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Zanba (Roasted Highland Barley-Flour Dish)

Firstly, there are three different variants of the zanba used in this dish: highland barley zanba, pea zanba, and a mix of the two. Zanba is the main dish of the Tibetan people, and is both nutritious and conveniently portable (can be taken anywhere), an important requirement for a people who live on a high plateau where neither naturally occurring food sources nor off-road restaurants :) are readily available. Therefore, when Tibetans go on a longer journey, they always bring along the fixings for zanba in their rucksack: a bowl, a bag of zanba, ghee (a residue from butter, made by heating ("clarifying") the butter, then draining off the clarified/ liquified butter (to be used for other culinary purposes), leaving a milk residue that does not need refrigeration thereafter), and water, or tea – or both.

The dish is prepared by adding some zanba flour to a bit of tea (alternatively, water) that is poured into the zanba bowl, then spiked with ghee and white sugar – and if the trip is short, or during the first part of a long trip, also butter/ clarified butter, the latter of which is also often used in tea for drinking, aka buttered tea. Enough zanba flour is added to the liquid ingredients and the ghee to make a dryish dough. The dough is then kneaded in the bowl and small lumps pinched off, then rolled into matzo-sized, ready-to-eat balls. If one has time to make a fire, and if one has brought along a metal pot for bonfire cooking, then the water/ tea can be heated, but this is a time-consuming luxury; the dish can be made by anyone, anytime, anywhere – and on the go – using the aforementioned basic ingredients with unheated water or tea.

Zanba flour itself is made by drying barley in the sun, removing the chaff from the grains by tossing the sun-parched barley in the air, then grinding the barley grains into a flour. Barley flour can be ground in small amounts by hand with a mortar and pestle, but today it is generally processed from start to finish at a large mill, driven either by wind or water. Zanba flour comes in two different degrees of fineness, coarse or fine.

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