Review: Edible Escape at the Angel Orensanz Foundation Oct. 20, 2016


Cathedral of gourmet decadence © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Cover image: Consider Bardwell at Edible Escape © Kaori Mahajan

Bottom Line: The line of people stretched across the street waiting to enter this year’s Edible Escape at the Angel Orensanz Foundation in the Lower East Side. Like Christmas or Thanksgiving, Escape is also one of New York’s annual highlights.

Review:  When the doors opened, the guests poured in a gigantic cathedral, like a flood of the foodie faithful heading to a holy mass. It was not for religion, but rather, a total celebration of all things delicious. Gourmet-loving parishioners went from booth to booth, sampling savory bites and sipping boozy drinks. The buzz simply carried the evening with every corner brimming full of excitement.


Loire Valley Wines © WhereNYC

This year’s Escape featured an impressive, eclectic array of food and drink, from the highly reputable to the fledgling innovators looking to be the next big thing. The first stop was at Loire Valley Wines in collaboration with French wine distributor Sopexa. Loire Valley proudly proved again why French wines are still among the world’s finest. The Sauvignon Blanc had a slightly citrusy, crisp dryness, perfectly cleansing the palette that would compliment any seafood dish, and the Crémant de Loire rosé carried a bubbly, effervescent charm. My favorite was the slightly deeper 2014 Muscadet with a clean, yet earthy finish that ticked all the boxes.


Schaller & Weber © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

There was no shortage of delicious charcuterie to go with the wine. Family-run German-style terrine and pâté masters Schaller & Weber, originally from Long Island City and in the business for 80 years, served a simply amazing pâté of goose liver on apricot pistachio-flavored toasts with a drop of wild lingonberry jam.

Flying the French banner, Les Trois Petits Cochons, or Three Little Pigs showcased three creamy pâtés, but the addition of a sweet, pickled chili was an inspired flavor.


Les Trois Petits Cochons © Conor Rose

And with the holidays approaching, check out these amazing gift hampers of salumi heaven Eattiamo from Italy, who is also generously donating 10% of its sale profits to the victims of the devastating earthquake in Italy. If you’re looking for the perfect accompanying wine, visit Wainscott Main Wine & Spirits from Long Island for a wonderful Italian 2012 red Sangiovese.


Eattiamo © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

With a glass of wine in hand, it was time to sample some delicious savory bites. Streets from Brooklyn, dished out beautifully grilled, spicy piri-piri chicken drumsticks. Moisty, with a perfect balance of sweet, savory and heat, it was a joy to eat. The other crowd pleaser was locavorian Halifax from Hoboken, New Jersey, serving a melt-in-your-mouth braised lamb, mushrooms and tiny fresh pasta. Hearty, warm and oozing with flavor, the guests clamored for seconds.


The dish of the day. Piri-piri chicken © Conor Rose

Featured in this month’s Edible, Vermont cheese champions, Consider Bardwell, maker of celebrated artisanal masterpieces from the Northeast such as Pawlett, Danby and the all-new washed rind creamy masterpiece Experience, dribbled sweet reduced maple onto slices of their signature Manchester, a nutty goat cheese that can take strong accompaniments.

Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC / Edible Escape

Halifax of Hoboken © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

There were plenty of new arrivals at this year’s Escape. Sensing a market niche for ready-to-use beurre noisette, or nut brown butter, former chefs Andrew Black and Eric Bolyard, started their own company. Their two spreads including a bay leaf, sea salt served on cornbread and a fiery aleppo pepper brown butter on popcorn were delicious.

Possibly the most charming and inspiring features of Edible this year was the Catskills booth, which could have easily been its own event.

Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC / Edible Escape

Union Grove Distillery © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

A sucker for heartwarming stories of local, passionate people making magical things, I couldn’t resist a banter with Ray Pucci, President of the Catskills County Chamber of Commerce, who introduced me to Todd Pascarella of Union Grove Distillery, a passionate producer incredibly smooth vodka. All that was missing was a tin of caviar. Nicole Day Gray & Jessica Halbrecht of New York Dairy bravely treated us to some pungent but delicious locally made Alderney from Bovine Valley Farm and other creamy creations from Cowbella and Vulto Creamery. Next door, Awestruck Ciders, invited us to sample their ciders, the infused ginger was a joy to drink.

