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What Is Tsampa?

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  • Written By: A. Leverkuhn
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 19 September 2016
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Tsampa is an exotic food from the Asian region of Tibet. Various sources refer to this food as a “Tibetan staple”, but according to observations of the average Tibetan, this flour mix is often the sole food source, with some occasional exceptions. Tsampa is a dough or meal made from roasted flour. Barley flour is the usual variety, with wheat and rice flour also used depending upon availability.

In the traditional preparation of this food, the flour mixture is eaten with tea or another drink. The idea is that the eater can dip the flour into the liquid, giving it a good consistency for digestion. Sometimes, other drinks like beer or milk may also be used.

Some additional elements are commonly added to the tsampa. Some cooks use powdered milk. Yak butter is also a common addition. The yak butter allows for better consistency for those who are trying to blend the flour mix into liquids. Some people who are not native to Tibet, or the surrounding areas, find the taste of the yak butter off-putting, so it may not be used in more cosmopolitan versions of the dish.

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In its original environment in Tibet, tsampa is more than just a food. Locals use it with different spices to treat some medical or health conditions. It may be used in local festivals, or in rituals associated with health. According to some reports, Tibetans of past eras carried the mixture everywhere in order to have a readily available food source at any time.

Experts have identified two main versions of tsampa. One is just known as the ‘regular’ version, and another is named after the locality of Amdo. The Amdo version is said to have a nuttier flavor and a coarser texture.

For those who are not used to working with this traditional East Asian food, tsampa can be hard to mix into its liquid elements. Some compare dipping the dough in liquid and blending it, to working with clay. Those who want the best and most palatable consistency for the dish must work to master the art of blending in liquids and solids. Butter of any kind can improve this process.

Some modern versions of tsampa can seek to relieve the idea that advanced skills are necessary to enjoy the dish. Modern manufactured butter may be used in these recipes. Other elements like soy milk, sugar, and salt can also flavor to this food or improve its texture. These may be part of modern versions, such as those found in today’s world cuisine restaurants or eateries with a focus on vegetarianism.

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