In Defence and Tibetan Cooking (Part I)

In some of his public talks, His Holiness makes a joking observation of how Tibetans are so sharp (drungu) that they took the best of all religions from India, the warmest of clothes from Mongolia, and the most delicious of foods from China. It is a good joke, and the validity of the observation, at least in the first instance, makes it work. I only disagree with him on his third example. Being the next-door neighbour, as it were, of a race whose cuisine is probably the most well-known and celebrated world-over, can give anyone (perhaps even His Holiness) a little inferiority complex about his or her own food culture.

Another great man, George Orwell, annoyed at the prevailing snobbery around French cuisine and the routine dismissive charges that “English food was the worst in the world”, was driven to write an essay, “In Defence of English Cooking”, for the Evening Standard. I am attempting to follow in the master’s footsteps with this exploration of Tibetan culinary culture. Some years ago I wrote a piece on Khabsay or New Year cookies which many readers wrote in to say they enjoyed. Since Losar is rolling around again I hope this essay on Tibetan cuisine will provide some reading pleasure to Tibetans during this season when, no matter how cruelly the political winds are blowing in Tibet, we might take a brief time off from the struggle and enjoy good food and drink in convivial company.

The fundamental staple food of Tibet is, of course, not borrowed from China at all. Tsampa or roasted barley meal is so different from the Chinese staple of rice and wheat, that when Chinese Communist soldiers first came to Tibet and tried to eat tsampa they choked and gagged on the powdery stuff – much to the amusement of Tibetan bystanders.

But as tricky as it can be to eat without mastering the proper technique, tsampa is the foundation of a noble diet, similar in part to what people ate in the classical world. In H.D.F Kitto’s remarkable introduction to ancient Greece (The Greeks) he tells us that “Barley meal, olives, a little wine, fish as a relish, meat only on high holidays – such was the normal diet.” Pliny tells us that gladiators in Rome were also called hordearii, barley men, because of the amount of barley, a muscle building food they ate. Hordeum vulgare being the Latin for barley.

In the Odyssey (T.E. Lawrence’s translation) when Odysseus returns home to Ithaca he is given a meal by Eumaeus the swineherd, who does not recognize the hero as his old master. “When the two roast piglets were done he carried them to Odysseus and set them in front of him, still on the spits and piping hot. He dusted them over with barley meal….”. Tibetans prefer boiling to roasting meat but I suppose like the Greeks they don’t like loosing the fatty juices. I’m not sure if this common practice but I once saw a Khampa man in Mustang skewer a large chunk of boiled mutton out of a pot with his knife. He then dusted the meat with tsampa so that the juices wouldn’t drip down his chin when he went to work on it.

If you think I’m trying a little too hard to elevate the culinary or cultural status of tsampa with all my references to Greece and Rome, check out this passage from Food Civilization by Carson Ritchie:

Roasted corn was one of the great culinary inventions. It was still in use in Tibet until the Chinese communist invasion, in the form of tsampa or roasted barley corns, ground into meal. It would keep indefinitely, and could be prepared by adding cold or hot water to it. Homer’s heroes even added barley meal to wine. It could be mixed with other foods, such as broths, and was so light that it could easily be carried about. Husked grain, whether parched or toasted or not, became the great food of antiquity.’

Ritchie also informs us that making tsampa was one of the ways in which Neolithic man grappled with the considerable problems posed by moving to different foods from those eaten by the earlier hunters. Various ingenious processes were carried out by Neolithic man to get to the edible part of cereals – threshing, boiling the heads, and so on, but roasting barley-corn and then milling it, in effect making tsampa, was one of the first ways.


Older Tibetans need little encouragement to hold forth on the wonderful properties of tsampa. But in colonial times, snooty European travelers in the Himalayas had less elegiac views of our national staple. An English lady in Ladakh was horrified to see the natives eating tsampa “…with their fingers …it almost makes you sick just to watch them wolf it down.” Strangely enough, our old friend Heinrich Harrer joins the sahibs and memsahibs in this condescending chorus. In Seven Years he writes “Of course one cannot compare the productivity of Tibetan workers with that of Europeans. The physical strength of the natives was much inferior.” He ascribes the low productivity of the Tibetans to their staple diet of tsampa. Henrig la seems to have forgotten that he survived his tremendous trek across the Jhangtang in winter on a near exclusive diet of tsampa, not Wiener schnitzels.

Peter Fleming who traveled across Amdo, Tsaidam, Turkestan and Baltistan in 1935, on a steady diet of tsampa, is more befittingly appreciative :

Tsamba has much to recommend it, and if I were a poet I would write an ode to the stuff. It is sustaining, digestible and cheap. For nearly three months we had tsamba for breakfast and tsamba for lunch, and the diet was neither as unappetizing nor as monotonous as it sounds. One of the great virtues of tsamba is that you can vary the flavour and the consistency at will. You can make it into a cake or you can make it into a porridge; and either can be flavoured with sugar, salt, pepper, vinegar, or (on special occasions for you only had one bottle) Worcester Sauce. And, as if that were not enough, you can make it with cocoa instead of with tea. I would not go so far as to say that you never get tired of tsamba, but you would get tired of anything else much quicker.

Even Melvyn Goldstein, usually not the most sympathetic of souls to things Tibetan, is positive on tsampa, claiming that it “…is a great trail food because it requires no further cooking and can be eaten with plain water if it is not feasible to make a fire and tea, for example during a storm (and…) it provides a highly nutritious meal that requires virtually no preparation.”

The fact of barley’s exceptional nutritional qualities – that Tibetans, Romans and ancient Greeks had long known and celebrated – finally received due recognition from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2006. This is what that august body declared, “Scientific evidence indicates that including barley in a healthy diet can help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by lowering bad cholesterol (low density lipo-proteins) and total cholesterol levels.”

The New York Times (Wednesday, June 28, 2006) added that “The new health claims for barley are substantial and are based on “significant scientific evidence.” Other claims being made for a “barley-inclusive” diet is ‘reduction of risk for cancer of the stomach and intestine’; ‘reduction of risk of cardiovascular diseases’; ‘reduction of risk of Type 2 diabetes ’; ‘stimulation of the immune system’; and ‘contribution to reduction of the risk of obesity’.

Traditionally, it is not only Tibetans who have made nutritional and medical claims for barley. The Japanese make a tea of roasted barley, called mugicha (boricha in Korea) which is said to cleanse the blood of impurities and reduce stress. In Britain you have Lemon Barley Water, a great tonic popular with parents and children alike. It has long been the official drink supplied to players at Wimbledon.

Okay, so tsampa’s good for you. But how is a non-Tibetan, or a Tibetan out of touch with his roots, supposed to  eat it without suffering the fate of the Chinese soldiers mentioned earlier. Peter Fleming who wanted to write an ode to tsampa, describes the basic way of going about it:

You fill your shallow wooden bowl with tea, then you let the butter melt in the tea (the butter is usually rancid and has a good cheesy flavour); then you put a handful of tsamba in. At first it floats; then like a child’s castle of sand, its foundation begins to be eaten by the liquid. You coax it with your fingers until it is more or less saturated and has become a paste; this you knead until you have a kind of doughy cake in your hand and the wooden bowl is empty and clean. Breakfast is ready.

The watchword is “coax”. You have to go about the process slowly and gently, “folding” the tsampa into the tea like you would fold melted chocolate into egg-white when making chocolate mousse. Tibetans don’t use the word knead” (zi) for the process of preparing tsampa for eating. The word used is “yoe” which would mean blending or mixing but, I repeat, done gently. When prepared in this fashion you get a mixture that is not sticky or doughy but soft and manageable. This end-product is now called paag, and not tsampa anymore. You can then make convenient lumps of the stuff, ready to be eaten, without tsampa sticking all over your hands and everywhere. A small lump or roll of paag squeezed in your fist is called daga.

I remember as a child my nanny, Dawa Bhuti (from Kharag in Shigatse district) telling me this story where a daga of paag featured prominently. The story had a flavour of Ruskin’s The King of the Golden River. Three sisters (the older two selfish and mean, the youngest kind and beautiful) have to go on a quest. One by one they walk up a mountain and each in turn encounter this little dog. The puppy begs them for food with this couplet that concludes with three barks:

If you give me one lump (of paag)
I will tell you one tale
Arf! Arf! Ar!

dag chig tayna
tam chig shay yong
Ak Ak Ak.

