Listen to the full interview.
Marco Werman: Tibetans around the world are getting ready to celebrate the New Year this weekend. The holiday of Losar falls on Sunday, March 2nd. That's according to the Tibetan calendar which is based on 12 or 13 lunar months, depending on who you ask. Tencho Gyatso is a Tibetan American. She blogs about Tibetan food at Simply Tibetan. So how do you greet your friends on Tibetan New Year's? What's the standard greeting?
Gyatso: Standard greeting is [Speaking Tibetan]and then we also say [Speaking Tibetan] which is "Good wishes, good health and auspiciousness in the New Year."
Werman: Well, [Speaking Tibetan]. I don't think I can do the longer version, but [Speaking Tibetan].
Gyatso: That works, thank you.
Werman: As a traditional celebration, I'm just wondering, do the rituals ever change from year to year? Is there something different or particular this year about the festivity?
Gyatso: No, traditionally, it's about a day where we renew all of our energies. So, on the last day of the last month, we usually have a ritual to clean out all of the bad spirits and bad influences in your life and on New Year's day, you get to start fresh, so you look at the New Year with fresh eyes. Food and eating and drinking and getting together with relatives and all of that happens on New Year.
Werman: Given Tibet's political situation in China, for exiles like yourself here in the US, is it also tempered with a kind of bitter sweetness?
Gyatso: Yes, it is. Especially in the last few years. Our situation inside Tibet is getting very, very difficult and all of us - we have family, we have relatives and our hearts are always there in some sense. So of course we have to keep our culture going for our younger generation and give them something Tibetan, but at the same time, we haven't been able to have the gaiety and the joy and the singing and dancing that usually goes on for New Year. We haven't had that in a few years.
Werman: But you do try and make that cultural connection with Tibet. On your blog, Simply Tibetan, you actually do offer something. I would assume kids would probably love it. It's a treat called khabsey.
Gyatso: Khabsey is a traditional Tibetan fried cookie. It's a specialty around Losar. We have many different sizes and shapes and things and on my website I have a few different recipes. You take plain white flower, add butter at room temperature and you gently work the butter into the flower, adding a little water and then you make a smooth dough and take pieces of it and you flatten into round circles and then you, with a sharp knife, cut it into different shapes and fry them with oil until they're golden and crispy. When you say fried cookie, it sounds a little bit off but it's very light and when you bite into it it just breaks into your mouth. You have powdered sugar on it. It's very, very popular with our kids in Losar. They all love it.
Werman: You don't have to sell me on it. I like fried foods and I love cookies, so this is like a double treat. What is it, for you Tencho, about Losar that really makes you feel connected to home?
Gyatso: You know how you have Thanksgiving here where families get together - for us, it's Losar. It's a time when you have relatives who are in Europe and India and Tibet, those are more difficult to reach, but we get calls. The phones will be ringing off the hook on the day of Losar. We'll call different continents. People come into your home. It's a time for everybody to come together.
Werman: I gather it's a custom to show up unannounced on Losar and you'll be greeted warmly with food and drink. Is that what would happen if I showed up at your door?
Gyatso: Yes, absolutely. It's a tradition to prepare food and drink so people can show up. Usually one member of the family will stay back while the others go delivering gifts to other families in the area, so we have that going on. If you show up, definitely you'll be greeted with buttered tea and some Bali wine and some sweet rice and special Tibetan Losar cookies.
Werman: I'll have to check my calendar and see if I can get down to Washington this weekend. Tencho Gyatso, a Tibetan American who blogs about Tibetan food at Simply Tibetan. Tashi delek to you.
Gyatso: Tashi delek, Marco.