Royce Chocolate @ WhereNYC

Royce Chocolate’s perfect movie snack © WhereNYC

On to desserts! Royce Chocolate from Hokkaido, Japan, a region famous for its milk and potatoes, won my heart with a sinfully indulgent white chocolate covered salty potato chips served with perfected cubes of Melty Kiss-like dark chocolate ganache. I swooped by for seconds.

Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC / Edible Escape

Petits fours on offer © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Neo-Indian dessert makers Bittersweet NYC made a brave take on a classic Indian pistachio barfi. Traditionally dense with a little bite, however, Bittersweet’s pistachio-almond caramel’s light and gooey texture caught me by surprise. It was good but radically different from what many Indian sweet lovers might recognize.

With our bellies full, it was time to go. We left left the church of gourmet decadence, with appetites satiated. It was a pure Edible celebration of what’s delicious and the passionate individuals who bringing something new and exciting to the food industry.


An unusual take on Indian mithai © WhereNYC

Review: “Where’s the Beef” Wagyu talk & Tasting at the Japan Society Oct. 19, 2016

ABC Cooking Studio Live Kitchen Demo with Jennifer Suzuki and Lina Takahashi © Kaori Mahajan for

ABC Cooking Studio Live Kitchen Demo with Jennifer Suzuki and Lina Takahashi © Kaori Mahajan for

Cover Image: Ryuta Kawano at the Japan Society © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Bottom Line: The term wagyu is synonymous with high quality beef. Although famed for its high marbled fat and exceptional taste, what do we really know about it?  The Japan Society, in collaboration with ABC Cooking Studios Ltd., Prof. Daniel Botsman, the Norinchukin Bank and agricultural federation Zen-Noh showed us how Japanese wagyu became the world’s best beef.

Review:  Surrounded by the wafting heavenly aromas of sizzling beef fat, onions, shitake mushrooms and shiso, chef Jennifer Suzuki and her charming associate, Lina Takahashi, from ABC Cooking Studios Ltd, gave a tantalizing demo on stage. On the big screen, we watched Jennifer slice an expensive block of perfectly marbled, high quality wagyu. With each precision cut, she glided her knife as if it were going through melted butter.

The audience squirmed in their seats while Jennifer teasingly batted her eyelashes, knowing the sheer torture everyone must have felt. “Don’t worry. You’ll be eating wagyu beef very soon,” she giggled and continued on with her demo. It had been both an informative and highly entertaining evening. And although the legendary beef is considered to be among the famous Japanese ingredients such as rice and fish, wagyu follows a more recent culinary tradition in Japan.

Dr. Botsman showing a Japanese depiction of an American slaughtering a cow. © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Dr. Botsman showing a Japanese depiction of an American slaughtering a cow. © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Historically, according to Yale professor Dr. Daniel Botsman, the Japanese began eating beef less than a 150 years ago and in limited quantity. Restricted to a shogun’s occasional diet, Edo Japan largely forbade beef consumption and strictly prohibited the slaughter of cattle. The reason was rice, Japan’s most important commodity. And like the sacred cows of India, the Japanese also used them to plow their rice fields while the manure served as fertilizer. With the eventual industrial mechanization and presence of beef-loving Westerners, the cow’s sacred place in Japan gradually diminished, as more Japanese started to eat beef. Nevertheless, cultural stigmas about beef and those in the industry still persisted even in recent times. To change public opinion, Japan’s wagyu producers, working at an unbelievable high standard, embarked on making the best beef possible.

