimulating Cafe, a tiny eatery on the way to Darjeeling zoo, overlooking tea estates on the mountain slopes.
as the winter unravels (I am still hoping for even the tiniest bit of snow, come on English weather!), I find myself going back in my thoughts to these brisk winter days in Darjeeling, remembering the serene beauty of the mountains, the taste of achar, hot tomato dipping sauce for momos, and the ubiquitous smell of incense, which, mixed with this cold winter air, was somehow refreshing and not heavy and overwhelming, as usual.
the recipe I am introducing today is for a Nepalese version of thukpa, made with red chillies, fresh coriander, ginger and tomatoes. served with grilled chicken breast (or without, depending on your preference), and fresh chopped coriander, this soup will make you want to pack your bags and embark on a journey to the Himalayas, to discover more about the culture and cuisine of where this soup comes from. oh, and if you’re interested in travelling to North India, make sure to check out The Doi Host, an incredible travel initiative focused on travelling to the lesser known parts of the world and the most offbeat destinations. they are currently on a trip to North Sikkim, and their Instagram is full of amazing photos. the initiative is run by my friends and I can’t wait for the chance to travel with them, too. Sambit’s Instagram is always bursting with stunning photography, recently of the mountains in North Sikkim, making me want to drop everything and jump on the first plane to India. if only!
THUKPA, TIBETAN NOODLE SOUP
for the soup
6 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
1 big carrot, cut in matchsticks
1 red pepper, cut in sticks
1tbsp vegetable oil
chopped coriander (for garnish)
freshly ground pepper
for the soup paste
1tsp minced garlic
1tsp grated ginger
2 fresh red chilli peppers, sliced
1/2 cup tomatoes (fresh or tinned)
1tbsp chopped coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/16 tsp asafoetida powder
1tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
How to make?
1. Add all the ingredients for the soup paste to a blender and mix until it becomes a paste. Reserve in a bowl on the side.
2. Heat the oil in a saucepan. When hot, add the soup paste and fry until fragrant (about 30 seconds). Add chicken or vegetable broth and mix well. Bring to a boil.
3. While the soup is cooking, prepare the chicken. Sprinkle the chicken breast with salt and freshly ground pepper. Set aside for 5-10minutes. If you have a grill – grill the meat. If not, heat up about 1tbsp of oil in the thick-bottomed frying pan and fry the chicken on both sides, for about 10min or until cooked thoroughly.
4. When the soup boils, let it cook for 2-3 minutes, season with salt and pepper.
5. Lower the heat to medium and add vegetables to the soup. Cook until tender.
6. Prepare the noodles, according to the instructions on the package. When noodles are cooked, drain them and run under cold water for a few seconds. Set aside.
7. You can either add noodles to the soup, or serve them in the bowl, pouring soup over the noodles.
8. To serve, slice the grilled chicken thinly and place on top of the soup and noodles. Sprinkle with freshly chopped coriander.
9. If you like your soup spicier, add some chilli sauce or tomato achar to the soup. Take it easy though, add a tiny amount first, and adjust the flavour to your liking. Enjoy!