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Jackson Heights Restaurants Prepare for Tibetan New Year

By Katie Honan | February 28, 2014 2:42pm
 The Losar celebration features an array of pastries that are both eaten and offered up to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Tibetan New Year Celebrations
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JACKSON HEIGHTS — The annual Tibetan New Year celebration, the biggest holiday for Tibetan immigrants, will be kicking off this week in Jackson Heights with several days of celebration.

The Buddhist Losar celebration started this year on March 2, and is usually observed for anywhere from three to 15 days.

For the thousands of TIbetan residents living in Jackson Heights, it will be a celebration featuring family, food and offerings to the Dalai Lama, who is celebrating the new year in Minneapolis.

For families in "Himalayan Heights," the main focus of the celebration is the food.

Losar calls for ceremonial pastries, called khapse, as well as a deep clean of everything from the kitchen to clothes.

Khapse are fried cookies of various sizes that are both eaten and offered up to the Dalai Lama, according to Pasang Keyray, 43.

In the weeks leading up to Losar, Keyray helps out at Gangjong Kitchen on Roosevelt Avenue and 73rd Street, a small restaurant serving up authentic homemade Tibetan, Indian and Chinese food.

Chef Tenzing Tsering, 50, closes his restaurant days before the holiday to begin his specialty orders inside his tiny kitchen.

He fries the curly-shaped khapse using just an inductive stove — cooking hundreds of the cookies both large and small.

"I have about 35 orders this year," he said, with each order featuring dozens of the pastries.

The tiny khapse are eaten with butter tea, while the larger cookies — called bhungue amcho, which translates to "Donkey ear" — are offered up to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. They are arranged underneath a photo of him, either at home or in a temple.

"There's two weeks prep time, we clean everything," Keyray said.

It's also traditional to serve a noodle soup called guthuk, which is only served once a year.

The soup is filled with vegetables and traditional yak or beef, and is meant to cleanse the body of any of the last year's negativity, Keyray said.

Each bowl of soup features a large ball of dough that's stuffed with something playful that is supposed to show a personality trait of the person eating it, she said.

"If you get chili pepper, you're talkative," she said. "If you get salt, it means you are lazy."

Gangjong will be closed until Tuesday to celebrate the holiday, and Tsering said he may add new menu items after the business of Losar ends — including new momo flavors.

The holiday allows celebrants to start fresh, which Tsering said he hopes can expand to a revamped menu.

"I cook with customer's health in mind," he said.