A play of tsampa flour graphic with other dishes in a standard Tibetan lunch. Counterclockwise from left: potatoes in turmeric and cumin; liangfen; mung bean preserve and open onions with cilantro, triple-fried in red chili pepper; and black tea. To make pa, a tsampa would be churned with butter, tea, salt and infrequently Tibetan cheese.
Courtesy of Tsering Shakya
Courtesy of Tsering Shakya
Courtesy of Tsering Shakya
On singular occasions as a kid, Renzin Yuthok and his family got to share a special breakfast. They’d accumulate around a list in their home in Bellevue, Wash., his father would hurl tsampa flour, butter and tea into balls called pa, and afterwards he’d palm them out to his kids.
The dish served a mystic purpose for Yuthok: “From a unequivocally immature age, [Tibetans] are taught that … reclaiming a homeland … is what a top finish could be,” he says. Yuthok’s family fled Tibet in a 1950s, yet their breakfast — and a education ingredient, tsampa — kept him connected to that dream.
The word tsampa in Tibetan customarily refers to ground-up, roasted barley flour, nonetheless spasmodic a flour comes from wheat or another grain. It can be done into cereal, crushed into a bandage or churned with yak butter and tea to make calorie-dense appetite balls for prolonged towering treks (or breakfast treats for schoolkids). It’s tossed into a atmosphere during eremite ceremonies and can be incorporated into marriage cakes. The Dalai Lama says he cooking it for breakfast.
Thanks to a hardiness (it’s one of a few cereal crops that can tarry on a high, dull and oppressive Tibetan Plateau), barley has postulated a Tibetan race for thousands of years. Scientists contend a cultivation of barley might have enabled ancient Tibetans to enhance their civilization into a Himalayas. Researchers have found barley traces in 2,100-year-old stays of tea, that means it’s probable that tsampa was eaten during that time.
But over a final century, tsampa has turn even some-more than a culturally poignant tack food. It’s turn a centerpiece of Tibetan temperament and a apparatus of protest.
Calling all tsampa eaters
Between 1950 and 1951, China annexed a segment of Tibet. Most Tibetans called a eventuality an invasion, while a Chinese, in papers solidifying a annexation, called it a pacific ransom (though it concerned a bloody conflict in a segment of Chamdo).
Though Tibet’s rulers deserted Chinese claims to their territory, Tibetans had few sources of domestic togetherness behind then. “Tibetans are opposite in language, custom, habits — there’s a lot of farrago within a singular Tibetan group,” says Tsering Shakya, a Tibetan historian and associate highbrow during a University of British Columbia. So when a Chinese army entered a segment in 1950, Tibetans primarily lacked a unifying force.
Tsampa — that is eaten opposite Tibet — shortly became that force. “When [Tibetan insurgency leaders] were looking to combine [Tibetans] into a singular identity, they adopted tsampa as a symbol,” Shakya says. In 1952, dual years after a Chinese function began, The Tibet Mirror, an eccentric Tibetan denunciation newspaper, published a minute job for revolt. Its initial call-out? Tsampa eaters:
“We, a tsampa eaters, chuba [traditional Tibetan outerwear] wearers, bones players, tender and dusty beef eaters, supporters of Buddhism, Tibetan denunciation speakers…we contingency make a bid to finish a [Chinese] occupation.”
Years later, in 1956, a Mirror again called out to “tsampa-eaters” to “unite your minds” and “stand up!” The Mirror’s exhortations were one of a array of events that led to what’s famous currently as a 1959 Tibetan Uprising, when thousands of Tibetan protesters collected in a streets of a collateral city, Lhasa, job for Tibet’s autonomy from China and later, mobilizing to quarrel a regime. The Dalai Lama fled a segment during this time.
In an letter about this time period, Shakya writes, “If Buddhism supposing a atom of Tibetanness, afterwards tsampa supposing a sub-particles of Tibetanness. The use of tsampa transcended dialect, sect, gender, and regionalism.”
This flourishing unity, joined with support from anti-Communist countries like a U.S., was not adequate for a comparatively tiny Tibetan race to better a absolute Chinese army. They mislaid their quarrel for autonomy and are governed as partial of China to this day. Thousands of Tibetans were killed during a 1959 uprising, and a Tibetan government-in-exile has estimated that a function led to a detriment of 1.2 million lives.