Today, Japan’s competitive high end beef industry includes big brand names such as: Hida, Kobe and Matsuzaka. Ryuta Kawano of Zen Noh, who has worked with the beef industry for over two decades,  explained wagyu’s uniqueness. Among Japan’s four pure cattle breeds, 95% of the wagyu produced comes from the Black shorthorn cow, which has the highest marbling fat.

A big block of high quality wagyu © Kaori Mahajan for

A big block of high quality wagyu © Kaori Mahajan for

Perhaps a nod to the once revered status of cows in Edo Japan, wagyu cattle farmers today still treat their animals with tremendous respect and in the best hygienic conditions. Each beast has a name, receives individual care, massage, and the finest wheat, corn and rice straws, the latter contributing most to the marbling fat. Mr. Kawano also compared the characteristic aroma of wagyu, interestingly to peaches and coconut. And in terms of texture, its high content of unsaturated fatty acids, gives it the perfect melt-in-the-mouth quality. Finally, beef in Japan is rated by two criterions: A-E and 5-1. With A/5 being the highest and, of course, most expensive premium grade.

Following the talk, ABC Studio ‘s Jennifer and Lina finished preparing two beef dishes on stage. The first was a traditional beef hotpot, or sukiyaki, with beef, onions, mushrooms and cabbage simmered in a sweet, tare or caramelised umami-flavored sauce. For the second, Jennifer seared a block of premium cut wagyu, before slicing sashimi style cuts. She then made perfect blocks of sushi rice using a battera box, finally layering with the beef tataki slices and a garnish of wasabi.

© Kaori Mahajan for

The reception featured Yonekichi’s rice burger and tataki slices beef from Kagoshima © Kaori Mahajan for

With the demo done, the guests headed into the lobby for an aperitif and a plateful of wagyu goodies. Each dish had a beautiful display of premium grade beef tataki and rice burger from Yonekichi of braised meat with a hint of chili. The flavor of both items were exceptional. The beef tataki had the most amazing texture, and while the rice burger delivered on taste, it was absolutely stone cold by the time it reached the table. With an open bar of dry sake, beer, wine and non-alcoholic beverages, guests, industry reps and speakers mingled during the reception. As we exited, each guest who took the ABC Cooking Studio survey, received a token tote bag ideal for any beef bento box, perhaps as a suggestion of what to take for tomorrow’s lunch.

Review: FIAF Artist Talk at the Baryshnikov Arts Center Oct. 15, 2016

Cover Image © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Bottom Line: As part of its Crossing the Line installment, FIAF, in collaboration with MOMA and several leading arts centers, organized a series of performances and provocative, yet thoughtful discussions. Last Saturday’s panel including: moderator Thomas Lax, choreographer Rachid Ouramdane, leading sociologist and founder of NGO Libraries Without Borders, Dr. Patrick Weil, Firoz Ladak and Zeyba Rahman convened at the Baryshnikov Arts Center for a lively debate on the state of cultural inclusion in the fine arts.

Patrick Weil FIAF © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Dr. Patrick Weil, Professor at Yale and founding member of Libraries Without Borders © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Review: “Identity has a dual dimension: it consists of both chosen and unchosen components,” began Patrick Weil quoting Émile Durkheim. We choose to express our identity, but environmental, social, religious and gender factors also play a part that define us whether it is voluntary or not. For instance, he said that Black Lives Matter came about from the images of unarmed blacks killed by police. Such a movement would not have existed, if it weren’t for the police killing unarmed civilians.

Today in both France and the United States, the models of identity and cultural inclusion are being debated. With the rise of far right nationalism, religious extremism and social inequality, many, like those on the panel, have questioned the extent of which we can achieve real cultural inclusion and tolerance of diversity.

The discussion is not a new one, and other cultural centers in New York have hosted similar debates. The Greene Space, like FIAF, has also invited artists, journalists and other experts to challenge societal norms, hopefully breaking barriers between different groups.  Happily, Crossing the Line, was also a very thoughtful, well-crafted discussion that was devoid of talking points or focusing on media sensational stories such as the infamous burkini.