Another way to eat tsampa is straight and dry. Tibetan’s call this method tsang-gam. You take a spoonful of the dry meal and pop it in your mouth. Another way is to just lick the dry tsampa from a bowl. When old tsampa hands do it, it looks deceptively easy, but the practice is not recommended. If you insist, you should know that the trick is never to inhale when performing tsang-gam. If you do, even a little, you will suffer a coughing spell,  possibly even a nasty choking experience. Death by tsampa! More improbable things have happened in Tibet.

Tibetan peasants, especially those from the Tsang region like to add a handful of tsampa to their bowl of barley-ale (chang) and eat it with their fingers in a fashion called kyo-mak da. I once tried adding tsampa to red-wine as Carson Ritchie tells us Homer’s heroes did. The result was, well, interesting.

For breakfast tsampa is usually consumed as cham-dur, or, as Tibetan restaurants feature it on their menus, “tsampa porridge”. It is a dish much loved by children. My daughter Namkha Lhamo regularly eats cham-dur when we have tsampa in the house. You put a pat of butter in a bowl with some powdered cheese (chu-shib) and a little sugar (preferably brown sugar) and pour in some hot tea (or hot milk) in the bowl getting the butter to melt and blending with everything else. You then stir in enough tsampa so that the mixture is more runny than doughy – porridge consistency – and get on with your breakfast.

Children in Tibet also love to eat the barley grain (ney) after it is roasted and popped. This Tibetan pop-corn is called yod. The popped barley is milled at a water-mill called the chu-thag and made into tsampa.

Quality tsampa milled from high-grade barley, the grain washed and prepared in a special way, is not only delicious but has a wonderful sweet aroma to it. When I was in Mustang our phokhang or commissariat at Kag-Beni had a special supply of tsampa that was so good that one of our instructors, Thondup Gyalpo la (a former sergeant in the Guards regiment in Lhasa) would just mix it with water from the stream and eat it without any side-dish or sauce. He insisted that adding anything else would spoil the taste of the tsampa. Tsampa eaten in this way is called chu-paag.

For dinner you could make a nice soup or broth called tsam-thug with tsampa, meat and vegetables, but more on that in Part II of this essay.

In ancient Tibet, tsampa was served at banquets in large brick-like cakes called masen. At the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA), Sonam Wangdu la, one of my star comedians who was also a master-chef in old Lhasa,  once served this dish at a New Year dinner at TIPA. The tsampa cakes were accompanied large joints of cooked mutton and radish. This ancient banquet was called sozi masen.

Tang dynasty accounts mention that Tibetans pressed a lump of tsampa  with their thumb, and used the hollow space as a spoon to scoop up stew or vegetables.

A largish wooden bowl or gog-phor is generally used for mixing and eating tsampa. This bowl has a tight-fitting lid  which can be taken off and used to hold your side-dish  (paag-drel) of stew, soup or vegetables. This will be discussed in Part II.

You might also also use a jha-phor or tea bowl, for drinking tea or beer. It is smaller and shallower than the tsampa bowl and the inside is sometimes lined with silver. Your set of wooden bowls might include a tiny bowl (with lid) in which you keep a supply of your favorite hot-sauce. This bowl can be stored inside the large gog-phor after you’ve had your meal. These wooden bowls are manufactured in southern Tibet and in Mon Tawang. They are also made in Bhutan by skilled wood-turners. Some of these bowls are credited with being able to detect poison.

An important article for a tsampa based meal is the sol-ray or napkin. Its usually the name size as a napkin in the west, but sometimes bigger. It is important to have this on your lap as tsampa tends to spill a little, no matter how careful you are when you mix it. When you were traveling the napkin could be used to tie up your bowls and things in the napkin. Such napkins are handy as they can, at a pinch, substitute for a bowl to hold lumps of tsampa or meat. In Bhutan people use a wooden bowl for their soup like Tibetans but their traditional rice dish is always served in a large napkin called the tho-ray, that everyone carries about with him. I saw a photograph of the former king, Jigme Singe Wangchuk, using such a napkin when having a meal with a crowd of ordinary Bhutanese people.  A nice democratic gesture.

Anyhow, If you haven’t picked up the skill of mixing tsampa in a bowl you can use a bag to do the mixing in. In Tibet a pliant bag of thin leather with a drawstring (oto) on the opening, is used. It is called a thang-khug. You can use a plastic bag at a pinch. I have seen Tibetans doing that. It mustn’t be too stiff, but I guess it shouldn’t be too thin either, and tear.

There is a larger tsampa bag of leather and fabric which is called a tsam-khug, and is largely used for storing and sometimes serving tsampa at a table; but not for mixing. I saw a beautiful tsam-khug leather bag trimmed with brocade, at the monastery of Gar Rimpoche in Rarang, Kinnaur. The bag had a serving spoon inside called the tsam-thur, which is used to serve out the tsampa.

Generally you would use a special wooden container with a lid, called tsam-phor, to store and serve tsampa at a table. These bowl-like containers are often painted with designs on the outside and laquered red on the inside. Some of these vessels are even decorated with turquoise, coral and semi-precious stones on the outside. In the old days a high lama, a merchant prince or an important official might have such a fancy tsam-phor on his side-table. One tsam-phor I saw had a special lid which incorporated a small bowl on the top. That small bowl was used to hold a supply of thue, which is a rich concoction of powdered-cheese, butter and brown-sugar (bhurom)  used to flavor the tsampa.

The Vocabulary and Voice of Tsampa
Tsampa is also eaten in Turkestan where it is called “talkhan”. In Bihar and some parts of north India a kind of tsampa (sometimes mixed with milled chick-pea) is called “satthu” and eaten by peasants and labourers. In certain parts of north China where  tsampa is eaten it is called “tso-mien“. All Chinese Communist publication, even those in English, invariably refer to Tibetan barley, not by its native name of “ney or “dru”, but in pinyin as Qingke – probably pronounced “chinky” (I think).

The honorific for tsampa is su-shib. Of course the Dalai Lama has a very special tsampa made for him which is called jamin. On the other hand inferior tsampa eaten by poorer people is called kamsob or tsam-sog. This is sometimes mixed with pea-flour (ten-tsam or ten-shi) which is generally cheaper, though quite flavorful in its own right.

Since tsampa played such an important role in Tibetan life, it should come as no surprise that there were special tsampa officials called the “tsam-shipa” and the “tsam-nyer” in charge of procurement, storage and distribution of tsampa. A special department of the government called the “tsam-sher laykhung” collected agricultural produce for distribution to monasteries and the army. Wages in old Tibet, for soldiers of the army and the like, were paid in large part with tsampa. This was called tsam-phog. A payment in cash was made for the remainder, called the sha-phog or “meat wages”

Tsampa is used in religious ritual for making sacramental cakes called tsok and torma, and in the sangsol ceremony where handfuls of tsampa are tossed in the air (tsam-tor). Tsampa is also burnt and the smoke offered not only to various deities, but sometimes as an act of compassion to yidags (tantalized spirits) existing in a special subdivision of the Buddhist hell. Since these creatures are said to take in nurishment only through smell, the burnt-tsampa offering (soor or tsam-soor) was an effective way of feeding them.

Tsampa appears in many Tibetan expressions and proverbs:

Tsamkhu tongpa dap pa: To beat an empty tsampa bag. To try and get something out of nothing.

Tsampa sholpa. To sprinkle or throw tsampa. To flatter.

Tsampa gam lingbu tang. Eat dry tsampa and play the flute at the same time. Do two incompatible things. Conflict of interest.

Ngu-khug tsam-khuk la bhechoe tang. Using your money bag for storing tsampa. Squander your wealth. Charles Bell renders this as “The Good father had a full money-bag/ The bad son uses it as a bag for flour.”

Tsampa rang ge zay, thang-khuk mi la yok. You eat the tsampa but put the tsampa-bag on someone else’s (head). To profit from a situation but let others suffer the consequences.

