East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Stuck in Sinin while the authorities evaluate the opportunity of letting two Europeans go forth west into the wilderness, Peter Fleming and Ella Maillart try to have some kind of social life, visit Kumbum and have their first meeting with tsamba – a travel companion with which they will become well acquainted.At first mistaken for ash, tsamba (or tsampa) is one of the staples of Tibetan and Nepalese cooking, and it is worth a little space here.


At first mistaken for ash, tsamba (or tsampa) is one of the staples of Tibetan and Nepalese cooking, and it is worth a little space here.

Tsamba is roasted flour, either barley or wheat, and it does indeed look like ash.
The most popular preparation of this dish is as follows:

You leave a little buttered tea in the bottom of your bowl and put a big dollop of tsampa on top of it. You stir gently with the forefinger, then knead with the hand, meanwhile twisting your bowl round and round until you finish up with a large dumplinglike object which you proceed to ingest, washing it down with more tea. The whole operation demands a high degree of manual dexterity, and you need a certain amount of practical experience before you can judge correctly how much tsampa goes with how much tea. Until you get these proportions right the end product is apt to turn into either a lump of desiccated dough or else a semiliquid paste which sticks to your fingers. Sometimes you lace this preparation with a form of powdered milk, made from curds which have been dried in the sun.(André

The above is taken from André Mingot’s Tibetan Marches (1955)1.

Alternatively, tsamba is prepared as a porridge, and served with vegetables and mutton or beef meat.
Tsamba is the typical travel food for the Tibetans, and has a strong culktural meaning – so much so that “tsamba eater” is considered a synonym of “Tibetan”.

  1. The English language edition was translated and has an introduction by Peter Fleming 

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

One thought on “Tsamba

  1. Pingback: Setting sails towards South Silk Road in Spring 2017. – Toils and Troubles in Xinjiang Province

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