Instead, the five panelists, all of whom are spearheading inspiring projects that celebrate inclusion, compared ways of access to those who have been left out. In both France and America, the panel agreed that the lack of cultural inclusion prevents real diversity in the arts and in society in general. The problem, according to Dr. Weil, is that young minorities in both France and the U.S. don’t enjoy the same basic rights or job opportunities, which can contribute to a feeling of “not belonging.”

In certain cases, successive generations of immigrant-origin individuals in France, according to Firoz Ladak, call their own identity into question. Living in the outskirts, or banlieues, where unemployment is rife and security is weak, there is a feeling of being cut off from the rest of society.

This sentiment of exclusion has possibly contributed in part to the rising number of French and Belgian nationals of North African origin who have joined Islamic extremist groups such as ISIL or Daech. In this country, terrorist organizations have also found fertile recruiting ground such as in the Somali community in Minnesota, according to panel.


Rachid Ouramdane discussing Premiers Actes with Thomas Lax, Zeyba Rahman, and Firoz Ladak

To counter the efforts of terrorist recruiting, community leaders and others have sought new, positive outreaching methods. There is also power in the arts to incorporate a sense of community belonging to a host country. In order to combat the influence of radicalization, cultural producer Zeyba Rahman coordinated a celebration of Somali pop music comprised of refugees and American musicians. The success has even caught the attention of the U.S. government, which supports positive cultural projects.

Similarly, in an effort to bring more access to impoverished areas in New York, Dr. Weil’s NGO helped young, primarily African-Americans in the South Bronx make their own résumés to help them find jobs. It was the first time, according to Dr. Weil, that these individuals had ever thought about career opportunities. As in the case of Rahman’s cultural project, it is helping to create a sense of pride of one’s achievement and recognize different cultures.

The panel shares a light-hearted moment at Greene Space WNYC © Tokyo Racer for WhereNYC

Certain themes of cultural inclusion and social discord were also of the discussion about race at at the Greene Space at WNYC © Tokyo Racer for WhereNYC

It takes more than just recognition of cultural difference, according to Ladak Firoz, who said that while many of organizers at the annual Avignon Theatre Festival talked about the need to incorporate different cultures, there was little diversity to be seen.

Rachid Ouramdane’s project Premiers Actes” aims to show how diverse we are, rather than just recognizing difference. He said that many feel they are typecasted or stereotyped. “You can be born in a country, but if you’re black, you’re regarded as a foreigner.” Others on the panel also echoed a familiar sentiment, often feeling they are forced into a mold by passive discrimination. While on stage cultural inclusion and diversity are respected, it is not often reflected in the audience.

The panelists did clash, however, on certain points. Dr. Weil attributed the lack of understanding minorities and immigrant communities in France, partly  because the French are still stuck in the same mindset of the Algerian War. Mr. Firoz countered that the successive generations of children born of immigrant-origin are starting to feel less French and rarely concern themselves with French colonial history.

When discussing the use of technology in preserving cultural identity, the guest-speakers found common ground on how social media and film can help inclusion and even offer a little cheeky resistance to xenophobic attacks from far-right politicians. There is the famous #Muslimsreportingthings on Twitter in response to GOP candidate Donald Trump. And Libraries Without Borders has a created a digital archive of American Indian tribal history as well as documentary films in Africa and Jordan. Ms. Rahman said that this “microtechnology can support a movement or help a community maintain its identity.

In spite of certain progress, especially in terms of cultural awareness and recognizing the need for cultural inclusion, there is still more to be done. It is perhaps Dr. Weil who summed it up best with a quote from French sociologist, Norbert Elias, “Language is in permanent transition.” Likewise the concepts of national identity, demographics and societal norms are also ever-changing.

