When on vacation, we want to have different experiences from our daily lives. These experiences become more memorable when we feel connected with them. That’s exactly how food plays its role. With every bite from around the world, we can immediately taste the story of the people and learn about their traditions, culture, environment, and history. It is good to become aware of that for both travellers and the destination.
Ladakh is described as a high altitude cold-arid desert and is known more for its trekking routes and high altitude passes than its cuisine. But the region’s food culture, passed down over centuries, tells a heartwarming story of hardship and resourcefulness. For a remote area, Ladakh’s cuisine has some surprising delicacies. Here is an attempt to bring forth these delicacies, which are truly representative of the region.
We hear of Qahwa more in Kashmir, but it is an essential drink in Leh Ladakh. Traditionally, Qahwah prepares in a copper kettle known as a samovar, by boiling green tea leaves with cinnamon and cardamom in it. But now it is made in pans and vessels.
Generally, it is served in tiny, shallow cups with sugar or honey and crushed nuts, usually almonds or walnuts. They even add the flavor of saffron or Kashmiri rose in it for a great aroma on special occasions or for special guests.
Locals and travellers love this drink a lot as it is very soothing in the cold climate. It has saffron and cinnamon that helps in keeping the body warm.
Butter tea is the most common and famous tea of Ladakh. This tea is generally made at home and not served in restaurants. The beverage looks pinkish and tastes salty and delicious in the cold weather.
Traditionally, locals make tea by boiling the tea leaves in water for half a day, achieving a dark brown colour. Then they pour it into a churn with fresh yak butter and salt. After that, the tea churns until it reaches the proper consistency and then is transferred into tea-pots or jars.
Nowadays, when tea leaves, yak butter, and wooden butter churns are not available, people often make butter tea using tea bags, different types of butter available in the market, and a blender to churn.
The locals make tea from butter and salt for a reason. As butter helps lips from getting chapped in the cold weather and the salt helps to stay away from altitude sickness. Also, tea is one of the best antidotes to dehydration and cold.
The tea is also known as Ghur Ghur chai.
Sea Buckthorn Juice
Sea buckthorn juice prepared from the nectar of the sea buckthorn berries that are found in Ladakh only. This Sea buckthorn is known as Leh Berries. This juice is very famous in Ladakh. If you want to savour Ladakhi cuisine, you must taste this drink as well.
Locals enjoy this drink during special occasions and festivals. They even love to add cardamom powder in this juice. The juice contains Omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, C, and other active ingredients. It also helps against stomach and intestinal ulcers, and heartburn symptoms.
When visiting Ladakh, you really can’t miss this juice as it has another level of taste.
Chang is not a dish; it is one of the traditional drinks of Ladakh. It is a local beverage made by fermenting miller with yeast. It is intoxicating with 5% to 7% alcohol.
It is brewed in a wooden drum locally known as Zem. One needs to keep topping the pot with hot water frequently until the miller loses its potency and releases water.
It is best to serve Chang from a brass kettle with a spoon full of roasted barley and a small piece of butter on the brim of the cup.
Locals have been drinking Chang for centuries during festivals and special occasions. Earlier, during agricultural practices, farmers of this region used to drink a glass of Chang for energy and to quench the thirst.
Khura is a delicious snack of Ladakh. Locals make it by kneading dough from buckwheat flour, sugar, and milk. Then they make small dumplings from it that are deep-fried in hot oil.
Khura goes best along with butter tea made of Yak milk.
Khamir is a popular staple food in Ladakh. It is a traditional wheat-based bread. Locals make it by baking the round-shaped fermented dough over a hot stone and then directly in the ﬁre.
The bread is thicker than our normal ones. It has a thick crust and is brown and has a crispy texture. It tastes even better when it’s freshly baked and still warm.
People of Ladakh have Khamir with scrambled eggs or vegetables for breakfast. The bread is a perfect combination with butter tea and apricot jam for snacks. They have it with soup as well for lunch or dinner.
One can store Khamir at room temperature for more than a week.
Holkur is a multigrain biscuit or cookie of the Ladakhis. They make it at home by mixing whole grain with nuts and sugar. The freshly baked cookies taste yummy with butter tea or Qahwa.
These biscuits are very popular among tourists. They are a great snack of all time. One can also have it as a light breakfast at times.
Tsampa is a nutty-tasting flour and is very easy to prepare, both at home and while travelling.
Grind the roasted barley into flour. Then leave a little butter tea in the bowl and put Tsampa and ghee on top of it and mix them well with one hand. After the thing gets thick, knead it into dough balls, Tsampa is ready to eat. Sometimes sugar and yak cheese are also added in the mix.
Locals use it in several other ways. They make a paste of Tsampa and cumin and apply it to toothaches or other sore spots. It is also known for boosting instant energy in the body.
Tsampa is highly nutritious and contains fiber, protein, iron, folate, and potassium. It also strengthens the bones. The fiber present in it prevents constipation and promotes a healthy digestive system.
Apricot jam is a delicacy that you will surely enjoy for breakfast with khambir. It is tastier than the fruit. The jam is good for health with no preservatives.
Apricots are also known as chulli in Ladakh. One can find apricots in Sham, Nubra valley, and Dha-Hanu valley of Ladakh. Dried apricots are very popular among Ladakhi people.
Locals also make syrup from apricots and kernel oil from its seeds.
Momos are dumplings originating from Tibet. This dish is not new to all. But its taste gets further intensified in Ladakh. Visiting Ladakh and not trying momos is like committing a food sin.