Making a comeback
Since a 1950s, China’s union of Tibet has fragmented tsampa’s place as a region’s tack grain, Yuthok says, partly since of an liquid of Han Chinese who tend to cite crops like wheat and rice.
Still, people in Tibet eat distant some-more barley per chairman than scarcely anywhere in a world. And tsampa’s significance to Tibetan temperament and onslaught has not diminished. If anything, it has been creation a comeback.
Starting in 2008, a new call of revolts began. In 2009, protesting monks cried, “Rise up, all tsampa-eating Tibetans!” In 2012, protesters ate tsampa and threw it adult into a atmosphere during a mass prayer; during a opposite rally, according to a witness, monks were “chanting mantras and eating tsampa in protest.”
So critical was tsampa to these protests that a modern-day Tibetan insurgency transformation mostly goes by another name online: The Tsampa Revolution, or #TsampaRevolution.
Tsampa has also found a approach into Tibetan domestic strain and girl culture. In 2012 a rapper Shapaley, who spent his childhood in Tibet, expelled a strain called “Tsampa” on YouTube. The concomitant strain video facilities a rapper sitting behind a play of tsampa, a normal bag for storing a pellet and a bubbling crater of butter tea.
“Our relatives gave us tsampa so we’ll give it to a kids / a Tibetan suggestion will always remain,” Shapaley raps. “You can bluster us yet we keep doing a thing … we can’t stop us!” At a finish of a video he throws what looks like a cloud of tsampa into a air, in loyalty to a normal sang-sol ceremony — or maybe to a monks protesting in Tibet that same year, thousands of miles away.
A health food trend?
Yuthok, who was innate in Taiwan and changed to a U.S. as a child in a 1970s, is now operative with his aunts Namlha and Tzesom as they try to hint another transformation with tsampa in North America. Their company, Peak Sherpa, sells tsampa as a prohibited cereal and as “energy bites” — arrange of a cranky between an appetite bar and a normal pa. The cereal, we can attest, is tasty — a grains are smaller and denser than oatmeal, creation for a appreciative eccentric ambience but a gummy hardness of oats.
Because a barley used in tsampa doesn’t have to be heavily processed, it retains some-more nutrients, and a flour’s healthfulness rivals that of other ancient grains. Tsampa is high in fiber and essential minerals and it’s prebiotic, definition it helps foster a expansion of healthy tummy bacteria. It has a low glycemic index, that helps keep blood sugarine from spiking. Plus, from a selling perspective, it could be seen as one some-more in a line of Tibetan dishes that have held on with a health-food throng — like goji berries and butter tea (reinvented as bulletproof coffee here in a U.S.).
So since has a Yuthoks’ association had a tough time violation into a U.S. market? While they’re still comparatively new, “it’s been unequivocally hard,” he admits. “I’d contend we’re really a niche product during this point.” Though, he notes, “we really have a fans.”
Here’s what he suspects: Hot breakfast cereals are a rarely rival sector. Oats are nutritionally allied to barley. And during usually a few cents per serving, oats are most cheaper — and they’re nostalgia-inducing.
“People have a attribute with a Quaker guy, we know?” he says. “They adore that guy, and what’s not to love?”
Additionally, American barley is not accurately easy to eat. Most barley grown here comes in a tough, immature carcass that’s formidable to remove, creation it tough for food producers to emanate “whole grain” dishes out of a strange plant, distinct rice or wheat. Much of a barley is used to decoction drink and other alcoholic beverages.
But that could unequivocally good change soon. Tibetan barley lacks a tough outdoor hull, definition it’s easy to thresh, like wheat — and that’s expected since of resourceful tact by Tibetans over thousands of years, says Patrick Hayes, a highbrow of barley tact and genetics during Oregon State University. Hayes is operative on popularizing these Tibetan barley strains in a U.S. He skeleton to use them to develop locally blending varieties.
So far, so good. But Hayes is clever to acknowledge a loyal source of his stream success. “We wouldn’t have been means to do this work but what [Tibetans] did over thousands of years.” If he ends adult converting us all to barley, we will have tsampa eaters to thank.
Susie Neilson is an novice on NPR’s Science Desk. Follow her on Twitter: @susieneilson.