Review: The Big Chocolate Show at the Waterfront Oct. 7-9, 2016

Chocolatier Jacques Torres © Vicha Saravay for The Big Chocolate Show 2016

Cover image: Jacques Torres © Vicha Saravay for The Big Chocolate Show

Christopher Elbow chocolates have a sleek look yet deliver on amazing flavor. © Kaori Hoshino for WhereNYC Chocolate Show

Christopher Elbow chocolates have a sleek look yet deliver on amazing flavor. © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Bottom Line: With over 48 chocolatiers, beverage suppliers, distributors, and industry innovators, The Big Chocolate Show at the Waterfront was full of delightful surprises. With a record number of visitors to expo, even selling out on Saturday, The Big Chocolate Show has to become an annual New York tradition.

Review: Never mind the crowds pouring into the neighboring Comic Con  nor the rain, New York’s chocolate lovers paid little notice as they headed to the Big Chocolate Show at the Waterfront. Whether in the industry or just a gluttonous, chocolate-guzzling heathen like me, the show had something indulgent for everyone. Delicious and informative, creative yet sustainable, the achievements on show from these chocolate innovators were impressive.

 Caramel Honey Bees win the award for the cutest presentation © John and Kira's

Caramel Honey Bees win the award for the cutest presentation © John and Kira’s

The most stunning displays included those of chocolatier Christopher Elbow, who started his career in pastry making petits fours before moving onto to high end chocolate. There were pretty as a picture. Both Elbow’s lemon meringue pie-flavored truffle and salted caramel fleur de sel looked dainty, and yet, delivered on flavor. The first had all the hallmark flavors of a meringue pie with a little clever addition of white chocolate while the fleur de sel caramel was light, fluffy and not sticky. I was at a loss for words.

John and Kira’s, a husband-and-wife team who began making chocolates in their kitchen back in 2002, had some of the most cutest chocolates at the show. Vibrantly colored each truffle took on a different character. The honey caramel bee, although stickier than that of Christopher Elbow, had a beautiful, intense caramelized honey flavor offset with a pinch of salt. It may seem haphazard, but John and Kira’s flavor creations are the result of intense experimentation and their deep-rooted relationships with producers across the country.

Valhrona showcasing the chocolat au lait series © Kaori Hoshino for WhereNYC Chocolate Show

Valrhona showcasing its latest chocolat au lait series © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Although there was no shortage of amazing flavors from all of the vendors, the heavyweights in the industry had some of the best samples at the expo. French-based Valrhona, whose clientele includes some the world’s finest restaurants, showed off their latest milk chocolate creations, and the noir Guanaja at 70% cocoa, was perfectly balanced between bitter and sweet.

With its shops dotting the city, New York-based French implant Jacques Torres had some of the best milk chocolate at the show. Solid, unfussy and richly creamy without being too sweet, every morsel had a long finish of  sweet cocoa and milk.

Jacques Torres amazing New York-inspired designs © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC Chocolate Show

Jacques Torres New York-inspired designs © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

In terms of flavor combinations, one of the major show-stoppers was award-winning Chocolat Moderne’s The Lover, a brilliantly judged white chocolate and passion fruit caramel. The slightly tart fruitiness was a perfect foil to the rich, sweet, cocoa buttery chocolate cup.

The Lover was a major hit. © Chocolat Moderne

The Lover was a major hit. © Chocolat Moderne

Other fantastic pairing flavors included the high end coffee shop purveyor 2 BeansTaza Chipotle Chili Chocolate. The heat of chili hit cleverly just at the very end without overpowering.

And Brooklyn-based Marie-Belle chocolatier’s orange, ginger and matcha flavored chocolates were all delicious, but the latter infused in white chocolate gave an deep green tea flavor that tamed the white chocolate’s sweetness.  Truffle Shots quirky ganache sold in shot glasses had a beautiful mélange of Macallan 12-year single malt, which makes sense to mix the scotch’s caramel smokiness with sweet, airy chocolate.

Chocolat Royal liqueur © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Chocolat Royal liqueur © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

They weren’t, however, the only whiskey mixers on the block. Coole Swan from Ireland served heart-warming boozy shots of chocolate and Irish whisky. Although normally not a fan of sweet, alcoholic beverages, I really enjoyed the pairing creamy chocolate with fiery whiskey, giving a slight warm tingling. I had to take another swig before moving on.

