Saturday, February 16, 2013


Tibetan Association of Washington, $15 with Losar dinner

Seattle's tiny Tibetan community puts on a Losar celebration that's everything I like a New Year's bash to be:  colorful, well catered, teeming with raucous children, and equal parts mystery and welcome.

I wandered into the Shoreline Senior Center shyly, not knowing a soul, but in under a minute I was offered at seat at a friendly table.  As we made introductions, a man came by with a large box and tongs, topping a paper plate already full of extra-spicy Cheetos with a delicacy I'd only ever read about, a treat both mysterious and hospitable:  Tibetan "cookies", or khapse

Made from dampened wheat flour and small amounts of salt, sugar, or both, khapse's appeal has more to do with appearance and texture than with flavor.  The dough is rolled into sheets, cut into strips, and wrought into a variety of traditional or whimsical shapes.  Finally, a dip in boiling oil gives the flimsy sculptures structural integrity and crunch.  

In Tibet, Losar season calls for vast quantities of khapse, from elaborate coils and curls that are stacked into offering towers, to simpler twists stored in a tin and brought out to eat with tea whenever a visitor stops by.  In the lead-up to Losar, professional khapse makers will make house calls, using portable deep fryers to create temporary outdoor kitchens for the freshest cookies.  

My first bite wasn't promising; my butterfly-shaped khapse was so hard and dry that my jaw ached after two chews.  Then a new acquaintance arrived back at the table with a round of hot, milky tea and some advice.  A quick tea-bath transformed my khapse into something much more enjoyable, and I polished it off wing by wing as the adults around me discussed the difficulties of the past year and their brightly-dressed children dashed around the room, laughing.  

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