Travel enriches our lives, helping us to find new perspectives, enjoy adventures, and gain a better understanding of current events, history, and relationships between cultures. But what if funds, time, health, relationships, or other commitments make it impossible to travel to your favored destination?
Today I’m starting a new blog series, exploring the world without leaving New England–reading and eating as an intrepid arm-chair traveler. Recently, the food at Lhasa Cafe in Northampton, Massachusetts, enriched my understanding of Sabriye Tenberken’s book, “My Path Leads to Tibet.” (Pronounce her name Sah-BREE-yah ten-BEAR-ken.)
Blinded as a child, Sabriye got her Masters Degree in Tibetan Studies in Bonn German. At the age of 22 she invented a Tibetan Braille script, and in May of 1997, journeyed alone to Tibet with the goal of opening a school for blind children there. Her memoir recounts her adventures and heroic accomplishments.
My interest in Tibet was ignited in 1989 when I read Peter Matthiessen’s account of his two-month search for the Snow Leopard in the Dolpo region on the Tibetan Plateau in the Himalayas. Reading Sabriye Tenberken added fuel to the fire.
I’ve never searched for the elusive snow leopard, but every autumn I venture into the Appalachians of New England, to engage in a sport known in these parts as Leaf Peeping.
After chasing early signs of a coming autumnal blaze in the Berkshires, my husband and I landed in Northampton Mass, the fascinating subject of Tracy Kidder’s book of literary journalism Hometown. We bought the perfect leather wallet for a great price at Harlow Luggage on Main Street, discovered Dobrá Tea,which immediately became our very favorite tea shop in New England, and from a superabundance of restaurants, chose to eat at the Lhasa Cafe.
We sampled salty butter tea, (intriguing!) devoured steamed Tibetan Bread (Ting-mo; addictive!), heard the otherworldly throat singing of Tibetan Monks, (relaxing!) viewed photos of Tibet (enlightening), and passed on the authentic dishes featuring Yak (a decision I now regret). You won’t find any seafood here because Tibet is entirely landlocked, in the middle of the Himalayan range in the center of Asia. In addition to Yak (imported from exotic Nebraska), you’ll find chicken, beef, and a range of vegetarian meals.
In a literal occurrence of food for thought, the meal caused me to open Sabrieye Tenberken book again. It’s been 3 years since I viewed the movie Blindsight (trust me; just watch it!), and longer since I’ve read her memoir, which I’m enjoying again. My tangible experience of the Tibetan culture–brought to western Massachusetts by the Tsering family–makes it possible for me to more deeply imagine Tibetan food, music and customs as described by Sabriye Tenberken in her amazing story (disclaimer — I haven’t read the English translation and cannot attest to its quality; the German book reads well).
Have you read a book that makes you want to taste the food it describes?
Have you ever sampled exotic food in order to enrich your understanding of a story?
In your opinion, how do food and words work together to make us more cultured?