Comfort In A Bowl: The Tale Of The Thukpa

Comfort In A Bowl: The Tale Of The Thukpa
The Tale Of The Thukpa. Credit: Shutterstock,
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A traditional noodle soup, thukpa is believed to have originated from eastern Tibet

Kartikeya Shankar
September 29 , 2022
03 Min Read

Though Tibet is widely known for its breathtaking beauty, rich culture, and traditions, there is one thing that the "Roof of the World" is not given enough credit for, i.e. the thukpa. A traditional noodle soup, thukpa is believed to have originated from eastern Tibet. The word translates to "soup of stew combined with noodles". There are several varieties of thukpa, the most popular being gyathuk, pathug, drethug, bakhthu, and thenthuk. In India, it is widely consumed in Sikkim, Assam, Nagaland, Arunachal, Ladakh, and Himachal Pradesh. And it is of course available in several eateries in metropolitan cities as well.

History

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Thukpa traces its origin to the Amdo region in Tibet, which is also the birthplace of the 14th Dalai Lama. It is traditionally prepared by cutting up mutton, steaming it with salt and pepper, and boiling it until it reaches a chewy consistency. Meanwhile, the dough is kneaded with oil and made into small, flat noodles, which are thrown into boiling soup for a few minutes.

In traditional Tibetan celebrations, thukpa holds a special place. During the Tibetan New Year or Losar, a special thukpa called guthuk is prepared. As part of the ceremonies, nine driblets of the stew from the first bowl of the dish are kept separate and presented as an offering.

Thukpa. Credit: Shutterstock

Arrival in India

Thukpa has a fascinating story as to how it arrived in India. In 1959, the current Dalai Lama left Tibet and travelled to India to seek sanctuary. Accompanying him were his coaches, members of the Kashag (ruling council of Tibet during the rule of the Qing dynasty), and his relatives, who were ordered not to carry anything. His mother had to dress like a man and brought only a blanket and a little tsampa (Tibetan staple food prepared by roasting barley or wheat flour, which is later mixed with Tibetan butter tea). During the journey, it is said that all of them survived on tsampa and thukpa. In exile, the Dalai Lama's mother familiarised the Indian community with thukpa. Soon, it became a much sought-after dish and spread to many parts of India.

Indian academic, food critic and historian Pushpesh Pant has an interesting take on the history of thukpa in India. "If you believe that Ladakh has always been a part of the Indian territory till the Chinese expanded their boundaries, it could be said that the dish has always been around. I would say that thukpa did not ‘come to India’. Rather, it has always been a part of the country.”

Pant also mentioned that if one had to go down the tribal food path, they would see something like thukpa, made with wheat flour and meat, being eaten in the hinterland. "If you consider the Shauka people (Tibeto-Burman ethnic group living in Uttarakhand), they also eat dishes very much identical to thukpa," he adds.

Thukpa in India

Thukpa is hugely popular in Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, and Darjeeling. In Arunachal Pradesh, it is a staple diet among the Monpa community that lives in the West Kameng district. The community favours a variety of thukpa called putang thukpa which is buckwheat noodles in curry, flavoured with yak meat or dry fish.

In Sikkim, thukpa is often paired with momos and is a popular dish across all communities. It is a popular dish in Ladakh as well.

In Darjeeling, thukpa is available at every corner of the city and is particularly sought after in the winter.


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