Tongba: Himalayan Beer

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Tongba is the traditional and indigenous drink of the Limbu people of eastern Nepal. To Limbus, Tongba is analogous to what vodka is to Russians, wine to French, Guinness to Irish and saké to Japanese.

-Wikipedia

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Photo Courtesy davidheidebrecht

What to do when in Kathmandu when it rains? Drink tongba, of course! Tongba is the traditional alcoholic drink made from millet. It’s cooked and fermented, then dried and stored for about 6 months.

Tongba is drank out of large wooden containers (also called tongba) with tall straws crimped at one end to filter the hot water thats poured on top. As you drink, more water is added to top it off and keep the taste from becoming too strong.

They are great for cold and rainy days, since the drink really warms you both, both physically and in spirit.

According to legends, chhaang is also popular with the Yeti, who often raid isolated mountain villages to drink it.

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Photo Courtesy in.beleza



5 Comments

  1. John MacSomhairle wrote:

    Hi,

    I was in Nepal last year and, after enduring a particularly hazardous mountainside road trip to Tatopani in a run-down car with bald tyres, I was brought back to life with a large mug of tongba. This is an ale rather than a beer (no hops) or wine (very short fermentation) and is very low in alcohol. This doesn’t matter as clearly something else is going on to provide a low-level though extremely pleasant buzz. Since then I have searched www for a recipe but can’t find one. If anyone has one please let me know.

    Thanks,

    John Mac

  2. kiers wrote:

    I am IN KATHMANDU right now, wondering what is this Tongba business, and dude, from the picture you have provided, it looks like FERMENTED sprouted MOONG BEANS! I am a fan of dhal, but NOT FERMENTED DHAL! Yuk. Having 2nd thoughts.

  3. Lolita wrote:

    Hi, Kiers, even if they look like moong beans they are not. Picture was enlarged, because they are millet grains. I could drink it in Sikkim and they are very small spheres.

    You should give a try!

  4. Mukum wrote:

    Hi, I belong to the Limbu caste and found this discussion quite amusing. Actually ‘Tongba’ is the name of the wooden vessel (pictured above) in which you serve the fermented alcoholic beverage. Thus the beverage got its name. The beverage is made by fermenting cooked millet using a mixture of starter cultures (molds, yeast and bacteria). Prior to mixing the culture, it is important that the millet is cooled to 30 deg C. After mixing the culture, the millet is collected in a deep basket to maintain its temperature and the basket is covered so that it is not exposed to excess air. After several days (shorter in summer and longer in winter), it is then filled into earthernware pot (traditionally) but these days even in plastic containers are used. No air pockets should be present while packing the pot. Air leads the fermentation to produce acid rather than alcohol. Then the pot is sealed air tight and placed in a warm place. It takes minimum of 15 days but longer you ferment better is the alcohol content and flavour. This fermented millet when ready is filled into the Tongba and served. For good taste, the wooden vessel should be filled 1/5 with luke warm water first. Then fermented millet added till the brim and finally the remaining space filled with more luke warm water. Allow it to soak for at least 15minutes. Now enjoy the drink.

  5. Iris wrote:

    Hi @Mukum! Since you seem to know a lot about the subject, would you be so kind to tell me where can i get the yeast used to prepare Tongba? As far as i know, it’s a Tibetan yeast the one used for the fermentation, but i have also found out that it’s also called “pab” or “chanzi”, am i right? I live in Germany and i’m very interested on buying this type of yeast. Can you maybe help me somehow on how/where to get it in Nepal or anywhere else? Thank you!