Breakfast on the Silkroad.

tibetan groundsIt has been 3 weeks at least since I blogged a porridge, 3 hard high altititude weeks on the Qinghai tibetan Plateau where porridge experiences were not short!
Oat porridge fortified Susan ( my sister) and me for the HK border crossing into China (alongside the blue-vein cheese, chocolate mouse and creme fraiche that i’d stuffed in a Dean and Delucca swag-bag). The combination kept us going for the 3 1/2 hour bus ride to Guangzhou and a five hour flight accross China to Xining in Qinghai – the province of Kokinoor the big blue interior sea. Jacqui – the third memeber of our team, and our guide Jamian Punsok were at the airport to meet us, throwing Tibetan silk kata scarfs around our necks when we finally stepped stepped onto the northern Loess at 12pm smelling ancient and new trade routes in the dusty fuel laden air of this Tibetan, China, Turkic, Mongolian crossroad. Caravans along the silk road, conquests of Mongolian horsemen, how had the sands of times and the travails of history influeneced the porridge that people in this region ate wondered. I looked forward to seeing the the array of porridges and gruells on the breakfast n menu at the Lettes hostel where jacqui informed us we were staying. I imagined porridge tartare created from the flanks of marmotts wedged under a warring mongolian tribesman’s saddle where the steak had been pouded past the point of mush from too long a days ride in the saddle to form a cookd meaty porridge. Or maybe something a little Italian – a risotto porridge left by Marco Polo on his 14th century caravan journey bound for the court of Kublai Khan. There would defnitely be Tsampa , the roasted powedered barley that Tibetans fuel their incredible pilgrimages accross sacred geographies to Holy mountains where the Gods live and feed water into the Rivers Yangtze, yellow, maekong, bramputra, salawean and Irrawaddy. And of course congee – the more watery northern Chineses variety sometimes made with red rice and flavoured up with pickled vegetables , economical, nutritious and sustaining of armies sent to guard these remote and unruly outposts of empire, and perfect for wining over populations whose beads and feathers are thermoses and ‘dishes’. Turkic , uzbeckicy, uighur, ruskie, kasaky,… I could taste the influences of years of silk road trade – risottos over watered into more travel appropriate porridges, and soups left on camp fires too long turning into porridges as their watery nature glugged up in the throes of a story about bandits nd treasures and lost kingdoms and empires.

Indeed songs of empire were what woke me the next morning – drifting up to the 15th floor passed the old mud brick remains of an ancient city wall from the sports fieled where at least two thousand senior citizens (high on Chinese congee) were excerciseing to martial tunes of the brass band variety. beyond the city brown dusty hills dotted with Tibetan brandenvbergs (spears and arrow mounds offered to the mountain gods as a renouncement of violence), and the watch towers of some ancheinet defence perimeter since eroded to the ccasional hill top gard tower, once again whet an appetite for an exotic brekafast in the style of something marco polo, Ghengis Khan, auriel Stein or Princess Wencheng may have filled their bellies with.

But times have changed and the world of linear silk roads has been transmorgified by aeroplanes and internet, backpackers and missionaries. Tibetan Grounds – the breakfast cafe at Lette’s Hostel, managed by a canadian dude called Bill, serves Tex Mex Breakfast Burritos cooked by young Yushu Tibetan girls with nose rings, blonde streaked hair, cigarette adorned lips, and traditional turqoise heirlooms on sexy non traditional anklets – most of whom have learnt their American english at the missionaries school. Cafee lattes, americana coffee, pancakes and syrupy orange juice were alos on the menu, but no porridge.
I could have gone back to by room and made my own themos water and powdered goats milk porridge (create your own reality) but instead decided to chew on the burritto of accepting things as they are, respecting the first rule of travel : to expect the unexpected!

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