Mutton. She could smell it even before stepping into her temporary Tibetan abode, the home of a wonderful Tibetan couple whose two daughters lived in southern India, their vacancy allowing an entire room for which to host intrepid American university students. Mutton. The familiar, gut-wrenching scent wafted through the intricately wired kitchen window flaunting lotus designs, rusted over the decades much like the precariously constructed metal roofing in the adjacent apartment block. Bending down to untie her shoes, her olfactory nerves howled in terror at what certainly lay quivering in the pot just beyond the window. She saw her amala stirring – what was that? Soup? – at the nearby counter, back facing what was clearly becoming an awkward period of hesitation to any chance onlookers. Her movements slowed, post-traumatic stress disorder forcing perspiration to the base of her palms. Quickly, she considered her options.
With night quickly descending upon Dharamsala’s chilly, vehicle and cow poop-infested roads, what could she possibly do? The taxis transporting lazy European hippies to their downhill guesthouse destinations may as well have been tanks in the city’s narrow roads, the cow poop deadly land mines. One, she could run back the way she’d come to her advisor’s hotel, screaming curses of dead, musty, very old, very dead sheep chunks whose odd scent reminded her of exasperated grandmothers who secretly wish upon their children hasty infertility so that the sixth, seventh, and eighth snotty grandchildren never arrive. Two, she could announce her entry with unpleasant, albeit fake, gurgle sounds originating from her vocal chords rather than the sensitive gut newly blessed with diarrhea-inducing bacteria she could attempt staging. Or, three, she could sit down at the dinner table, greeting amala and pala like she did every evening, and proceed to devour the always scrumptious Tibetan dinner meals, inquiring about the day’s events. A kind, patient couple, they always entertained her naïve questions regarding Tibetan sovereignty, politics, and local happenings, laughing at her silly American habits. Of course she couldn’t skip out on dinner. With minor pangs of guilt flooding her in fact perfectly healthy gut, she took a deep breath, swallowed memories of those musty, gamey, Mongolian chunks of old-people-smelling, very old sheep, and gave into fate. She proceeded into the house.
Mutton. Such grand memories. Like many locations throughout the Asian continent, Dharamsala offered in many restaurants, guesthouses, and Pacrimmers’ homestays the savory, unique food item. Present in many dishes, mutton often materialized in momo, traditional Tibetan dumplings not unlike Chinese jiaozi, Japanese gyoza, or Mongolian buuz. Deceivingly simple-looking, momo is best when made by Tibetan women with over 30 years of experience under their belt. Alternatively, mutton makes its appearance in thenthuk, or traditional fat noodles served in soup. The chunks of dead sheep made their Indian debut in the form of the latter, and, very much to the author’s surprise, were entirely delicious.
Yes, that’s right. Delicious.
Mutton. How on Earth could so disgusting a concept so suddenly be redeemed? But it was true. And as our hero sat in disbelief, blinking rapidly at the oily, tasty soup in the warm bowl she cradled, she thought. And thought. Fat, filling noodles circled like hungry carp with every sip, their meaty counterparts swimming in perfect unity. Finally, the world made sense. She may have been incapable of comprehending even the most elementary of Tibetan Buddhist concepts, but this revelation was all that mattered. Her samsaric toil and fear of mutton temporarily relieved, happiness flooded our hero’s eyes and still perfect gut. It was as if mutton could actually taste good if prepared the right way. The same way any other food item’s preparation might dictate its presentation. It was as if mutton was just like everything else, not wanting to be discriminated wrongly against. Suddenly, like that which happens every time His Holiness the Dalai Lama smiles, everything was right with the world.
Bottom line: some prejudices are impermanent.