A young nomad boy poses as his grandmother mixes tsampa on the Tibetan plateau.
Tsampa or Tsamba is a staple food item, particularly prominent in the central part of the region. It is roasted flour, usually barley flour and sometimes also wheat flour. It is usually mixed with the salty Tibetan butter tea.
It’s most often used by nomads, shepherds, and travelers because of the convenience.
Besides constituting a substantial, arguably predominant part of the Tibetan diet, its prominence also derives from the tradition of throwing pinches of tsampa in the air during many Buddhist rituals. It is believed that tsampa throwing actually predates Buddhist beliefs in the area, originally used as an offering to animistic gods to request their protection. The tradition was consequently incorporated into Buddhism as a “mark of joy and celebration” used at celebratory occasions such as marriages and birthdays. Today it is particularly known in that regard for its use in New Year celebrations, where it is accompanied by chanted verses expressing the desire for good luck in the forthcoming year, for both oneself and others. Tsampa-throwing also occurs at most Buddhist funerals, where the action is intended to release the soul of the deceased.
Tsampa is used in a number of other ways. Mashes of tsampa and cumin are sometimes applied to toothaches or other sore spots.
Tsampa is also known among Tibetan sportsmen for its ability to provide rapid energy boosts; the roasting of the flour breaks it down to an easily digestible state, allowing the calories therein to be quickly incorporated by the body.
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