June 23, 2019

GETTING THE YAK BUTTER IS TOUGHER...:

Tsampa: The Tibetan Cereal That Helped Spark An Uprising (SUSIE NEILSON, 6/23/19, NPR)

On rare occasions as a kid, Renzin Yuthok and his family got to share a special breakfast. They'd gather around a table in their home in Bellevue, Wash., his dad would roll tsampa flour, butter and tea into balls called pa, and then he'd hand them out to his kids.

The meal served a symbolic purpose for Yuthok: "From a very young age, [Tibetans] are taught that ... reclaiming our homeland ... is what our highest aspiration could be," he says. Yuthok's family fled Tibet in the 1950s, but their breakfast -- and its grounding ingredient, tsampa -- kept him connected to that dream.

The word tsampa in Tibetan usually refers to ground-up, roasted barley flour, although occasionally the flour comes from wheat or another grain. It can be made into cereal, mashed into a poultice or mixed with yak butter and tea to make calorie-dense energy balls for long mountain treks (or breakfast treats for schoolkids). It's tossed into the air at religious ceremonies and can be incorporated into wedding cakes. The Dalai Lama says he eats it for breakfast.

Thanks to its hardiness (it's one of the few cereal crops that can survive on the high, arid and harsh Tibetan Plateau), barley has sustained the Tibetan population for thousands of years. Scientists say the cultivation of barley may have enabled ancient Tibetans to expand their civilization into the Himalayas. Researchers have found barley traces in 2,100-year-old remains of tea, which means it's possible that tsampa was eaten during that time.

But over the last century, tsampa has become even more than a culturally significant staple food. It's become a centerpiece of Tibetan identity and a tool of protest.

You can find it at TJ Maxx sometimes, but it ain't no Maypo.

Posted by at June 23, 2019 7:53 AM

  

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