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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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tsampa is the main staple of tibet. The word tsampa means flour made from toasted grain, and the grain most commonly used for the purpose in Tibet is barley. However, tsampa can also be made from wheat, corn, millet, oats, even soya beans.

Tsampa is consumed in several different ways. The simplest is as a drink, made by adding it to cold water or, more commonly, to tea. A soup (tsamtuk) is also made, using butter, soya beans, and cheese (chura). In addition, Tibetans use tsampa flour to make ‘cakes’ such as pag and sengong. Dorje (1985) explains the first of these thus:

This is a very common food of the monks and nuns in Tibet. Each person mixes his own pag in a bowl or cup, but it takes some practice. This is how it is done. When people are served tea, they blow the butter that floats on top to one side and drink the tea. Then when there is just a little tea and the butter left, they add some tsampa. The tsampa is mixed in with one hand rubbing the flour, tea, and butter against the inside of the cup, while the other hand holds the cup and turns it in the opposite direction. When everything is mixed into a stiff dough, the pag can be rolled into little balls and popped into the mouth. Things can be added to make the pag fancy, but basic pag is just butter, tea, tsampa and sugar.