There were more exotic flavors, some of which most visitors had never seen before. Vietnamese-import Marou Faiseurs de Chocolat use of creamy non-dairy coconut milk was a first for me. In a land where milk is often of poor quality, Marou founders Samuel and Vincent opted for coconuts to make a completely single-source Vietnamese chocolate. For me, Marou’s candied ginger-flavored chocolate really worked with just a hint of coconut! Utterly speechless.

© Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC Chocolate Show

Marou Faiseurs de Chocolat wowed with non-dairy chocolate made with coconut milk © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Chocolate is a world commodity and many of Europe’s top end chocolatiers import cocoa from West Africa and the Americas. The Big Chocolate Show’s inclusion of several Latin American producers allowed visitors to sample rising chocolate stars from Peru and Ecuador. With some exceptions, the chocolate at the expo from the European-inspired chocolatiers tended to be creamier and smoother while those from the Americas were earthier but equally enjoyable. For instance, sustainable organic Pacari from Ecuador is one of South America’s few single ec0-friendly sourced chocolate makers. While I really liked the beautifully-balanced Rose chocolate and slightly bitter Sal de Cuzco (Pink salted cocoa nib), the 101% dark chocolate bar was one step too far for my palette. The extreme sour, bitterness almost made it inedible.

Equally impressive was Villa Kuyaya, another Ecuadorian-origin chocolate with a fantastic array of eclectic, international flavors including my favorites Earl Grey and Masala Chai, which is a wonder why there aren’t more tea-chocolate pairings. Although I also liked the slightly crunchiness of the ginger-honey, the matcha with dark chocolate did not work as well, and the tea used was from China and not Japan!

Marie Belle chocolates with New York designs make a wonderful gift. © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Marie Belle chocolates with New York designs make a wonderful gift. © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

While many may like chocolate, most still know little about its origins and how to use it in dishes. Valrhona, in an ambitious move to draw the public in, opened New York’s very first l’École Valrhona. Consumers can learn about the art of chocolate from the city’s leading pâtissiers from Le Bernardin and Per se. Finally, whether a gift or a self-indulgent escapade, the award for the best packaging goes to 2 Beans, who have recruited award-winning artist Charles Fazzino to design their boxes.  The custom packaging makes the perfect showstopper to impress friends from out of town or maybe to enjoy over a cup of coffee.

Make your own inspired Chocolate creations. Diamond Custom Machines Corp © Kaori Hoshino for WhereNYC Chocolate Show

Make your own inspired Chocolate creations. Diamond Custom Machines Corp © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC Chocolate Show

For chocolate enthusiasts willing to try their own home-grown concoctions, Diamond Custom Machines offers the ultimate, personal artisanal chocolate maker, which can make an average novice strive to be the next big thing.

Thanks to the participants and sponsors, The Big Chocolate Show this year was a tremendous success. Brilliantly informative, innovative, deliciously indulgent and devilishly decadent, the show brought a little chocolate magic to New York and will linger on our palettes until next time.



Review: Himalayan Heritage Meet Up at the Rubin Museum Oct. 5, 2016

Cover image: © Urgyen Dolma for the Rubin Museum

Bottom Line: In a traditional patriarchal society, today’s Tibetan female writers are giving a new voice to a community in exile. Their defiance of both cultural norms and the occupation of their ancestral homeland is done with wit and nostalgia. Authors Tsering Lama, Sonam Tsomo and Tenzin Dickie. sat down with Robbie Barnett for this month’s Himalayan Heritage Meet Up at the Rubin Museum.

 © Urgyen Dolma for the Rubin Museum

Robbie Barnett, Tenzin Dickie, Tashi Chodron, Tsering Lama and Sonam Tsomo © Urgyen Dolma for the Rubin Museum

Review: “I have no home. I’ve been away for too long,” Tsering Lama quietly read a passage from one of her works. We listened intently as she took us through her childhood in India and parents’ stories of Tibet.

