Considering that the land where the Sherpa people live is high above the tree line and well within a sub-arctic climate, it’s amazing that they can cultivate enough foodstuffs for subsistence. Thank goodness for potatoes! Hands down the staple food item high in the Khumbu region is the potato, and the Sherpas have adapted great recipes with them. Secondary crops such as barley, lentils, and vegetables add variety, but the traditional recipe for “rikikul” or potato pancakes with nak butter and hot sauce is a cultural and culinary gem.
Of course it wouldn’t be Nepal without lots of vegetable curry and rice. The Sherpas make trade with the lowlands and with traveling Tibetans, so there is no shortage of the other necessities, such as rice and tea. Tibetan tea goes well with every occasion, but many of us will find it very salty and strong. An old recipe is “champa”, which is flour mixed with Tibetan tea and eaten like cereal and milk, or there’s “pak”, with flour rolled into a ball and roasted. Yet another favorite is “chamdur” Sherpa porrige, made with flour, tea, salt, and nak milk.
For the Sherpas, rice is good to eat, but even better to let ferment in a pot and save for a great night of drinking “chang”, home brew rice beer. The principle is simple: Boil and simmer rice in an enormous pot, empty the rice onto a tarp on the ground and let it cool, then mix in yeast powder and flour. Now back into the pot with the festering sludge, and insulate it with blankets and let it sit for a couple of days. It soon begins to smell like alcohol, and once you get that reassuring sign, seal the pot tight and let it really get to work. The longer the wait the better the results. After a few months the boiled rice will have liquefied and the pot will be filled with a very potent, high-gravity (perhaps 100 proof) liquor. The Sherpas easily consume great volumes of the drink, and some even enjoy a nip on the high mountain trails; they call it their “Sherpa oxygen.” One even stronger drink they produce is “rakshi” made with potatoes in their own version of a stihl. The resulting liquid can hardly be considered a beverage fit for human consumption, almost 100% alcohol.