Cultures around the world have folklore tales that go back as long as their people have been in existence. Some of these talk about Earth’s creation, others, about the meaning of native food and natural remedies. One of these is the story of Chhaang, a native Himalayan drink popular in Tibet and Nepal that is used to cure the Mountain Cold or Khumbu Cough.
According to the legend, Chhaang is a favored native remedy for various ailments, including the common cold. But can be used to alleviate more serious afflictions, like mountain colds, fevers, allergic rhinitis and even alcoholism.
Popular tales involving this drink speak about the Yeti, who raids remote mountain villages in search of Chhaang to drink. Whether or not the Himalayan Snowman tale is true is up for debate, but western mountaineers have stated feeling relief from mountain-related colds when drinking Chhaang.
While Chhaang is most popular in Tibetan and Nepalese culture, it does have a following in India and Bhutan.
How Chhaang is Made
Chhaang is closely related to beer. And, in summer months, it is served at room temperature. The natives warm the drink until it’s as hot as tea and serve it in wooden mugs or brass bowls during the winter season.
Chhaang is made by brewing grains such as barley, finger-millet or rice and placing them into a barrel of bamboo the locals call “dhungro.” Much like brewing tea, boiling water is then poured into the barrel via a bamboo tube called a “pipsing.”
The process proceeds with the cooling of the barley and commencement of fermentation by introducing yeast or dried barm into the brew and allowing it to sit for two to three days.
The barm used to make Chhaang is made of flour, and in regions like Balti, can contain additives like ginger and aconite. Once the fermentation process begins, water is added to the final product. In Lahaul, the drink is pressed by hand, yielding a milky, cloudy drink.
In Nepal, Chhaang is referred to as tongba and it is made by passing hot water through fermenting barley. It is served in a communal large pot, which the enjoyers drink through wooden straws. A similar drink, jand, is served in large mugs. On Everest, some Sherpas enjoy making Chhaang for their western clients and they often recommend it for the Khumbu Cough.
If you’re wondering what Chhaang taste like, it resembles ale, but with a milky color. It is not high in alcohol, but it does produce an intense feeling of comfort and warmth, which definitely helps endure the high temperatures of most high-altitude climbs. Drink it also for the Khumbu Cough. If you’re venturing on Everest 2020, ask your Sherpa about Chhaang.