Tag Archives: food

Inside the Kitchen at Dolma Ling Nunnery

The kitchen is a central part of life at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, home to about 250 nuns and 30 staff. It is run by one nun who is permanently stationed there, supported by a rotation of 8 other nuns. The nuns are willing but not always experienced!

Dolma Ling Nunnery, Brian Harris, inside a Tibetan Buddhist nunnery kitchen

Inside the kitchen at Dolma Ling Nunnery. The Tibetan Nuns Project is fundraising for a rice cooker, a dough-making machine, a fridge, and two new gas burners. See below for more details. Photo by Brian Harris.

Breakfast Means an Early Start!

Each morning, the nuns on kitchen duty wake up around 3:30 am (2:30 am in the summertime) to prepare round flatbreads called Amdo Balep for breakfast. The evening before, the nuns prepare the dough and leave it to rise overnight so it is ready to shape and bake on the large gas griddle. To feed all the nuns and staff, the nuns must make and bake 350 pieces of bread. The 6-inch diameter flatbreads are served in the dining hall at 7:00 am following the nuns’ morning prayers.

making parathas, inside the kitchen at Dolma Ling Nunnery

On special occasions, the Tibetan Buddhist nuns on kitchen duty make paratha, a fried flatbread, for breakfast. Photo by Brian Harris.

As well as bread, the nuns get eggs on some days and on other days they eat cooked vegetables. And, of course, tea.

Lunch

The nuns start preparing lunch after the morning tea has been served at 10:15. Some of the group of nuns on kitchen duty may already have been assigned to clean and cut vegetables downstairs in the special area below the kitchen that was built for this purpose. To have lunch ready at 12:15, the nuns must start work very soon after breakfast.

lunch at a Tibetan Buddhist nunnery, Dolma Ling

Lunchtime at Dolma Ling Nunnery. During the pandemic lockdown, the nuns ate their meals apart. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

Cooking rice for nearly 300 people is a challenge and dangerous. Keep reading to learn about our special campaign to buy the nuns a rice cooker, a dough-making machine, and a freezer. It takes a long time to cook the rice in a huge caldron over one of the two large gas burners in the kitchen. When the rice is half-cooked, the nuns must pour off the excess water – a very risky operation.

It takes two strong nuns to pick up the giant pot and carry it to the drain where they strain off the water through a cloth. This action must be done swiftly and carefully to avoid being scalded by the boiling hot water and also to prevent the loss of steam. The nuns then cover the rice with a cloth and leave it to stand in its own steam for up to an hour to become soft and tasty.

cooking rice, Buddhist nunnery kitchen, Dolma Ling, Tibetan Buddhist nuns

Cooking rice for hundreds of nuns is dangerous and the nuns need an electric rice cooker. You can donate below. Photo by Brian Harris

In the meantime, the nuns prepare and cook the two vegetable dishes and one dal (lentil dish) which form the standard lunch in the nunnery. Because there are only two large gas burners, it is quite a tricky exercise to cook three dishes as well as the rice in time for lunch. The kitchen nuns can’t keep everyone waiting in the dining hall! Having a separate electric rice cooker will make managing the kitchen considerably smoother.

Supper

After lunch, the nuns prepare dough and leave it to rise until it is time to prepare dinner or supper. The evening meal usually consists of tingmo (Tibetan steamed buns) served with a vegetable dish. The quality of the steamed buns depends on how well the dough is prepared. If the dough is inadequately mixed, it won’t rise properly and the buns will be chewy and indigestible. A dough-making machine will help to ensure that the nuns get lovely soft fluffy buns!

chopping papayas, Dolma Ling kitchen, Tibetan Buddhist nuns cooking

Chopping papayas. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns

Sometimes the nuns prepare thukpa, Tibetan noodle soup, for supper. Once again, having a dough-making machine would be a great help in preparing the dough for the noodles. Thukpa is normally made using a mix of eggs, flour, and water but there are some nuns who don’t eat eggs so the nuns on kitchen duty always make two batches of noodle dough.

Once the dough is mixed, the nuns run through the noodle-making machine. Having a dough-making machine would be so helpful to the nuns and they will be saved from the temptation of buying readymade noodles from outside the nunnery, thus saving the nunnery money.
After dinner, the nuns set about preparing the dough for the breakfast bread and leave it to rise overnight. It is hard work mixing and kneading so much dough by hand! Usually, the kitchen nuns don’t finish their duty until 8:00 pm. Since they start work at 2:30 or 3 am, it is a very long day!

Help the Nuns Cook Rice Safely

Cooking rice for nearly 300 people is dangerous and challenging. Currently, the nuns cook rice in a huge cauldron over a large gas burner. When the rice is half-cooked, they have to pour off the excess water – a very risky operation.

The safety of the nuns is the main reason why we are asking for your help to purchase an electric rice cooker for the Dolma Ling Nunnery kitchen. A rice cooker would also save on fuel costs.

Having an electric rice cooker will mean that the rice cooks more evenly and that it keeps more of its nutritional qualities and will be better for the nuns’ health. Rice cooked in a giant caldron does not cook evenly and has to be frequently stirred.