Since the invasion of 1959, Tibetan communities had struggled to keep their heritage intact. From the systematic eradication of their culture in the occupied plateau to the Tibetan diaspora spread across the globe, it has been a major challenge to preserve what remains. Recently, however, a rising group of talented Tibetan writers are attracting an international audience. Authors such as: Ann Tashi Slater and Tsering Dhompa, both of whom have spoken at previous Himalayan Heritage Meet Up events, present a new kind of feminism. Worldly, professional, multilingual and independent, these Tibetan writers have managed to preserve their family stories while cleverly putting their own individual stamp. Similarly to Ms. Dhompa’s moving book, Coming Home to Tibet, Sonam Tsomo writing features a very personal, nostalgic imagery that transports the reader to a different time. This storytelling extends beyond the Tibetan community, invoking themes “dislocation” to which “everyone can relate,” according to Tenzin Dickie.

The Rubin Museum © WhereNYC

The Rubin Museum © WhereNYC

Seated in the heart of the Rubin’s Monumental Lhasa exhibit, the location for this month’s Himalayan Heritage Meet Up could not have been more fitting. Exquisite maps and images of Lhasa both long ago and today surrounded us as we listened to the authors’ readings. Curator Natasha Kimmet, inspired by an antique map of Lhasa in the museum’s permanent collection, began putting together other images and artifacts for this exhibit. “When you visit Tibet and the Himalayas, you encounter fortresses, palaces, temples, and residential buildings that form a distinctive part of the physical and visual landscape. These buildings also tell us a great deal about the region’s history and culture, yet they have never been the focus of a major museum exhibition.”

The sheer brilliance of seeing Tibet from afar with quirky addition of View-Master cameras set up around the spiral staircase, complimented the stories we heard of memory and nostalgia.

Writer Tsering Dhompa at the Rubin in August, 2016 © WhereNYC

Writer Tsering Dhompa at the Rubin in August, 2016 © WhereNYC

All three writers share a common desire to return to Tibet, although none were born there. “Vagabonds, not by choice” and living in refugee communities in India, they often felt apart. They inherited both their families’ physical traits and their longing to return to a homeland, occupied by the Beijing government. Similarly to many communities, both immigrant or refugee, the definition of “home” changes. From Tibet, Nepal, India to the United States, many Tibetan children in exile grow up with a certain inbetweeness. “There is this double obsession with home.” Tenzin told moderator Robbie Barnett. Though none of them have been able to travel to Tibet, Tsering, nearly made it during an attempt to retrace her family’s trek across the Himalayas. She almost made it, briefly seeing a wire fence and a distant blue dot, which turned out to be a garrison of about 1000 Chinese soldiers!

Author Ann Tashi Slater present Travels Within and Without at the Rubin Museum © WhereNYC

Author Ann Tashi Slater presents Travels Within and Without at the Rubin Museum © WhereNYC

It would be a mistake to assume that these writers lived in misery, growing up outside of Tibet. On the contrary, thanks to their parents’ perilous journeys, these women grew up free. They, for the most part, received an English education and see themselves as independent. In spite of their success as individuals, the collective memory of Tibet stemming from their families, still is a major part of their cultural identity.

As I listened to their stories, I thought of my own parents who, as small children, had fled their homeland. Like Sonam and Tenzin, I also had felt a strange inbetweeness growing up as a child. My father, however, rarely talked about his traumatic experience. Once I remembered seeing tears in his eyes as he talked one evening about a lost childhood and yearning to return to a house north in Punjab, where his family had had a small farm. I never asked him again about it, perhaps because I could see how emotional it must have been for him.

Following the event, I returned home and dug out a picture of my late father and my uncle smiling with some young Tibetans during a visit to a refugee community in Dharamsala, India. I remembered him talking about that trip and how he felt that Tibetans and Indians had “a lot in common.” Indeed, “Vagabonds not by choice” and “dislocation” are themes shared by many.

Don’t miss the upcoming Himalayan Heritage Meet Up on November 2nd.