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Sunday, May 15, 2005

Yak Butter Tea

The cover story of the January 2005 issue of National Geographic was "Why we love caffeine".Ngm0501_1 You can just imagine how seeing that cover made my heart go pitter-pat!

I have been reading NG since, well, since I was old enough to read.  In all those years... I can honestly say I don't think I've missed more than a handful of issues.

Although I've made it clear that I don't always enjoy the political bias that exists in many of NG's articles... every month my kids and I completely devour the current issue and then retire its tattered remains to our storage room upstairs.

The January '05 issue has proved to be the exception to this routine.

For almost 5 months this treasured issue has held a place of honor in one of the smallest rooms in the house (hat tip to Doctor Bean for that euphemism).  The reason for this issue's longevity is a single picture* that has completely captured my imagination. 

The picture shows a group of maroon-robed monks sitting on the floor of a Buddhist monastery somewhere in Tibet.  It is early in the morning and the monks are being served hot Yak butter tea by neophytes running among them with steaming pitchers of this high-calorie/caffeine beverage.

I can't stop thinking about hot Yak butter tea!

Every time I sit down (has everyone figured out which room we're talking about yet?) and flip through this well-thumbed issue, I inevitably end up staring at this one mesmerizing picture.

I can't explain why this picture fascinates me so much.

Perhaps it is the misty early-morning quality of the image.

Perhaps it is the urgency with which this hot drink is both anticipated and served.

Perhaps it is the idea of some as-yet-unattained caffeine nirvana that I've been missing all these years!

I dunno... take your pick.  ;-)

I've found a few promising recipes for Yak butter tea on the Internet... but the ingredient that has me stumped is, of course, Yak butter.

If anyone has any idea...

a) ...if Yak butter is kosher
b) ...if there is a place in Israel to find Yak butter
c) ...if I'm setting myself up for a huge disappointment

... I would be indebted to you for your input.

Now please close the door and leave me to my reading.


* I could have had Zahava scan the picture, but National Geographic is justifiably possessive about their images, and I didn't want to run afoul of copyright laws.


Posted by David Bogner on May 15, 2005 | Permalink


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I don't know if there are yaks in Israel. But there are water buffalo (tao in Hebrew.) When I worked in the refet on kibbutz, and the trucks would come by to pick up the cows, they would occasionally have these big beasts - turned out they were water buffalo.

(Here's a link to an old article: http://ww2.netnitco.net/users/djligda/wbisrael.htm )

I don't know the exact connection between yaks and water buffalo, but both are used to make mozzarela cheese, so perhaps water buffalo butter would be a good alternative.

(This site seems to compare them: http://www.havemilk.com/article.asp?id=1485 )

Posted by: Dave | May 15, 2005 3:41:45 PM

I know what picture you are talking about. That was a cool article. I've never had it, but I recall a few descriptions of it from books I've read and travel shows I've seen and none of the Westerners were making the yummy sound. Not that I would discourage you from trying it! That would be a good post to read. I hope it doesn't make you yak. (Well actually that would be kind of funny too.)

Posted by: alice | May 15, 2005 4:23:53 PM

a) Yes.
b) I doubt it.
c) Probably.

NG was a fixture of the house where I grew up and in my house for many years, but I stopped my subscription when they had a really anti-Semitic article a while back (telling obvious lies about Israel is, to my mind, anti-Semitism). Besides, I discovered Smithsonian Magazine - you should try it, the pictures are just as good and the articles are much better.

Posted by: David Boxenhorn | May 15, 2005 4:33:27 PM

All this yakking is making my head hurt. ;)

Posted by: Jack | May 15, 2005 7:12:17 PM

Both my brothers, in 1970 and 1973 respectively, received National Geographic subscriptions for bar-mitzvah gifts -- that's what many people gave in those days.
It is a lovely magazine, and for the past several years, I've had the pleasure of reading each issue because of pass-along readership. A co-worker gives me each issue as he finishes with it.
We have kept every issue given to us, and my son, nearly 10 years old, has been fascinated with the magazine since he started to look at it, about 6 years ago. These days he'll actually read some articles!
I know the photo you're referring to in the "caffeine" issue and it does capture the imagination.
Now leave me to my meditation...!

Posted by: Pearl | May 15, 2005 8:11:30 PM

Thanks for the hat tip. I know nothing about Yak butter, but, as you know, that's never deterred me from commenting in the past.

The euphemism for which you credit me is attributed to Voltaire. In response to an unpleasant letter, he wrote back: “Dear Sir, I am seated in the smallest room in the house. Your letter is before me. Soon it will be behind me.” A Google search for ‘Voltaire smallest room’ provides many references.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | May 15, 2005 8:18:03 PM

Maybe at one of the more obscure stores specialising in foreign stuff in the Souk?

Posted by: gil ben mori | May 15, 2005 8:48:23 PM

I think the photo you're talking about is at the very end of Coffee Culture and is only there for a few seconds.