Tsampae khyekyag bhutog ki chay. Baking-soda acting as guarantor to tsampa, (both can be blown away by the wind). One insubstantial person cannot support another.

Tsampae-drima kha. Smelling of tsampa. Having a Tibetan quality. Tibetan-ness.

The word tsam-zen, is a contraction for tsampa-zangen or tsampa eater.  Two separate sources told me that when the first demonstration started in Lhasa in 1987, and Tibetans were called out from their homes to join the protesters in the streets, the rallying cry was “All tsampa eaters come out”. “Tsampa zangen tso ma dhon-sho.”

Babu Tharchin la, the editor of the Tibetan newspaper in Kalimpong, The Tibet Mirror,  in an editorial  (October 1, 1952) called on all Tibetans, specifically the people of Kham, to unite.

We, the tsampa eaters, chuba wearers, dice players, raw and dried meat eaters, followers of Buddhism, Tibetan language speakers, the people from The Three Circuits of Ngari (Ngari Korsum), Four Horns of Central Tibet (U-Tsang Ru-zhi), Six Ranges of Eastern Tibet (Dokham Gangdrug) and the Thirteen Myriarchies of Tibet (Bhod Trik-khor Chuksum) we must make the effort to end the [Chinese] occupation.

On October 1, 1957, The Tibet Mirror published a “reminder song” which had as a refrain these lines “Don’t let silver coins lure you, /Stand up, stand up the tsampa eaters!”

In an article in Himal in 1993, the scholar Tsering Shakya la: wrote that “During the height of the Tibetan resistance to the Chinese in 1959, a letter appeared in the Tibetan Mirror, symbolically addressed to ‘all tsampa eaters’. The writer had gone down to the staple, barley as the most basic element which united the Tibetan-speaking world. If Buddhism provided the atom of Tibetanness, then tsampa provided the sub-particles of Tibetanness. The use of tsampa transcended dialect, sect, gender and regionalism”

The website High Peaks Pure Earth recently came out with a well-documented article describing how a cultural re-assertion of Tibetan identity was taking place all over the plateau since the protests and crackdown of 2008, and that tsampa was enjoying something of a cultural revival. The report mentioned the singer Tashi Dhondup who was sentenced for 15 months in labor camp for his album Torture Without Trace. In one song Tashi la sang:  “Remembering my brother in exile / I carry a bag of tsampa on my back / And take this road to / The western land of scholars.”

Perhaps we could join our brothers and sisters in Tibet in this culinary revival. The health benefits are undeniable and tsampa has the unqualified blessings (jhinlap) of the FDA, which many Chinese food imports deservedly don’t.  Eating a tsampa meal, even occasionally, would be a way to remind ourselves, especially our children, of our Tibetan heritage. Perhaps we could do it on Losar. In old Tibet your always had the Sozi Masen banquet on Losar (especially at the Potala) even if other bills-of-fare were enjoyed on that day.

Jews eat unleavened bread at their Passover meal to remember the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt to the promised land. So perhaps we could incorporate tsampa in our March 10th breakfast. This is just a suggestion. I’m sure readers will be able to come up with other and better ideas of how we could create a meaningful ritual meal for that day.  Send in your thoughts. Any information you might have on tsampa-manufacturers or retailers in the USA, India and Europe and other related subjects would be really welcome. Thanks.

Note: This is the first of a Four Part series on Tibetan culinary culture. So many people have given me bits of information at one time or the other that I haven’t quite been able to keep track of everything. A full acknowledgement will appear at the end of Part IV.


99 Replies to “In Defence and Tibetan Cooking (Part I)”

  1. Well, I am learning to love tsampa, but feel you have to be born Tibetan to look forward to eating it every day! Everything you say is so true and it is a fantastic food, ideally suited to life on the highest part of the world. I have a friend here in Melbourne who makes it for the Tibetan community, so when I am missing Amdo, he very kindly gives me some. Great article, look forward to the next instalment.

  2. There is a saying the real test of a Tibetan is if s/he can differentiate the head and tail of paag. Maybe we can test it here!

  3. Thank you for this great piece that whets my appetite!

    I love tsampa, but I must admit that after a while it gets boring, especially for someone like me who grew up with a large variety of different food. I lived on tsampa for nearly two months while traveling to Mount Kailash. I had strictly nothing else: tsampa for breakfast, for lunch and for diner. In addition, the only butter I managed to purchase from the district town was definitely rancid (with mold and a blue cheese flavor). Yet, with this diet and the altitude, I never felt healthier in my life.

    In Lhasa, my favorite breakfast has always been yogurt and tsampa — the kind of Muesli we eat in Switzerland, but without the fruits… I forgot from where I got the tsampa, but I would buy two jars of yogurt every morning from the Barkhor, after enjoying early circumambulations and juniper burning.

    Finally, I remember a friend from Chile who, after tasting Tibetan tsampa, was not only happy to share ethnic origins with Tibetans, but also to share a culinary delicacy. According to him, kids from Chile would enjoy a meal made out of roasted barley, milk and sugar.

  4. Thanks for laboring over such a boring and mundane subject as Tsampa and making it into a lively piece. I can only add that the process of kneading tsampa into Pak in a leather bag deserved some more attention. As a child, I remember eating Pak only from a Tsamphug or tsamkhug. Only the grownups ate from a bowl. For the kids, Ama would prepare Pag in a large bag and roll it around the corners of the bag to individual cakes that she would then distribute. As you grow older, you get your own tsampa bag, more like a rite of passage. When working outside, the tsamkhug makes for easy carry. It is a smaller size to fit one meal and tucks neatly in your ampag, chuba pouch. When it is time for lunch, you just take it out and add water, and lunch is ready.

  5. It is a great travel meal. We once took only tsampa and green chillies on a camping trip. I must say it was quite delicious but it could be that we were really hungry. I wonder if the hobbits would have fared much better if they had taken Tsampa along with them instead of the Elf cakes. Something to think about, I guess.

  6. Tsampa – the healthy convenient food!
    Your regular bread package or cereal box will have a whole paragraph listing hard to pronounce words ( chemicals) that were incorporated into its processing. But your bowl of breakfast tsampa will be just that; plus the tea, butter etc.
    And who wouldn’t like the taste of ‘tsok’ – the sacramental cakes; sweetened with jaggery; and ‘tsam-thug’ a favourite comfort food!!!
    Yes, and If you’re new to ‘tsampa’ it does take time to cultivate a taste for it.

  7. Great post – I’m very pleased to read another very educational post about Tsampa and Tibetan food after High Peaks Pure Earth’s above mentioned article.

    I couldn’t say that I was a Tibetan who ever ate Tsampa in all those variations as described in this post. But I do appreciate Tsampa as part of my culture.

    Creating my own version of Tsampa eating, lately I have been experimenting with Tsampa in sweet bakery. And I must say it is great: cheese cake, Austrian nut brioche and moist and delicious chocolate chip Tsampa cookies. There’s no limit to Tsampa in the kitchen!

    Looking forward to the next posts.

  8. Thanks for the great piece about Tsampa! Tsampa unlike other ‘fancy’ foods of different culture is so simple and plain that it appears to have become least preferred food of most of our younger generation. I hope with the elucidation of its nutritional values, if not for other reasons, Tibetans would eat more tsampa and less of processed ‘fast-foods’.

    I’m a tsampa lover myself and so is my family. Tsampa in ‘ari’ is almost a rarity and most of our supply came from India when I visited my folks on vacation. Recently we learnt that a portable ‘tsampa machine’ was available in market, so we bought one online at for almost $250. It’s so easy to use you get tsampa in less than 15 minutes! The only thing that might bother you is its noise when it mills the barley. But I assure you it’s no way near as loud as music we play at losar dance parties 🙂 Thanks to the machine we now mill our tsampa at home and never run out of supply!

  9. Maybe you should start selling it too, Sangay. After this article, you could make a killing. 😛 In Toronto, we can buy Tsampa. I don’t know if anybody else would like it this way but I prefer Tsampa with hot fried chillies. No? Ok, it is just me then. haha

  10. This Tsampa eulogy was an interesting read. You may find it quite amusing to know that other non-Tibetans in my locality have also taken from us this amazing Tsampa. Myself living as a Khator Tibetan in exile, I know Nepalese and madhesis have also developed quite a liking for this wholesome stuff and what is even more amusing to observe is that they almost not take it as regular food stuff but rather a nutritional or energy food. They tend to go for Tsampa when they are sick, for their oldies and especially for infants. Thus Tsampa these is popularly known to them as ‘(tibetan) Bhote Cerelac’ in kador-gang-sum.

