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Passport & Plate - Tibetan tsampa

China | Friday, 14 March 2014 | 3 photos

Roasted barley flour (details in recipe)
Black tea (Chinese pu-erh tea is best option)
Non-salted butter
Honey (at least, sugar)


How to prepare this recipe
Tibetan trampa’s recipe is not a secret, I just want to explain it and, what is more important, give commentary to the first part of cooking – making roasted barley flour, because I failed to find any details in published recipes. They all start with “Take roasted flour...”, but it’s the most time consuming part of making tsampa (mixing final dish takes as long as few minutes)
Ok. First of all you have to roast barley grains and then mill them to powder. Bad news: to make it right in first attempt you should be really lucky. There is no visual sign if you fried them long enough. Good news: there is alternative way, requiring more attention, but – to roast flour itself.
To do so, heat up dry frying pan on the stove, put some barley flour on it and mix until flour became light-light brown. Mix it all the time. Seriously, if you stop for few seconds, it will burn and you will get smoke instead of heaven’s aroma.
Buddhists belief that roasted barley grain’s smell is blessed, that’s why it attracts good spirits and wandering souls. I’m not sure about spirits, but when I fry barley for tsampa, family members and all pets are roaming around, attracted by its smell.
Store roasted flour in closed dry container.
To make final dish, boil water and start with making tea. Chinese po-erh tea is the original and the best option. Using ordinary black tea is also possible, but taste is worse.
While tea is still really hot, pour it into a dish without tea leaves.
Add butter (I usually add 20-30 grams per person) and melt it in tea.
Add salt (a little bit) and honey (2-3 heaped teaspoons, more is you like sweet things) or sugar. Mix intensively.
Add flour and start mixing it with spoon (if it’s still too hot) or with your arm from the very beginning. Keep adding flour while mixing until you are satisfied with density. You can make tsampa as liquid as porridge or as hard as cheese. It’s up to you.
That’s it. Eat it with same tea or left it in fridge for a day or to – it’s fine


The story behind this recipe
Tsampa: spirit of highlander nomads. My personal story behind tsampa’s recipe started in summer of 2012. And story’s background is the reason why the first thing coming in mind when I think of tsampa, is the journey atmosphere. For me that year was guided by “travel star”. First I lived in USA for 9 months as visiting scholar at State University under President’s Scholarship program. Of course, I didn’t miss my chance to travel within US borders, occasionally visiting Boston and Niagara Falls. In less then a month after coming back to Moscow I went to Paris, and after only few days – to Kathmandu, Nepal. It is where my story took place.
I lived at Buddhist monastery as volunteer teacher, giving classes of English and basics of western science to monks. For the whole summer I had a chance to enjoy peaceful atmosphere of Buddhist temple, stable pace of daily life there and spiritual development. My students was monastery teachers – lamas, mostly native Tibetans. It was the first time when I was told word “tsampa”, that’s how they named their favorite meal. Initially I thought monks were talking about some sort of bread: flour, butter, mixed, fried... but then I tried this simple and very special food. Much later I read some journey reports, especially Roerich expedition through Central Asia and Tibet – and all they mention tsampa as the traditional and everyday food for monks and peasants, traveling merchants and expedition members, highlander nomads and high rank officials in Himalayan.
Tsampa is special. It’s very simple to prepare flour, you can store it for weeks in tight-closed container, and it takes only few minutes to mix everything together and enjoy tsampa’s smell and taste. Exactly what is priced among people, who spend months in high mountains, moving goods from China to Mongolia and India on yak’s backs, or people, who dedicated their live to spiritual growth and preferred solitude of hermit’s cave to crowded cities.

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