These dumplings are made from the dough of flour and water and mostly stuffed with different fillings – veg or non-veg. The vegetarian stuffing consists of cheese and shredded vegetables such as cabbage, potatoes, carrots, onions, spinach, and green beans. Whereas, the non-veg filling has minced meat.
The best way to prepare Momos is to steam it in a traditional steamer called Mokto. Mokto is a metal container with water at the bottom and the other three vessels on top with holes for the steam to circulate. Momos are available in various shapes and are either steamed or fried and presented with a spicy chutney.
Logo Momos are a hard-to-find delicacy of Ladakh. It is almost impossible to find it in restaurants. But one can request a Ladakhi family to prepare it for you.
Logo Momos are dough balls steamed in a pressure cooker or pan with salt water and oil and served with vegetable stew. Once cooked, the momos turn out to be delicious and buttery.
Thukpa is a much-loved staple food of Ladakh. Arguably the best-known dish in the region. Although thukpa is a Tibetan dish, it is immensely popular in Ladakh.
It is a clear soup with a broth containing onion, tomato, garlic, and other vegetables and noodles made of wheat or barley flour. This dish also has pieces of chicken, mutton, or yak. Generally, the dish is served with spicy chutney to enhance its taste.
It is the comfort food of Ladakh. It is available in all local restaurants and is a perfect dish to keep the body warm in winters. It is a side dish for dinner available in multiple versions of savoury ingredients.
Thenthuk is a version of the Thukpa. Its main ingredients are wheat flour dough, vegetables (like onion, tomatoes, garlic, ginger, radish, and potato), Ladakhi black peas, yak cheese, and some pieces of mutton or yak meat.
The dish is prepared by chopping the vegetables, meat, and boiling the soup. When everything boiling in the soup is well cooked, then comes the wheat flour dough for making noodles which is flattened and cut off, right into the boiling soup. The noodle soup is ready to be served.
Ladakhis take Thenthuk as a meal in itself owing to its filling quality. The dish also keeps them warm during the long winters. Thenthuk has both veg and non-veg variations.
Mokthuk is a superb blend of momos and soup. This delicious dish is a must-have for all momo lovers. Mokthuk is healthy and tasty and looks similar to Thukpa.
Mokthuk consists of momos and vegetables in a soup. This dish is available in both the forms – vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Mokthuk is nourishing with vegetables, yak meat, and spices added to it.
Chutagi is one of the signature dishes of Ladakh. It is a pasta-like dish with vegetable soup.
This dish consists of bow-tie-shaped pieces of dough cooked in a thick soup made of potatoes, carrots, peas, and local leafy green vegetables. Non-veg chutagi with mutton is also very famous in this region.
This dish has a lot of nutritional value and is very famous in Ladakh.
Skyu is a staple meal of Ladakhi people, which they eat almost daily. This dish is not as well-known as Thukpa but grants the same shield against the severe climatic conditions of Ladakh.
Skyu is a lot similar to Chutagi. It is a kind of stew, which also contains dumplings made of wheat flour or barley and shaped like tiny thumb-sized balls. The balls are then slowly cooked in a pot with water and root vegetables such as potatoes, turnips, and carrots. For non-veg fans, mutton Skyu is also available.
There is also a different variation of skyu, which is only available in villages. The villagers call it Oma-skyu, in which the main ingredient is milk. This variation of Skyu is a must-try if you happen to get the opportunity.
Tingmo with Shapta
Pronounced as Teemo, Tingmo is a form of fermented and steamed bread that does not contain any filling and is served ideally with Shapta (a Tibetan gravy). The main ingredients of shapta are chicken, ginger, and red chilli. Another variation of shapta includes stir-fried meat.
The sweet and spicy taste of this dish is going to add more to your taste buds. It can be devoured as a snack and also as a meal. Ideal meal for the mountains, as it helps you acclimatise to the severe mountain conditions.
It is a staple food for the people of Ladakh. Tingmo with Shapta is yet another superb cuisine one must never miss in Ladakh.
Ladakhi Pulao is another delicacy of Ladakh. This pulao is very different as compared to all the other famous pulao’s of our country.
Ladakhi people make it with rice, mutton, and different kinds of spices. They layer it with caramelised onions as well as caramelised carrots and nuts to give the flavor and texture.
Ladakhi Pulao is very popular among the people of Ladakh. It has a delicious flavor and appearance.
Ladakhi Mutton Sausage
The Ladakhi mutton sausages is another appetiser that one can never refuse. These sausages are quite different from classic sausages. Once upon a time, this dish was prepared with yak meat that substituted lamb and now mutton.
Coarsely chopped pieces of mutton wrapped in the skin with the right amount of spices is a treat to the taste buds. Sausages are neither smoked nor fermented. They serve it within minutes of being made.
Shabhaley, also known as shaphaley or shapale (also written as shapaley or shabalep), is a popular dish of Ladakh. It is like momos but is in a circular or semi-circular shape.
Shabhaley is a bread stuffed with red meat and cabbage and is either deep-fried or pan-fried. One can also request a vegetarian version of Shabhaley from the local guest-house, in which they stuff the bread with different kinds of vegetables.
The locals typically serve this dish for lunch or dinner, with a bowl of warm soup. This dish has a lot of nutritional value and helps to keep warm during winters.
The people of Ladakh are very fond of their traditional food. They grow their food by traditional ways of farming. Also, the food is simple and easy to make with rare use of spices. Their food represents the simplicity of their life and also the impact their surroundings and environment have on them.
So, enjoy the local meals and learn a lot more about the cultural aspects of Ladakh. Also, let us know if you have been to Ladakh and tasted these cuisines or you are planning to do so, in the comment section below.