  11. I agree to disagree a bit with JN on his disagreement with HH’s 3rd observartion of borrowing the best of culinary culture from neighborhood China. Losar is round the corner and I am pretty sure Tibetans all arounds gonna enjoy variety of Chinese/Tibetan food like all sorts of Thukpa, Momo,Sha Bhaklep, Tingmo et al. Gen JN n fren would relish traditional Tsampa with rancid butter, some beef offal and his beloved brandy for sure and yep at least an item of Tsampa meal on table to remind ourself of being tsamzen is nice.

  12. it almost sounds like a eulogy when Tsampa is already alive and kicking. I always have a bag of tsampa at home in Toronto and usually take a jamdur for breakfast from time to time. I like it with a butter and sugar. Recently one of our relatives gave me a bag of Tsampa made in Minnesotta. No matter what, I make it point to eat a Tsampa meal complete with boiled meat, supen and beer on Losar. Only once did I miss the beer ingredient, when I had to report to work on a losar day. thanks to this Tsampai tenchhoe. I have other stories with Tsampa like tsamgam will cure common cold and headache. I think we should put this tenchoe in a sungshuk somewhere so that posterity will carry on this tradition.

  13. JN, I am convinced that your reverence of His Holiness is just a mere facade because a blatant disrespect at every given opportunity does not sit well with majority of the Tibetans. The first paragraph to this “Tsampa writing” referencing HHDL is obviously just a tactic to sensationalize and get the reaction of “I have to read what JN has in store for us this time around”. An inferiority complex: I just hope you will not stoop any lower in the near future. You or your supporters might argue that it was just relating to HH’s regard for Tibetan food, but I beg of you to refrain from such smear tactics.

  14. Someone better write a serious Tibetan cookbook. All that is out there is just entertaining but not very educative. After all food is an important part of any country’s culture. I think it should be you Jamyang la!

  15. Tsampa surely is something that unites us Tibetan of three provinces as a culture, a nation and an identity. It will be a wonderful idea to eat Tsampa not only on March 10 but also on every wednesday to commemorate “Lhakar” (ལྷག་དཀར་) or “White Wednesday,” as Wednesday is considered special by Tibetans because it is the Dalai Lama’s soul day.

    “Lhakar is a homegrown people’s movement that has emerged in Tibet. In spite of China’s intensified crackdown, Tibetans have embraced the power of strategic nonviolent resistance. Every Wednesday, a growing number of Tibetans are making special effort to wear traditional clothes, speak Tibetan, eat in Tibetan restaurants and buy from Tibetan-owned businesses. They channel their spirit of resistance into social, cultural and economic activities that are self-constructive (promoting Tibetan language, culture and identity) and non-cooperative (refusing to support Chinese institutions and businesses). Though humble in scale, these noncooperation tactics hark back to the Indian boycott of British textile at a turning point in the Indian freedom struggle.” -

  16. Tsering la,
    Its great what Lhakar is doing. I just ordered some tsampa from Berkeley and will have a paag meal on Wednesday with my family. Please let your colleagues know that they have our support. Thukche che!!

  17. As a kid in TCV school (upper), I don’t remember the story that goes with the song (couplet) but I do remember the lines, and remember it slightly differntly from yours like this:

    Aw aw aw
    Paag dag-ga chig tay da
    Kaycha nyenpo chig shay go
    Aw aw aw

  18. I love you Jamyang Norbu! You’re true voice of Tibetan People inside Tibet. We are seeking to own back our Country. I can say that in region of Tibet most of people I met, they want recountry Tibet.

    Keep your good work and we side of you! China will change our time will come soon or later! His Holiness and Central Government’s middle way is for temporary! that is for sure

  19. When I read about Tsampa, It arose me kind of high feeling often drive me back to my childhood, where I still remember my mom always gave us (chamdur) for breakfast and (pak) as a arrival meal after I went after the sheep and goats for whole day in the wild vallley of changthang.
    Regualer chamdur is just tsampa added little butter tea and churshib. On special occasion, mom would gave us (chamdur marchug) regular chamdur added slice of butter. It was once in blue moon. we took lots pleasure of its yummy taste.
    I used to wonder about the grinder ( ranthak) which occupied special space among all belonging. we used to placed it all above. it so heavy.
    All I want to say is thanks for great gift for losar.

  20. Jamyang la, thanks again for another great post – it brought back fond memories of my siblings and i as kids, enjoying tsampa with a sprinling of sugar as tea time snack. Looking forward to part 2. Chop, chop… hurry up will you! I’ve got front row seats. 😎

  21. huge chunks of lean beef boiled with raddish goes grt with pak! adding a handful of tsampa to wen you fry green chilies with onions n tomatoes taste grt n can go with rice or any other meals. those who cannot eat the actual chilies coz its too hot can add a spoonful of the chili fried paste to their meals with sweet lassi in a tall spacious glassy cups, salad n a fruit works wonders. if you have stomach acidity issues(phowa) tsampa is gud to calm it down n prevent ulser. tsampa neutralizes the stomach acid far better than regular meals. tsampa is a grt heat generator therefore very good in cold climate. n also wen i am broke i go for a pak meal n you wont feel hunger for the next 24 hours! its heavy but you wont grow fat either. thnx for the post.

  22. @tdg la. I think this piece can be aptly called Tsampa eulogy for its importance in Tibetan food culture and thus JN has written every aspect of this very important staple food at length and me n alike further goes in admiration for it. But then there is no denying in the fact that it has already lost its prominence in Tibetan kitchen. People seldom eat Tsampa now a days and I don’t remember when I ate it last time. I only remember that our hostel food used to be meager n was simply not enough to satisfy the excruciating teenage appetite. So underprivileged kids like me would rely on our Tsampa stock stuffed in our not so small trunk to satisfy our tummy. We would also barter our stuff for some other items with those smart boys to satisfy our hapless soul. Thanks to Tsampa!

  23. Let me step into this in a somewhat (surprise) contrarian mode. Here are just some thoughts I had after reading part one of your essay; perhaps what you say in subsequent parts will respond to or (perish the thought!) demolish my comments here.

    It is one thing to speak in praise of tsampa; you’ll get no argument from me on that. It’s another to come to the defense of what one construes as an entire national cuisine. And that seems to be the thrust of what you’re trying to do when you title your piece “In Defence of Tibetan Cooking,” in homage to Orwell and his own fight against the low standing generally accorded English cuisine. Jamyang-la, if you have to defend a culinary tradition, the argument is already lost. Individual foods taste good or they don’t. It’s possible for an individual’s tastes to change, of course, and for someone to begin to appreciate something later in life that was previously unpalatable. But that change is, shall we say, gut-level. It’s certainly not cerebral. The bottom line is someone can’t just be argued out of a decision rendered by his or her taste buds. It’s like other visceral pleasures: music, humor, etc. Indeed, defending a tradition of cooking is akin to having to explain a joke: a joke in need of explaining is a failed joke.

    This goes too for Orwell’s “In Defence of English Cooking.” If you look closely at that essay—a very short essay, by the way—you’ll see that it is heavy with references to puddings, sauces and other things that, while English, don’t stack up to the substantial and varied main courses needed to constitute a gourmet school of national cuisine akin to those of China, France, Italy, and India. Orwell’s inclusion of haggis (a dish that served as a running joke in Mike Myers So I Married an Axe Murderer) in an essay on English cooking should be a clear signal that his was a lost cause. Were the essay to be published today I can only assume there would be denunciations from the Scottish Parliament accusing one Mr. Eric Blair of poaching in Scotland in order to fill up his meager menu of edible English cuisine.

