A Bite of China – Our Plateau and Highland Barley

2012-11-09China Food

For people on a highland rising three to four thousand meters above sea level, there is no more festival thing than harvesting. In China, on the roof of the world, Qinghai-Tibet  Plateau, Yarlung Tsangpo River dashes out of snowy mountains to the bottom of South Tibet, nourishes the most flourishing farm belt of Tibet - Shigatse. Generations of Tibetan have been here planting highland barley, their staple food. By virtue of nutrition and energy given by highland barley, they doggedly survived in this untraversed highland. 
August is the harvesting season of highland barley. The air is still chill. Highland barley contains the highest B glucan among all the wheat crops. Superior cold resistance makes it cultivable on bleak highland. It is almost impossible to cook it thoroughly under low pressure. Wisdom of Tibetans is revealed fully in acquiring foods.  Smart Tibetan ancestors created their own way to make them edible – they fried them, processed them and finally made what is called ''Zanba''. The cooking method is retained. Zanba was (and is) the staple food of Tibetan. It is best savored with buttered tea and milk cake. Such combination satisfies highland people’s special needs for high calorie. In such a cold area, people depend too much on nutrition and energy gained from food.

Highland barley is so important for those craving for food that its harvesting must be celebrated. Wangguo Festival is such a festival to be celebrated for harvesting of highland barley in July or August, two or three days before harvesting. It is the grandest festival of Tibetan with a history of 1500 years. ''Zhuan Ditou'' (Move around fields) is the essential ritual that every family member must attend. It is an ancient tradition that barley planters parade around the barley fields with ears of barley on hands, Lamas and senior farmers hold Buddha high, chant for good harvesting. In this way, simple Tibetan show their reverence and gratitude for Mother Nature. People leave their fingerprints coated with barley flours on the altar, which are granted with strong spiritual strength. And they believe their chanting will be heard by god. Celebrating of Wangguo Festival lasts for one week when colorful tents will be put up in all houses. 

At the same time, it is the time to brew Barley Wine. Choice barley grains are cleaned and soaked overnight, and then boiled with water for two hours. Boiled grains are then be air-dried and mixed with yeast in a sealed jay for fermentation. As long as the temperature is enough high, it turns to wine within one or two days. Sweet and refreshing, barley wine is the favorite of Tibetan. It is the best beverage for Tibetan entertaining guests.  

Tibetan food is as simple and natural as all other things on Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Its simplicity has won it a share in some even remote metropolis. Annual crop harvest usually starts at the beginning of August. Cold highland climate make its ripening nearly two months later than other wheat crops in China. Autumn is also the rainy season of Tibet. No matter whose barley is ripened, his neighbors will come to help so that grains can be harvested and dried on clear days. Well-bundled barley crops are stacked on the grassland, at the back of which is the snowy Himalaya rising into clouds to hold up the sky. Those laborers closest to the sky could hardly imagine how people in densely populated metropolis feel the nature.


---By Sunny (VisitOurChina)