Friday, February 9, 2024

Morning Tsampa

In a prior post, I began the exploration of tsampa, one of the most fundamental aspects of the Tibetan foodways. The cultivation of barley, along with the roasting of barley berries, gave rise to a foodstuff that provided sustenance to the Tibetan people, allowing them to expand their culture and civilization across the high, arid Tibetan plateau. As part of this journey, I made my own tsampa, roasting the barley and grinding it down into the finest powder that I could with what I have. 

Now it is time to go further down those foodways, to explore the uses of tsampa. A British adventurer and food writer, Peter Fleming, once recounted a basic way of preparing breakfast with tsampa: 

You fill your shallow wooden bowl with tea, then you let the butter melt in the tea (the butter is usually rancid and has a good cheesy flavor); then you put a handful of tsampa in. At first it floats; then like a child's castle of sand, its foundation begins to be eaten by the liquid. You coax it with your fingers until it is more or less saturated and has become a paste; this you knead until you have a kind of doughy cake in your hand and the wooden bowl is empty and clean. Breakfast is ready.

Fleming provides quite the description, and, maybe someday I will try to prepare breakfast in that manner. That date may have to wait until I have some rancid butter. 

More recent accounts, such as one by Barbara Hazelton, who visited Tibet in 2016, provide a similar glimpse into how tsampa is eaten at breakfast. Hazelton wrote: 

The trip to Tibet is long and arduous, and over these many trips to Tibet, I have found I have developed my wits and ways of adapting to this fierce world. In the monastery, the food, tiresome, over-fried and boiled vegetables and tasteless white rice which the kind, bow-legged cook Karma carefully prepares for the "foreigners," Rinpoche's guests, I discovered one gloomy cold morning, can be avoided by taking refuge in the warm cozy kitchen, where one finds the dzo yogurt from the nunnery and the leather bag of tsampa from the cook's family, hanging on a post by the kitchen stove and in the decorated wooden bowl, dried cheese, and sugar. This is where the monks gather and laugh and chat, as they make their morning tsampa balls and slurp the heavy nourishing butter tea, in the kitchen y the long black metal stove filled with fragrant wood, that snaps and spreads out its waves of welcome heat. 

This account -- with its dzo yogurt and tsampa -- provides a tie-in to what I decided would become my attempt to make a breakfast meal using tsampa. 

The recipe, Morning Tsampa, comes from the Beyond the Great Wall cookbook, which was written by Jeffery Alford and Naomi Duguid. That cookbook taught me how to make tsampa in the first place, so it seemed only appropriate that it should guide my on my next step: to incorporate the roasted barley flour into a dish. 

The Morning Tsampa recipe, like many tsampa recipes, is very simple. It involves up to four ingredients, namely, tsampa, yogurt, berries and some sugary ingredient like maple syrup or honey. Those ingredients are combined in a bowl and eaten. The combination of tsampa (which is high in fiber, has important minerals, and promotes the growth of healthy gut bacteria), along with the yogurts and berries, probably represents the healthiest breakfast that I have ever had in my life time. 

For that reason, I have resolved that this dish will constitute the start of my day whenever possible. It also represents a significant step forward on my Mindfulness Foodways, as it not only represents a notable improvement in my diet, but one based upon an ingredient and foodstuff that has an important place in our world. 


Recipe from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Daguid, 

Beyond the Great Wall, pg. 181


  • About 1/2 cup whole milk yogurt, plain or sweetened
  • 3 tablespoons Tsampa, or to taste
  • Handful of berries or chopped fruit (optional)
  • Honey, sugar or maple syrup, to taste


Place the yogurt in  bowl and stir in the tsampa thoroughly so it is all moistened. Add fruit and a sweetener (honey, sugar or maple syrup) if you wish.


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