    This is not to say there aren’t good—nay, delicious!—Tibetan dishes. Thukpa and momo come most easily to mind (and allow me to plug the fantastic thenthuk served at Anyetsang’s Little Tibet restaurant here in Bloomington, Indiana), though in both cases they represent Tibetan variants of dishes—hearty soups and dumplings—that are typologically present over a wide geographical expanse stretching from Mongolia through Southeast Asia. But the sum total of these still doesn’t add up to a refined national cuisine of distinction. And don’t throw boiled meat into the equation! That’s hardly likely to convince the producers of Iron Chef to add an Iron Chef-Tibetan to their line-up of Iron Chef-Japanese, Iron Chef-French, Iron Chef-Chinese and Iron Chef-Italian. (Note that there is no Iron-Chef-English in residence at Kitchen Stadium, the putative home of this Japanese program…) In the U.S. most Tibetan restaurants, while serving some fine Tibetan dishes like the aforementioned momo and thukpa, often supplement their menus with Indian, Chinese or Thai cuisine, or else come up with their own fusion dishes (particularly in cosmopolitan Western cities). Then there’s that odd concoction, Tibetan vegetarian cuisine. Veg momos? Which chol-kha is responsible for that?

    Well, adaptation is inevitable under the circumstances of exile in India and the Tibetan-Western interface. After all, beef is off the menu in India (which is perhaps why dried meat is not something Westerners remember from their sojourns in Dharamsala). Then again, momos are an interesting case: in many places in India one increasingly finds Indians making and selling momos at stalls and stands on busy streets.

    But this still doesn’t add up to a refined national cuisine for Tibet anymore than what Orwell was able to hunt up made one for England. (Haggis, really!)

    That said, let me return to what I stated at the beginning. I can only concur with your praise of tsampa. The quote from Peter Fleming has long been a favorite of mine, for I’ve also, like Christophe, enjoyed the versatility of tsampa: mixed in with tea, with yoghurt, with… yes, instant coffee (and sugar) even. And day after day (mostly for breakfast) it was never boring. At the outset of my first visit to Tibet, Ling Rinpoche in Labrang Tashikhyil asked me for my impressions so far and I mentioned that I hadn’t found any tsampa. He laughed at my response and had a very large sack of it brought to me. It was delicious. And often I’ve wished it were easily available in the US!

  24. Elliot,
    You make me feel like a magician at a birthday party, who has his show preempted by some wise-ass kid shouting “I know how its done, its a just a trick.”

    Sure, Orwell didn’t do a very good job of defending English cooking against French culinary snobbery, but his was just a brief op-ed, while my four-part opus will be the last word on the subject. Those of you (especially Tibet experts) who think that Tibetan cooking can be reduced to boiled meat, thukpa and momo, just wait till part IV is posted, when all will be revealed, and long-suffering humanity will finally have a healthy and delicious alternative to msg and cat-meat.

  25. Jamyang la,

    Thanks for this great piece and I am looking forward to reading the other parts. You shine, when you write such things.
    But to be frank, Jamyang la, do not write on Buddhism. You write everything wrong. If you must write, consult some Geshes, I think, you have Geshe friends, before you write.


  26. This message was sent to my on Facebook by Tsultrim Palden la.
    Jamyang la, Tsampa’s address is 178 Jameson Ave, Toronto Apt # 503 – Phone # 416-516-9433.
    Here in Boston, they are couple of Tsampa sellers but I don’t know they will shipped. Good luck..And, Thank you very much I really enjoyed reading your post.

  27. Although born and brought up in India, i am a loyal tsampa eater. I have stock of Tsampa and butter in my office shelf. Whenever we have limited time, whereas the GOSER eats sandwiches and hamburger, i take out my tsampa, prepare a hot tea in office kitchen and in few minutes everything is settled. After reading your article, i am enjoying it all the more…thanks a lot. p.s just finished a Jamdhur while writing this comment….

  28. I live here in America, and I’ve always had a fondness for tsampa. I think this is mainly because my mother made sure that we always had a supply of tsampa in the house. My favorite is chamdur. Though I also like saengon (don’t know if I’m spelling it right). I’ve heard that it’s popular in the Kyirong region of southern Tibet. Looking forward to parts II-IV!

  29. Late Prof. Dawa Norbu once said, had it not been the Buddhism, Tibet has nothing good to brag about; tsampa isn’t a delicious food, nor chupa a nice dress. However, Jamyang Norbu says, Tsampa is delicious.

    In reality, tsampa is a very primitive food, perhaps a prehistoric food. It is a kind of food that belongs to the time before the birth of human civilization. There is no doubt that art of making tsampa is antique.

    Come on, let us be honest. As far as food is concerned, China is the best. What the Dalai Lama says is true.

  30. No no no..The best food on earth is in South India, just at the corner of movie theatre serving ragi muddey(same as our parg but made out of ragi) with mutton curry,pack of whisky,onion and limbu as salad.

    Chinese delicacies like monkey brain,snakes,and all the variety of ‘buu’ they eat..yucks!

  31. We in the US are just now finding out there is more than Tacos and Burritos to Mexican cuisine….a universe more of native Mexican dishes. So it is with Tibet. Looking forward to the coming articles on food!

  32. A question for the tsampa-literate…it seems that plain, unroasted barley flour is widely available. A lot of stateside sattu recipes call for making sattu yourself by buying barley flour, then roasting it in a pan.

    Do you think the characteristics of this kind of roasted barley-flour (instead of roasted-barley flour) would be acceptable for tsampa? Or is it important to roast before grinding, as opposed to after?


  33. Jamyang Norbula
    This is a great write up on the virtues of Tsampa, I could not think of adding anything other than what you have already mentioned. By the way, I am highly amused that you and Mel Goldstein at least agreed on the “virtues of Tsampa”. Looking forward to your next postings regarding Tibetan food.

  34. @ #39 SHEILA
    ‘Ney’ (Barley kernel) is ROASTED before it is ground to actual edible Tsampa flour.
    Once you’ve eaten this good stuff you naturally gravitate towards other whole grains and away from REFINED Cusine……I mean Foods.

  35. Jamyang Norbu la,

    I can’t imagine that you have again misunderstood His Holiness’ words. When His Holiness says “best of food from China”, of-course, he doesn’t refer to Tsampa, but all other food other than Tsampa. Even a child knows Tsampa is our staple or traditional food. After going through this article, I felt that it was not at all necessary to drag His Holiness into it. I have found little to no relevance. Or you must have another intention behind it.

    At the same time, I want to express my deep thanks for such an educational article. I love reading such articles. I have been on Tsampa for most of my breakfasts, but didn’t have its background information. Thanks for your labour and time.

    I love you for this article, but not for unnecessarily dragging His Holiness into it.

    Please, keep writing.

  36. @ Rewalsar 34

    It is true that Tsampa will not be served in a gourmet restaurant in Paris any time in foreseeable future but one cannot deny the nourishing qualities and the simplicity of the food. Tsampa, Dry Meat and Tea are what kept the Tibetans going for hundreds if not thousands of years. The simplicity of our diet is the reason why we never experienced famine in our history until the Chinese came to our land.

    The variety in Chinese cuisine you see today is the result of the extravagant habits of their ruling class combined with the desperation and starvation of their masses at numerous turns in their history. One reason I am proud to be a tibetan is that our Supreme Leader eats Tsampa like the common man in the street.

    I haven’t read Prof. Dawa Norbu’s statement as you have mentioned in your post but if it is true, he may have been addressing a non-tibetan audience. Besides preference in food is a highly subjective matter.

    By the way a sort of advice to all: don’t eat dry-meat dried in the tropical countries like India. I consider it a health hazard. Trust me it is not the same as the one dried in the dry climate of Tibet. Stay clear of it unless you want to ingest something else along with the meat. Something that will hatch in your intestine and start a family.

  37. @33 yes sengong is great, may not look so depending upon people’s imagination! i like it occasionally as special dinner with shosha-mandur n a plate of fried beef. if u dont like shosha-mandur, u can go for beef green chilly gravy with beaten ember cooked tomatoes. many elders from different regions like it in shijak. perhaps becoz u dont have to chew, just swallow! tibetan troops at 22 go crazy about it! to them its a speciality –a break from rice n dal. poor people in karnataka n in nepal eat it usually. n also tibetans living on the nepal borders like kyirongs luv it. the best sengong i had was in kathmandu at a kyirong restaurant. it cost rs 100 per plate in 1999. u could easily get 4 buff fried rice for rs100 then. i think sengong is a nepali invention. barley cum millet cum corn sengong is the best! esp in cold climate! wat a heat generator!
    ok after you are done with food atricles pliz write in defense of 10,000 yr old BON religion of tibet, N later in defense of tibetan paktsa n other dresses!