Tibetan Buddhist nun sorting rice

The nuns have asked for help to buy a rice cooker with a capacity to cook up to 77 pounds of rice. Photo by Brian Harris

The nuns would like a rice cooker with a capacity of up to 35 kilograms (77 pounds) of rice which is about the biggest they can find in their area. Normally, the Dolma Ling nuns cook 20 to 25 kilos (44 to 55 pounds) of rice for one meal, but it will be good to have a slightly bigger capacity for special occasions. By buying from a reputable local kitchen equipment supplier who is prepared to give the nuns a good warranty and service, the nuns feel that this will be a huge benefit to the nunnery and will be a much safer and more efficient way of cooking rice.

Help the Nuns Buy a Dough Mixer

Each day the nuns on kitchen duty prepare traditional Tibetan bread and steamed buns for hundreds of nuns. Mixing the dough by hand is incredibly labor intensive and less hygienic than using a machine. The nuns have asked for help to buy a dough-making machine with a capacity of 25 kg (55 pounds).

kneading dough, making Tibetan bread

Kneading dough by hand is an incredibly labor-intensive process and the nuns have asked for help to purchase a dough-making machine. Photo by Brian Harris

Mixing dough by machine takes only 15 to 20 minutes, so it would be so much easier to prepare multiple batches for bread, buns, and noodles. Normally the nuns up to 20 kg (44 pounds) of flour at a time and the machine would be used for at least two meals each day.

The dough-making machine will also be used on special occasions when the nuns serve paratha, a fried flatbread, for breakfast and also for times like before Losar, Tibetan New Year, when the nuns prepare delicious crisp khapse, fried Tibetan biscuits. Every member of the nunnery gets a large bag of khapse to celebrate Tibetan New Year so preparing large quantities is a great deal of work.

making dough, Dolma Ling Nunnery, inside the kitchen at Dolma Ling Nunnery

The nuns make dough daily for Tibetan bread (Amdo Baleh) and steamed buns (tingmo) and also, on special occasions, for khapse which are fried Tibetan biscuits, and paratha, fried flatbreads. Mixing dough by hand is hard work when you have almost 300 people to feed. A dough-making machine would make the work much easier and give better results. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

The Nuns Need Two New Hot Water Boilers

The nuns like to have hot water to drink in their rooms while they are studying in the evening. The nunnery built a small covered facility in the first wing courtyard in which there are two hot water boilers where the nuns can fill their thermoses to take to their rooms. However, each boiler takes about four hours to heat 100 litres (26 gallons) of water and there is not enough for everyone to get even one litre of water.

water boiler Dolma Ling

The nuns need two new water boilers to have enough water for everyone. Right now some nuns get up in the middle of the night to fill their thermoses because there’s not enough supply at other times. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

Some nuns are getting up in the middle of the night to fill their thermoses if they miss out on the first boiling. The nuns have asked for help to buy two new boilers so they can have enough hot water for all the nuns. They also need to get the two older boilers serviced. Right now, the nuns are unable to take even one boiler out of service to get it repaired because there will be a drastic shortage of boiled water.

New Refrigerator for the Dolma Ling Kitchen

Dolma Ling’s old, large, 4-door refrigerator was bought a very long time ago. It has broken down many times and was frequently repaired. However, it has now stopped working and must urgently be replaced. During the winter when it is very cold (and because the nuns follow a vegetarian diet and do not cook meat in the nunnery), the nuns have managed without a fridge, but soon the summer heat and monsoon humidity will come meaning that vegetables and fruits will quickly rot. It is not possible to get fresh supplies daily and the nuns buy in bulk. The nunnery needs to be able to safely store perishable vegetables and fruit to avoid wastage and to save money. Milk, butter, cheese, and tofu also need to be refrigerated.

Dolma Ling kitchen

A nun sanitizes food outside the nunnery. The nuns have asked to help to buy a new fridge to replace their old one which has completely broken down. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

Without a new fridge, the nunnery is restricted in what it can buy and the nuns’ diet will be more monotonous. Especially during the pandemic and these times of lockdown, everyone looks forward to lunchtime. If the kitchen can provide a variety of vegetables such as tomatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, and spinach, all of which must be kept chilled, the nuns and staff will not only be healthier but also happier!

Please help the Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling with this essential kitchen equipment!

The total cost for all items is $10,700.

  1. Make a gift online at tnp.org
  2. Call our office in Seattle at 1-206-652-8901
  3. Mail a check to The Tibetan Nuns Project (for Rice Cooker and Dough Maker at Dolma Ling)
    815 Seattle Boulevard South #216, Seattle, WA 98134 USA
  4. Give a gift of securities
  5. Leave a gift in your will to the Tibetan Nuns Project

Make a Donation

Tibetan Buddhist nuns’ food and delicious vegetarian recipes

Today we’re taking you behind the scenes to some of the Tibetan Buddhist nunneries supported through the Tibetan Nuns Project. You’ll see what the Tibetan Buddhist nuns eat and how they prepare their food.

Scroll down for four recipes for delicious vegetarian food that you can cook at home.

