Sunday, November 6, 2011

What is Tsampa?

Tsampa is a Tibetan traveling staple in the Himalayas for over 1000 years. Barley can be grown at high altitude and so over the years became a traveling(trekking in the Himalayas) favorite for almost all Tibetans. When I was in Dharmsala as well as trekking 50 miles on foot (25 miles from the nearest dirt road at that time in 1985 and 1986) I met many Tibetans and Sherpas who carried the traditional wooden bowl (about the size of a cereal breakfast bowl and the traditional pouch of roasted barley flour used just like many hikers in the U.S. would use protein bars or granola to keep going over miles of remote areas. As one travels one buys or shares yak butter or yak milk to mix with the roasted barley flour as a staple to keep going sometimes hundreds of miles over several days or weeks of travel on foot. So, one can drink yak milk or yak butter tea by itself or mix it in varying ways with the tsampa for a complete meal to keep one going and hiking for miles and miles as long as you also have access to enough good water to drink.

I found the following information at Wikipedia under the heading "tsampa"


"Apart from tea, tsampa is the staple, indeed often the only, diet of the Tibetans. It is a kind of flour made from roasted barley. This is how you eat it. You leave a little buttered tea in the bottom of your bowl and put a big dollop of tsampa on top of it. You stir gently with the forefinger, then knead with the hand, meanwhile twisting your bowl round and round until you finish up with a large dumplinglike object which you proceed to ingest, washing it down with more tea. The whole operation demands a high degree of manual dexterity, and you need a certain amount of practical experience before you can judge correctly how much tsampa goes with how much tea. Until you get these proportions right the end product is apt to turn into either a lump of desiccated dough or else a semiliquid paste which sticks to your fingers. Sometimes you lace this preparation with a form of powdered milk, made from curds which have been dried in the sun."[1]
Tsampa is quite simple to prepare; indeed, it is known as a convenience food and often used by sherpas, nomads, and other travelers. While traditional tsampa is prepared with tea, water or beer are sometimes used in its place. It may also be prepared as a porridge.

Making Tsampa is quite easy to do at home, but requires time - and a good-quality Barley grain. Organic semi-hulled is fine. You will need:
A large flat iron skillet. 250g organic barley. A wooden utensil (Fork, spatula, spoon). A large flat surface, covered in a clean cloth. A coffee/spice grinder.
Take the organic pearl barley, place in a bowl, cover well with cold water and soak for 12 – 24 hours. Drain the barley in a sieve (discard water) and leave to drain well for 10 minutes.
Heat a good, solid, flat, cast-iron skillet (as large as you have), over a medium heat. Take a couple of handfuls of the soaked barley, and put them into the heated skillet. Stir well with your chosen wooden utensil.
You’ll notice the following, happening. The barley goes from white/opaque to translucent, and pearl-like in colour. Keep stirring, to keep the grains from sticking together (or to the pan). Gradually, as they cook, they will turn to white again. Keep stirring until they go a nice nutty brown colour. I suggest the same colour of hazelnut skins. When roasted to your satisfaction (they will flow very loosely around the pan and sound “Gravel-y”) transfer them onto your flat surface, on which you’ve put a clean cloth. Spread them out to cool. Proceed as above with the remaining barley, until it’s all roasted, and on your cooling surface. When cold, transfer to a clean jar. end quote from wikipedia.

I bought my white tsampa online through there. I'm not sure they still do this. I bought some white and some purple tsampa. I found the purple tsampa too bitter for my taste so then I kept the white tsampa in my freezer. So whenever I want some I get the zip lock bag of tsampa out of the freezer and pour some barley flour (roasted tsampa) in a bowl with butter and mix it up into the dumpling like consistency I saw in Nepal and Himalayan India around Tibetans and Sherpas both of which are usually Tibetan Buddhist throughout the Himalayas or were in the mid 1980s when I was there. I stayed in a Sherpa home of my guide's Aunt with my wife and family then at about 10,000 feet. When we arrived it was snowing and the only heat came from a little kitchen fire in the middle of the living room in the middle of the wood floor. The smoke went up and out the eves and into the snowy outside(there was no chimney in this traditional Himalayan house). Inside the living area there was a carved wooden Buddha  3 feet tall on a shelf and an alter and large copper plates for eating dinner which usually consisted of chunks of potatoes cooked in curry, mo mos which are potato or meat filled dumplings hand made, Tibetan Butter tea or regular tea, and if you were really lucky a little hard candy for dessert. We woke up the next day to about 1 foot of snow outside and we were about 25 miles from the nearest dirt road then and at about 10,000 feet in altitude. The dinner plates being copper was because it was too far to carry new plates (25 to 50 miles) (car or truck and then on foot) if you had a China plate and accidentally broke it for any reason. We often saw men who carried things long distances like human trucks carrying everything from food to clothes to building materials like corrugated pieces of aluminum roofing. I often wondered how many died when hauling that kind of roofing in a high wind along trails that I often walked with thousands of feet drop-offs of cliff trails, suspension bridges across gorges and streams and the like? Most of these haulers I heard didn't usually live past 40 or 50 years of age. Because of this they usually got married around 15 since their lives might be short. In comparison to their unlimited bravado (which sometimes led to death or injury) I often felt like my family and I were almost a different species. It was like sharing the trail with people from 1000 years ago in many ways. Most were not educated and could not write or read at that time either. However, one had to admire these men and their short lives of bravado hauling almost anything carryable over almost straight up and down terrain of thousands of feet, from the tops of mountain passes and through the rivers below and across suspension bridges blowing and shaking in the winds.

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