If it weren't so late, I know where I'd be heading after reading this entry...AROMA!

Seriously, David. Yak butter tea? Because there's no refrigeration in Mongolia, most of the Yak butter tea is rancid by the time one drinks it. Does it still sound quite as appealing? :)

Posted by: jennifer | May 15, 2005 10:50:27 PM

The small room - heh. In Indonesia, that's what they call it: kamar kecil, or "little room."

Where big things happen...

Posted by: Elisson | May 15, 2005 11:19:22 PM

Dave... Thanks for the leads. I actually called up but they don't use any of the milk from the Water Buffalos for Butter. Oh well.

Alice... Your 'yummy sound' line had me giggling. I never said I thought it would be yummy... I simply find the idea of hot yak butter tea fascinating. If I ever do get to try it, I'll have to do a post ala 'Steve don't eat it!' from The Sneeze

David... I've been tempted a few times to cancel my subscription over some of the anti-Israel stuff... but there are so many redeeming factors. I see it as an opportunity to teach my kids to read critically. I will check out Smithsonian... but for now I'm not giving up NG so fast.

Jack... right.

Pearl... [shhhhh... everyone be quiet while Pearl meditates] ;-)

Doctor Bean... You're still the person from whom I heard it first.

Gil... It's worth a try, but I'm not holding out much hope. First I have to get out the big dictionary and find out how to say Yak in Hebrew!

Jennifer... YES! That was it! It flashes on the screen at the end of segment 4. Thanks. I stopped reading after that...lalalalalala I can't hear you with my fingers in my ears!!!

Ellison... Um, I see you are already well along in your 'meditation'... but could you put down the hukkah for a sec and explain that for those of us who aren't yet on that level? :-)

Posted by: David | May 15, 2005 11:52:22 PM

I want to try it, too. It's supposed to taste something like (caffeinated) miso soup. And it's apparently better with sugar, if you don't like miso soup...

Posted by: Tanya | May 16, 2005 1:24:14 AM

Maybe it's nothing to do with the tea at all. Maybe that picture is calling out to your inner-monk? Are there Jewish 'monks'? I don't know... just looking at it from a different angle ;)

Posted by: Steve Bogner | May 16, 2005 4:10:57 AM

Jack... right.

Ok, so I am not always witty, somtimes Old Doc Bean forgets to spike my Tang and look what happens. But you watch out because out here in Hollywood I know people who are dying to produce the classic fish out of water story

You know the one where the family moves to Israel and the father drinks gravy, accidentally snorts coffee, becomes a beekeeper and in a very odd parallel to the Seinfeld Soup Nazi starts the Gun Slinging Chopped Liver Kiosk chain or some variation thereof.

Now tell me that you didn't give a little guffaw, or maybe even a chuckle from that one. ')

Posted by: Jack | May 16, 2005 8:15:16 AM

Tanya... Considering the amount of sweetener (Splenda) and cream (not milk) I put in my morning coffee, I think doctoring up the Yak Butter Tea is pretty much a given. Thanks for the link... that picture is just as cool as the one in NG!

Steve... Judaism hasn't had a monastic tradition for almost 2000 years (think Dead Sea caves) and even then it was considered an aberration. In fact, there is some scholarship that has been recently published that calls into question just how monastic the Essenes' (a sect of religious/spiritual Jews who may have been over-reacting to the modern trends of the Jewish Hellenists) lifestyle really was. So no... I think my 20 minutes of early morning writing is about as close to monasticism as I'm bound to get.

Jack... I think you might have trouble shopping your script treatment around... too cliche! :-)

Posted by: David | May 16, 2005 9:01:05 AM

Jack: Oh, no! You pulled a classic Bean! You forgot to close your italics tag! Let me see if I can fix.


Posted by: Doctor Bean | May 16, 2005 9:27:16 AM

nope. How 'bout now?

Posted by: Doctor Bean | May 16, 2005 9:28:21 AM

Oh, yak butter! That didn't work either.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | May 16, 2005 9:36:18 AM

I liked the movement in the NG picture better than that still. It has an 'I need caffeine NOW' feel to it that seems paradoxical to the concept of monks.

(I went to the link Jennifer left and screenshot it from the movie.)

Posted by: Tanya | May 16, 2005 2:59:58 PM

Oh, yak butter! That didn't work either.

Nope, but it was awfully tasty on my bagel.

Posted by: Jack | May 16, 2005 4:40:01 PM

David--re. National Geographic... Did you happen to see the June issue yet? It was just handed to me and I riffled through and STOPPED when I saw a photo of Chasidim...in small-town USA, aka Postville, Iowa. Verrrrrryyyyyy interesting story!
Good Shabbos.

Posted by: Pearl | May 20, 2005 3:51:34 PM

I've had yak butter tea, and thought you Might try mixing some blue cheese and butter into those recipes that you've found.

Posted by: Blaine | Nov 12, 2005 6:35:34 PM

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