Monday, April 22, 2013

Tongba-The flavor of Nepal

Popular among the locals as the Himalayan beer the Tongba is a millet bases alcoholic beverage that makes you feel warm and tipsy. Easily available in any of the petite street corner drinking Tongba is not considered as getting drunk in fact in reality it is taken as a normal drink for any cold day. Tongba is very popular among the eastern Nepal, Darjeeling and Sikkim region of India. Just like the Japanese tradition of drinking SAKE or Guinness to the Irish or whisky to the Scots: it's something to celebrate and revel in, and to stumble and sing under its influence and has its own tradition among the Limbu people. The Limbu tribes and clans belong to the Kirati nation. They are indigenous to the hill and mountainous regions of east Nepal between the Arun and Mechi rivers to as far as Southern Tibet, Bhutan and Sikkim. Tongba is used in different aspect of their culture like weddings, mourning, gift exchanges, and settlement of conflicts where they practice it with great efficacy and pride.

Tongba actually is the vessel which holds the fermented alcoholic beverage known as Jaand that is served in a cylindrical wooden pot with polished brass banding. The vessel is filled with fermented millet seeds where hot water is poured in and the fermented millet dissolves and produces jaand. Before that the millet is cooked and fermented. The cooked millet is cooled and mixed with murcha (bacteria and yeast). Then the mass is collected and placed in a woven bamboo basket lined with green leaves or plastic, covered with thick fold of cloth and allowed to remain in a warm place for 1–2 days depending upon the temperature. The sweet mass is then packed tightly into an earthenware pot or plastic jars and the opening is usually sealed off to prevent air from entering.

After 7–15 days depending upon the temperature, the fermentation is complete and the mass is converted to jaand. The time jaand is left to remain undisturbed in the pot after completion of fermentation leads to maturing of the jaand, during which the flavors and taste intensifies yet become more mellowed. Traditionally it is stored for about six months.

The fermented millet is put in a container and consumed in a unique way. Traditionally boiled water is poured in it to the brim. It is then left undisturbed for five minutes. Once the five minutes has passed it is ready to drink; more hot water is added as the tongba becomes dry, and the process is repeated until the alcohol is exhausted. Drinkers suck the alcoholic mixture through a bamboo straw with tiny filters to keep the seeds out, and it's a never-ending affair. You sit around the fire with a thermos flask topping up the pot for hours, and snack on spiced cucumber and mutton pieces known as sukuti. The locals will assure you that tongba never leads to hangovers but it certainly makes sleep come more quickly. Tongba's heartwarming kick is especially welcome during the winter, which incidentally is the best time for visiting the country.

Tongba leaves you with a warm and pleasant feeling. Maybe it was the altitude? And Since it’s meant to be sipped then refilled and sipped again each drink tends to last, making Tongba a very nice evening drink and recommended at least to try something very genuinely of Nepal’s own tradition.


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