  38. Shamar Rinpoche has recently posted a statement about the Karmapa issue,

    In his statement, he comes up with a wild story about how Jamyang Norbu is colluding with Tai Situ Rinpoche, and some other crazy story about how Jamyang Norbu sued his father about a house.

    Shamar already has a bad reputation but now is dragging everyone else into his mess. What should we make of Shamar’s recent statement?

  39. at face value i did suspect shamar or shugyi on the day things were blown out of propotion by ajtak but on second thougt, una checkpoint does frisk those entering or exiting punjab/himachal border. hungry indian police would question the source of even 1 lac! so one thing led to the other. 1 crore seizure led to other events. ofcourse karmapa is clean but becoz it happened on his complex it made things look bad. is it really 6 crore foreign currency? hh said on tv that karmapa needed to creat a trust but karmapa trust exists already. slowly but surely police will start questioning other big monasteries if they too hav trust or bank accounts so things stay in tax officials’ eyesight.

  40. “My” governor just tried to abolish labor unions, and has put the National Guard on alert in Wisconsin (!) I can’t think how to forward the Tibetan cause during the mass rally at the capitol, except maybe hand out tons of free tsampa treats.

    Would that be enlightening, or just create more confusion, lol?

    As for the Karmapa Event, I was satisfied to see several news outlets openly pointing the finger for the ruckus back at Beijing. The public is somewhat educated to China’s habit of attacking HHDL’s reputation; now they’ll see any Tibetan leader (Karmapa, Katri) will be in that same trying position. I think it’s good to raise awareness of CCP political tentacles, so the public won’t be as gullible over “Tibetan scandals.”

    Thank you for the advice that the barley needs to for sure be roasted first – maybe the answer is to grind it ourselves? There seem to be quite a few suppliers of whole, roasted barley (for beer-making).

    Seems to be $1.50-$2/lb, not bad. Do you think the way they roast it is acceptable for tsampa purposes?

  41. Shiela… seriously

    “As for the Karmapa Event, I was satisfied to see several news outlets openly pointing the finger for the ruckus back at Beijing. The public is somewhat educated to China’s habit of attacking HHDL’s reputation; now they’ll see any Tibetan leader (Karmapa, Katri) will be in that same trying position. I think it’s good to raise awareness of CCP political tentacles, so the public won’t be as gullible over “Tibetan scandals.””

    How does raising paranoia about the PRC in India further the Chinese cause? Not to mention that you have to assume the Chinese have some sway over RAW if this really pans out the way you described.

    China is rather leery about creating points of friction with India on the Tibetan issue, and India has been very self conscious to not provoke any response from China.

    This whole thing happened because there is substantial undeclared foreign currency found on the premise, and people started throwing accusations all over the place.

  42. Dear Tsampa Eaters,

    Root cause analysis of the karmic ‘Karmapa Event’ indicates this latest financial controversy to hit the Tibetan exile community is due to nothing more than sloppy trust accounting practices and a failure of compliance with India’s foreign currency regulations. HHDL has conceded as much Himself in a TV interview. Most likely there was a tip-off from someone.

    It’s not the first time the community has been involved in a large financial controversy. Such controversies are grist to the mill for India’s sensation-seeking tabloid press. You are getting the attention you deserve on this one I’m afraid.

    The whole issue of rigorous and transparent accounting for donations to monasteries, associations and NGO’s in the Tibetan Diaspora has required urgent attention for decades. However it seems that the tightening of financial controls is presently not top of mind with any of the parties involved along the money trail. Sloppy cash accounting, lack of independent auditing and non-existent transparency allows convenient misappropriation by those who get to handle the transactions. This looseness appears willful and widespread: how many Tibetan NGO’s, kyidus and monasteries issue independently audited financial statements each year? How many donors amongst Tibetans and foreigners demand these statements? Sure, in some instances some of these organisations might issue something made to look like a set of accounts, but are these independently audited against accounting standards and compliance requirements? I’ll acknowledge that in some instances there is a strong culture of transparency and compliance – but its all too rare.

    As for the TGIE, reincarnated as the Central Tibetan Administration … what do they actually administer? Seems they certainly can’t oversee getting simple accounting principles enforced.
    The TGIE/CTA appears to have no interest or expertise to implement any form of oversight, let alone the will to create and enforce a mandate that requires independent auditing and publishing of accounts by Tibetan organisations on a regular basis. How can NGO’s etc. be compelled to comply? Simple: use the TGIE/CTA website to list the names of complying organisations and widely encourage donors to only deal with these organisations. Also require / ensure complying accounts are available publicly.

    The donations in question can be substantial, with huge donations from Taiwan and Singapore far exceeding the trickle of funds coming from the comparatively dirt-poor Western Buddhists, not to mention dwarfing the yuan flowing from occupied Tibet. Without proper transparency, the sources, amounts and the eventual fate of these donated funds can only be imagined.

    My concern is that too many exile Tibetans want a slice of this action rather than taking a principled stand and demanding that standards are tightened – therefore no pressure is mounted to implement effective accounting and compliance controls. Unresolved, the problem will therefore keep occuring and the Tibetan exiles will be increasingly branded as people who cannot be trusted with money. There is many a nice kangsar in the exile communities funded by accounting slights of hand.

    My weary view is that there is not much appetite to comply with higher forms of ethical financial practice amongst the Tibetan exiles. Therefore, poor HHDL will keep getting embarassed by this form of monkey business amongst His flock. No wonder He wants to retire …

  43. As you know, it furthers the Chinese cause by making India less congenial towards a Tibetan leader–out of fear of China’s bullying.

    I see little leeriness on Beijing’s end regarding friction with Tibetans – Beijing created huge messes with pressuring India to restrict the Karmapa’s travel. Messes not just for the Karmapa, but the people who wanted to hear him speak, the hosts in the various places he was hoping to travel, etc. Very petty, very disruptive, very messy.

    Have to disagree on one more point–the amount found on the premise was not “substantial.”

    What I do see as substantial is 1) India’s fairly swift clearing of the Karmapa’s name, showing good backbone in face of the CCP bullying, and 2) some media’s rather swift interpretation of the “scandal” as a sham. A stronger India and a smarter media are both good things.

  44. The figure I have heard is between 1.3 – 1.6 MILLION USD equivalent. That’s quite significant for undeclared cash holding.

    “India’s fairly swift clearing of the Karmapa’s name, showing good backbone in face of the CCP bullying”

    This is rather naive, if not out right dishonest. India has ALWAYS been rather suspicious of Dorje ever since he left China without much difficulty. In fact, this whole mess originated in the Indian mass media, so I’m not quite sure why you’re trying to pin this on the CCP beside the obvious reason of aligning your interpretation to your rather limited perspective.

    I would recommend that you read SCMP’s article on this event:
    “Many accusations but few facts as Karmapa accused of spying”

    There are many more worthwhile and legitimate grievances you can raise against the CCP as far as Tibet goes. This is not one of them.


  46. Dear Mr. Jamyang Norbu

    I hope all is well.

    This is Byung-goo, Lee. I’m a member of Rangzen in Korea someone who supports Tibet’s independence. This is our website We have had movement for 4 years in Korea.

    We would like to ask you to write an article for your perspective about political situation of Tibet. we would like to talk more detail via E-mail. would you please let me know your E-mail adress? Our E-mail adress is ‘’

    I look forward to hear from you.
    Thank you.

    Best regard
    Byung-goo, Lee

    Office : 151-6 Nuha-dong, Jongrogu, SEOUL, KOREA
    PHONE : 82-2-722-0366
    E-MAIL :


    BTW The topic of this particular Blog was ‘FOOD’.
    All the speculations that folks just simply can’t hold back – —All in poor taste.