Tibetan vegetarian recipes collage

A collage of food photos from the Tibetan Buddhist nuns, including vegetarian Tibetan momos, top right. The photo on the left is courtesy of Dustin Kujawski. The photo of Tibetan momos in the top right is courtesy of YoWangdu.

The nunneries in India follow a simple vegetarian diet. The nuns’ diet is influenced by Indian food and local ingredients. With your support, their nutrition has greatly improved over the years.

Tibetan Buddhist nun checking rice

A nun on kitchen duty checks rice. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris

At Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, a typical breakfast might be a piece of flatbread, some cooked mixed vegetables, and tea. Lunch is the main meal of the day and is often rice, two kinds of vegetables, dal, and sometimes fruit. Dinner is often a noodle soup and maybe a steamed bun.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns cooking breakfast

The nuns on kitchen duty at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute rise just past 3 a.m. to start preparing breakfast for the over 280 nuns and staff at the nunnery. In this photo by Brian Harris, a nun is making Indian-style flatbreads on a griddle.

vegetable storeroom at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

It takes a lot of vegetables to feed about 250 nuns. A few years ago, the kitchen at Dolma Ling was expanded and this new storage room was built. It is designed to keep birds and animals out and has a special chopping area.

For 2,500 years, since the time of the Buddha, it has been considered an act of merit to give food to monks and nuns. As Milarepa, the great Tibetan yogi and poet, said, “The practitioner and benefactor offering food create the cause to achieve enlightenment together.”

In the seven nunneries in northern India supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project, the nuns work together to prepare food for the entire nunnery. While the nunneries do their best to be self-sufficient, all of them are still heavily reliant for food support through our sponsorship program and through general donations.

young Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery eating

Young nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti sit in the warm sun and eat. The nunnery is located in the remote, high-altitude region of Spiti in northern India. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

Good health and nutrition are essential for the nuns to be able to study. The majority of nuns came to India as refugees from Tibet and most arrived destitute, malnourished, and ill. As refugees without their families and traditional communities to support them, they rely more than ever on the compassion and generosity of others. Providing the nuns with a steady supply of nutritious food makes a dramatic difference in the energy they are able to devote to their studies.

Tibetan-Buddhist-nuns-roasting-tsampa

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute roast barley to make tsampa, the staple food of the Tibetan people. Once roasted, the barley is ground into flour and mixed with Tibetan tea for a high-energy meal.

Food at Remote Nunneries

The nuns in remote nunneries, such as Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti and Dorjee Zong in Zanskar, have difficult living conditions. These two nunneries are located in high-altitude, arid regions where the growing season is short. The nuns face long, harsh winters and must stock up on supplies of food and cooking fuel well before the onset of cold weather.

kitchen at Tibetan Buddhist nunnery Sherab Choeling

The simple kitchen at Sherab Choeling Nunnery is one of the warmest parts of the nunnery in winter. During the coldest months, the nuns hold their classes, prayers, and meetings in the kitchen because it is warmer and helps to save wood.

At Sherab Choeling Nunnery, the nuns work hard during the summer months to grow food for the long winter. During the summer, the nuns grow spinach, beans, peas, and wheat.

Tibetan Buddhist nun working in greenhouse in Spiti

The nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Indian Himalayas have three greenhouses where they mostly grow spinach. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Vegetarian Recipes

recipe for Tibetan noodle soup thenthuk

Tibetan noodle soup, thenthuk. This comfort food is a common noodle soup in Tibetan cuisine, especially in Amdo, Tibet.

Here are some recipes from past blog posts for typical dishes that the nuns eat.

Food for Thought: What Buddhist Nuns Eat

It’s just past 3 a.m. and the nuns on kitchen duty at Dolma Ling Nunnery in northern India are already hard at work boiling water and heating up griddles to prepare breakfast for about 280 nuns and staff.

In the shelter of the cowshed, the nunnery’s small herd of dairy cows are still asleep. The nuns will milk them around 6:30 a.m. and carry their sweet, fresh milk in pails to the kitchen, where it will be used to make both traditional Tibetan butter tea and Indian-style sweet tea.

In this blog post we’d like to take you behind the scenes at some of the seven nunneries in northern India supported through the Tibetan Nuns Project. We offer profound thanks to our sponsors of nuns whose generosity feeds over 700 nuns every day.

Chopping vegetables for about 280 people is a big job at Dolma Ling. The nuns take turns on kitchen duty. This photo and the above kitchen photo are courtesy of Brian Harris.

For 2,500 years, since the time of the Buddha, nuns and monks have relied on the generous support of the lay community for their daily food. The practice of generosity (dana) is the first of the perfections or paramitas in both Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. Offering food to monastics is a meritorious act. As Milarepa, the great Tibetan yogi and poet, said, “The practitioner and benefactor offering food create the cause to achieve enlightenment together.”

It’s long before dawn when the nuns assemble in the kitchen to start preparing breakfast. Meals are prepared collectively in the nunnery kitchens. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

In countries like Thailand, where Theravada Buddhism is practiced, monks and nuns go on daily alms rounds, carrying their alms bowls and accepting offerings of food from the local community. Continue reading