The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Aug 31, 2011

Tsamba Time

Those of us that went to the North Campus of the University of Delhi in the late 80s (and probably even those of earlier vintage) might recall the Tibetan camp nearby where one could obtain some inexpensive and rather tasty food. The world remains unaware of the tastiness of Tibetan cuisine, and I attribute it to laziness. After all, nearly 80 years ago, Peter Fleming trekked across the land and talked about how a Tibetan staple sustained him:
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.
The non-Tibetan may suffer from a serious lack of expertise in the preparation of barley-based food, and Fleming is kind enough to provide some tips:
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.
(from Shadow Tibet. Check it out for an exemplary exposition on all things tsamba. Man, I'm hungry again.)


sakura said...

I've heard of the Tibetan buttery tea but have never tried it. Also that people's reaction to it is akin to marmite.

Fëanor said...

Not a fan of Marmite. Healthy stuff, I hear.

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