  48. སྐུ་ཞབས་འཇམས་དབྱང་ནོར་བུ་ལེགས།
    སྐུ་ཉིད་ཀྱི་བྲིས་པས་རྩམ་པའི་སྐོར་ཀྱི་ཞིབ་འཇུག་དཔྱད་རྩོམ་དེ། ཧ་ལས་བས་གཏིང་ཟབས་པ་ཁ་གསལ་པ་། གོ་ན་སྙན་པ་། ཀློག་ན་བདེ་སྐྱིད་པ་ཞིག་ཡིན་པས་མ་ཚད་ང་ཚོའི་རང་ཉིད་ཀྱི་བོར་ཟིན་པ་འམ། བོར་ལ་ཉེ་བའི་རིགས་གཞུང་དང་གོན་གཤེས་དག་ལ་སྲོག་གི་དབང་པོ་ཞིག་སླར་ཡང་སྤྱིན་འདུག་པས་བཀའ་དྲིན་སྙིང་ཐག་པ་ནས་ཞུ། དེ་དང་ཆབས་ཅིག་ཞུ་བར་འདོད་པ་ནི་། བདག་ལ་མཚོན་ན་རང་གི་ཕ་མས་ཡང་མས་ནས་རྒྱུད་པ་ཕ་ཟས་དམ་པ་དེ་རྒྱུན་མ་ཆད་པར་མི་རབས་གསར་བར་མཁོ་སྤྲོད་བྱེད་ཐུབ་ན་བསམ་ནས། འདས་བས་ལོ་ངོ་གསུམ་ཙམ་རང་འབད་རྩོན་གང་ཐུབས་ཀྱི་ཨ་རིས་ནང་དྲ་ཐོག་ནས་རྩམ་པ་འགྲེམས་ཚོང་བྱེད་གིན་ཡོད་། ཉོ་མཁན་ཤིན་དུ་ཉུང་ཉུང་རེད་ལ། དེ་ལས་ཤིན་དུ་བློ་ཕམ་པ་ཞིག་ལ་ཉོ་ཤིན་དུ་ཉུང་ཉུང་དེས་གྲལ་ན་བོད་མི་དེ་ལས་ཀྱང་ཉུང་ཉུང་རེད་། འོན་ཀྱང་བདག་གི་ཐོག་མའི་དམིགས་ཡུལ་ཏེ་། རང་གི་རིགས་གཞུང་དང་། སྲོད་རྒྱུན་དེ་མི་རབས་རྗེས་མར་དར་སྤེལ་ཀྱི་འདི་ཤེས་ཐོག། མུ་འཐུད་ནས་བསྡད་ཡོད་། དེ་ནི་ངས་གནས་ཚུལ་ཙམ་ཡིན།
    སྐུ་ཉིད་ད་ལྟ་བཞུགས་ས་གང་ཡིན་ལ་ངེས་ཆ་མེད་། གལ་དེ་ཨ་རིས་ནང་གནས་གཞུགས་ཡོད་ན་ང་སྐུ་ཉིད་ཀྱི་ཁ་བྱང་ཞིག་གནང་དང་བདག་གིས་སྐུ་ཉིད་ཀྱི་རིན་ཐང་བྲལ་པས་དཔྱད་རྩོམ་དེ་ལ་ཐུགས་རྗེ་ལེགས་འབུལ་གྱི་ཚབས་དུ་། བོད་ཀྱི་རྩམ་པ་ཏོག་ཙམ་འབུལ་གི་ཡིན།


    དོན་འགྲུབ་ཚེ་རིང་། སྦྲ་ནག་ཚང་།

  49. Not only Jamyang Norbu but i also heard Dolma gyari is colluding with Situ Rimpoche offering to help him in any matter dealing with Indian authorities.So must be the wind is blowing in that direction. so let us also all flock to there. sorry i got sidetrack i actually came here to mention about Tibetan shepherd pie. Can Jamyang Nobula write about that too?

  50. My sis reminds me to be wary of just “any old” barley, and that lots of barley is full of pesticides, so better to buy organic.

    In trying to find some organic barley, I came across a reference to Peru – they call roasted barley meal “mashka,” a very old traditional food.

    These guys have organic, roasted barley for $1.50/half pound, not too horrible:

    How finely should one grind tsampa?

  51. Does this sound about right?

    How to Make Tsampa

    *250g organic barley
    *Large bowl
    *Large flat iron skillet
    *Wooden utensil (fork, spatula, spoon)
    *Large flat surface, covered in a clean cloth
    *Coffee/spice grinder

    Pour barley into bowl; cover with cold water & soak 12 – 24 hours. After soaking, pour into sieve (discard water) and leave to drain well for 10 minutes.

    Heat skillet over medium heat.

    Place a couple handfuls of the soaked barley into heated skillet; stir well with wooden utensil.

    You’ll notice the following:

    Barley goes from white/opaque to translucent, pearl-like in colour!

    Keep stirring to keep grains from sticking together (or to pan). Gradually, they will turn white again.

    Keep stirring until they’re a nice nutty brown colour, like hazelnut skins.

    When roasted to your satisfaction (they will flow very loosely around the pan and sound “gravelly”) transfer them onto your flat surface, on which you’ve put a clean cloth. Spread them out to cool.

    Continue with the remaining barley until all roasted & cooling. When cold, transfer to a clean jar.

    To grind it into tsampa flour, I have found that food whizzers and processors aren’t good; you really need a spice grinder or electric coffee grinder to make the flour fine enough.

    (Many thanks to Federica!)

  52. Most Tibetans are pretty savvy on the topic of ‘dried meat’ and its ills….since many, many years now.
    Most (settled in India) have become semi vegetarian and have had to become pretty creative with their cuisine.
    Waiting to see if some of these appear next on the ‘menu’.
    But in the West the new ‘ills’ are ‘processed foods’ and ‘refined foods; i.e. refined sugars and carbohydrates………

  53. It is great that you write about tsampa. I hope some one else will write about mar and chura. Already someone was talking about shakampo. Indeed, these are the traditional means of survival for most Tibetans until 1959. It is clear from these foods that the time has stopped, if not became stagnant, for a long period of time in Tibet, so no development.

    Instead of writing about tsampa and stuff, I think, there is a big task waiting for you (Jamyang Norbu). You should prepare to become the Defence Minister of the next term Tibetan Government in exile. With the cooperation of somebody very strong (you know what I mean), you should work to revive the Chushigangdrug Command, and organise a strong armed force of the young and energetic Tibetans, who otherwise are killing time by doing unskilled or partly skilled jobs (just for survival) in the cities such as New York, and Toronto. Also there are a big bunch of alike in Gangkyi, Majnukatilla and other Tibetan centres in India and Nepal. It is possible to do so with the next government, because it is going to be the one of a greater democracy, and many Tibetans (specially the youths) want this.

    In addition to the already existing non-violent movement of the middle path policy,we are badly in need of a strong armed force of our own. Had it not been people like Subash Chandra Boss, Chanrashekhar Azad, Rani Lakshmibhai and others who believe in gun, Mahatma Gandhi’s task would have been far more difficult than it actually did.

    I think You can do it, because you have the courage and gut, and big bunch of Tibetan youths are behind you.

    Jai Hanuman ki!

  54. Great piece, Jamyangla. I have been thinking of incorporating this and your great ‘Kha-bSe’ article as educational tools for our community kids. Will try to do a community March 10th Tsampa Breakfast, to get us in the mood for Tomkhor too.
    Some expressions I remember hearing from my late mother (it may not be completely accurate)-
    ‘Nangla tsampa me pa, Gigyung tsam rae yok yok’ and
    ‘Ja chik me pa mathok
    Mar chik yo ro jay na
    Tsamkhuk drongpa ne yar ne
    Thabja tong go du gay’
    I will leave the translating to you.
    I did not see you mention ‘ma-pag’ where tsampa is blended with just butter and sugar without tea, popular I believe in the monasteries.

  55. wow!jamyang la that was a superb article.Though there was so many centres of dharma run by Rinpoches to benefit the world peace.I often wonder how to benefit the world through tibetan food.Now i realised that tsampa is there in all deliciousness and serve many purpose and above all easy to prepare too.

  56. Kalsang la, Thank you for the tsampa related metaphors you remembered from your mother. I would like to request you to please send in your translation of the sayings so that there will be no misunderstanding in the future if I should use them. Of course I will always cite you as the source of the materials.

    I am grateful that you pointed out my omission of “ma-pag”. It was unforgivable. Best of luck with your 10 March Community tsampa breakfast. Because tsampa has a “low glycemic index” and is digested slowly (and thoroughly) the breakfast should keep all of you full for the long march. I remember Nyarong Aten who fought the Chinese in 50s & 60s telling me that in the Changtang although they had plenty of meat because they could hunt, he and his comrades really missed tsampa, because it always kept you full.

    Thanks you everyone for all the information and enthusiasm you have contributed to this post

  57. JN,

    Prof. Sterling may just be too polite in stealing your thunder by exposing a minor flaw you inherited from Orwell. The fatal mistake you have made, as always with any ultra-nationalist and pure-traditionalist ideology, is in overstretching the logic of a minor issue and politicizing what are largely a-political. Even by your long-standing belief that nomadism constitutes the core of Tibetan civilization, your central thesis collapses on the fact the production of barley is, well, the farmer’s, not the normad’s, business. To your dismay, more and more of our neighboring Amdo normads have settled down in permanent homes and chosen to adopt more refined foods and sophisticated methods of cooking. Many young Tibetans now love our Muslim cuisine like pasta and noodles, and enterprising Muslim restaurateurs thrive in such towns in Tibetan heartland as Jekundo. Of course Tibetan farmers in my own town have long adopted a truly multicultural cuisine, with tsampa consumption no longer the centerpiece in their everyday life.

  58. What in the world is a “Muslim Cuisine”? Last time I checked pasta was Italian food and noodle almost always is associated with the Chinese. Oh! Let me guess, is it both of the above except you eat them with the Koran on one hand?

  59. Dear Norbu,
    This is Tilak from, a start up website on Sikkim. Though we do cover stories from Northeast, Tibet, Bhutan and Darjeeling. We find many of your posts, especially the above one really interesting, informative and insightful. We would be glad to have your permission to republish some of your stories on our portal.
    We will give due credit and backlinks for the content we share. But we regret our inability to compensate financially since we are a start up.
    We look forward to hear from you.
    Please mail back at

  60. Thank You for this article! I’m from Poland and yesterday had opportunity to spend Losar in my city on few lectures about Tibetan culture and Tibetan way of New Year celebration. There was some Tibetan cookies to taste, I’m not quite sure (don’t remember name 🙁 ) but it could be home-made khapsays, are they made with tsampa too? Thanks for answer 🙂

  61. Thank you so much for your Tsampa or food blog. It was rich with the answers to so many questions I have had for many many years. As a child I grew up in the US with Barley in stew and soup form without the benefit of roasting.

    Roasting just puts it over the top when it comes to flavor.

    Am looking forward to a Tibetan Cook Book that would contain all the different dishes you have mentioned in this blog. Does one exist?

  62. Ironically, PLA troops in the Korean War soon became “tsampa eaters”, as rice and noodles could not compete in portability or ease of preparation.

    According to one story, when a supply officer from N. China was showing tso-mien (aka fried flour) to his superior, the latter learned not to inhale the hard way.

  63. I recently found out form my father who came to vist me from Lhasa that the Tsampa I bought for him form NYC is Trotsam(wheat tsampa,altought it marked ‘barley’ on the bag ) but not the specail kind(highland Barley) form Utsang area, and he told me don’t eat Trotsam it will cause back pains.
    I was so disapointed because I can’t find any real barley Tsampa here for him, I told him we every thing here including Tsampa and dried beef. And he refuse to eat the dried beef because somebody told him not to eat raw meat no matter it’s dry or frozen in low altitue and warm places or he will get parasites.
    with out Tsampa for him is the end of the world.
    and I feel so sorry that I did’t let him carry some tsampa from Lhasa.

  64. I love to eat Pizza, Sandwitch, all kinds of muslim food, and many of Chinese food as well. But whenever I get tired or sick, the only thing I want to eat is Tsampa and Tsamthuk. Or Bhagthuk.

  65. @Karen Stone
    Hi! I’m in Melbourne and would like to buy some tsampa. Would it be possible for you to give me your supplier’s contact…assuming you’re in Melbourne, Australia?! Many thanks…you can PM me at

  66. I have had tsampa more as a porride during my school days in Kalimpong/Darjeeling but did not like it much. Later, during my professional days as an architect, I had to trek up and down the high altitudes of Khumbu Himal for my projects. My main problem was to be able to enjoy my meals ( dal bhat and sabji)which I had to swollow forcefully just to survive. Due to the high altitude, I could not sleep properly and, since my food intake was minimal, my strength was slowly draining away. One day, my Sherpa guide took pity on my condition and forced me to eat a bowl of tsampa which he kneaded with his dirty fingers mixed with generous helpings of yak butter and tea ( and a dalle khorsani with salt on the side). I almost choked but managed to swollow the entire gruel. I slept like a log that night and felt like I was born in the mountains the next morning. I almost ran all the way to the Base Camp and had no ill effects. Now I make sure that I have my ration of tsampa with me whenever I travel in the mountains. I also carry some good cheese, ground chilli mixed with schechwan pepper as a condiment. I would reccommend this to all travellers in high altitudes. Give me tsampa any day !

  67. Nice article. But Tibetan “cuisine”, like food from Bhutan and Mongolia is quite dismal and non nutritious. The short lifespan of Tibetans lets us know how bad the food really is. Let’s face it, Tibet is not a cuisine culture. They put spiritual issues first and cuisine last.

  68. Food found in grocery stores in developed western countries – even Produce & Bakery sections have plenty of chemicals. The Frozen section – most of the ingredients are chemicals.

    A Chemical used in bathroom cleaners is used in soda pop too – anything goes.

    Cuisine maybe be wonderful – but nutritious?

  69. @87 MARCO
    “Lets face it Tibet is not a cuisine culture”

    WE always face that with pride.
    when I’m not well I get grossed out just thinking of any other food except for our Tibetan food. Sea food and food with aji no motto make me sick.most other food tasting like plastic and I heard they do add some plastic to some bread to beautify it. Organic food is so expensive in here. Back in my home Tibet, the water itself is so rich in minerals, the milk is so tasty and what to say about yak meat. No meat in the world taste like my phayul meat that’s for sure.

  70. While I love Tsampa I agree with Marco. If meat is taken out of the equation there is nothing much of nutritional value in the Tibetan food except in barley. Italian food is the best with fresh pasta, luscious veggies juicy tomatoes and aromatic fresh herbs and spices. And hundreds of different cheeses and vegetables.

  71. dawa,

    I agree – italian is my favourite too from the western fare – olives – with all the spreads- brushetta & tapenade.
    yes the cusine is great- but Marco was zeroing in on ‘nutrition’. And even with home cooked italian etc – Aren’t we eating all the chemicals with the pasta, supposedly fresh vegetables etc etc’ ?

    There is dairy products in the tibetan diet – natural yogurt, milk, cheese.

  72. #89 honey boo –

    Tibetan yak meat is the best.
    I understand why we didn’t use too many spices and sauces to dress up a meat dish. Don’t need any.
    I got to taste some cured leg of lamb (ooops yak) all the way from Tibet many years ago.

  73. Tsundru
    Most serious cooks here use pasta that is freshly made at home just like the way thentuk is made. I agree the meat from Tibet is organic since the animals still graze on pastures but did you ask Tibetans in Tibet how much fertilizer and pesticide they use in their farms? They are using some that are already banned in Europe and the US.

  74. no doubt now chinese must be having their own monsanto in Tibet. monstrous china will not leave anything to nature. they will turn everything upside down if not stopped.

  75. Did you ever publish the other three parts of this fascinating post? If so, would you or someone please provide links to them?

  76. After TSampa and then the recent trend of drinking butter coffee, now the latest is Bone marrow soup. trends come and go but Tibetan staple diet will live on forever.and all organic please.

  77. Dear Sir,
    what a beautiful text! Your elegant, inteligent, sharp and well crafted words is a testament that poetry can well be written in prose for you, Sir, have written an Ode to tsampa and I hail it! Thank you for so much beauty! May Tibetans restore Tibet’s freedom soon, tashi delek, sandra erickson, brazil.

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