tsampa, momo, lephing and more!
My friend, Rinchen Tashi la comes from a nomadic area of Kham, and I asked him about the tradition of Gyuma-making in his home. Traditions and terms may vary from place to place and this conversation is about Gyuma-making in the traditional region of Drongpa and Gegye nomadic societies as related to me. (Present day Dzathog county in Yushu Prefecture)
The traditional lifestyle of Tibetan nomads is completely entwined with their livestock and thus, when an animal is slaughtered, whether yak or sheep, none of the animal parts are wasted. Each part of the animal has a special use, and in this tradition, Gyuma-making has its own special place.
Usually mid-November is when the animals are slaughtered for their meat. In the summer, we usually don’t slaughter animals as the meat gets bad if not eaten quickly. However, sometimes it may be necessary for one or two families to have to slaughter an injured animal. If this happens, the family will make Gyuma, and cook all that they make, and share it with all the other families in the encampment. A little portion of each type of Gyuma is shared with all the other families – this is just common courtesy and expected.
Gyuma making is a skill like everything else. Some people make great sausages and will have plenty to share and keep for themselves. People always discuss who makes the best Gyuma and the winner will have a place of prestige in the community.
Every place has its special food, for example Labrang Amdo is known for its Momos and all the girls there have to know how to make Momos. In my region, a man is supposed to know how to make Gyuma. People will always comment on how well he makes Gyuma. This is considered a man’s job. But the cleaning of the intestines is usually the woman’s job – it is called “gyuma tha” – this is hard work as the intestine has to be cleaned really well and at the same time, one must be very careful not to rub off all the fat deposits on the skin as this is one of the main flavorings. It’s considered very bad if all the fat is cleaned off.
The process of making the Gyuma is called “Gyuma yo.” Different sections of the intestine have different names and different ways of preparation. Typically there are two types of sausages – “Tra-gyu” and “Che-gyu”. ‘Tra’ is blood and ‘Che’ means flour – usually barley flour or wheat flour.
The upper most part of the intestine is called the “Yora” – and this has a very special use. It is the filling tube for making the Gyuma – a wooden funnel tip is attached to tip of the Yora and the sausage filling will be added into this and this is how the casing will be filled.
Most of the main part of the intestine will be used to make “Tra-gyu” – and the filling will be a mixture of blood, meat, and some fat. This consists about 30% of the intestine. The meat used in this filling is also prepared in a particular fashion – it is not just randomly minced or ground – instead, we use two knifes and slide them criss-cross over the meat on a slab or hard surface. This shreds the meat into a mince.
There is another section that I am particularly fond of – this section of the intestine has two parts joined together – and it is called “Chin-gyu.” “Chin’ comes from the work ‘Chinpa’ which means liver and the filling for this portion is a liver mince. The liver mince includes liver, salt, spices, some flour, little water and some fat (no blood). The two attached pieces will not be separated, but each side is filled with the liver mixture and cooked & eaten without separating.
Right at the end of the intestine, there is a piece that is white but not very long. This is called the “Gyu-kar” or white sausage. This is filled with just fat and then it is left over the stove to get smoked. This will only be eaten the following spring or summer.
The thinnest part of the intestine is called the ‘Gyu-nag’. This is the only part where one cleans up all the fat completely until it looks just like a thread. It is used to make ‘Don-drik’ – a special type of sausage using the stomach. The stomach has to be cleaned really well first, then sliced it lengthwise into long ½ inch wide pieces. The mass of fat deposit that blankets the stomach, is cut off and sliced into long thin strands. Two or three strands of this sliced fat is placed on the sliced stomach and rolled up tight. The ‘Gyu-nag’ is used like a twine to wrap tight around the rolled up stomach lining from top to bottom. This is usually boiled right away and eaten – it is called “Don-drig” – Do meaning Dogok (stomach) and Drig meaning wrapped. If there is any left-over Gyu-nag, it will be just boiled and eaten just like that – this is called ‘Gyu-tong’ – empty sausage.
Attached to the left and right of the stomach are two sacks that we call ‘Silu’ and ‘Drishak’. These are filled with meat and fat and then sewn closed. This will be boiled and eaten.
The throat has a short piece of casing too. The casing here is in two layers, so, one has to cut the tip and pull the inside layer out. This part is usually left aside for the children. Parents will ask them what filling they would like – and usually they have great fun making their own filling, mincing meat and fat together. Most children have not much preference for blood filled sausage.
Tserpa – is another sac like piece – we make a small opening in this and then it is filled with meat, tsampa, and fat – the opening is usually closed with a thin wooden stick piked zig zag into close it up.
The last piece is the ‘Yora’ itself – what we have been using for filling all the sausages. One end of it is tied with a string, and then this is filled with meat, fat, tsampa, different spices. This is my favorite as a child as it has the most filling and is the most flavorful. This is called “Lun-ga’.
Storing: In the winter time, the prepared sausages will be placed in extra yak or sheep stomachs and sewn closed, and left overnight to freeze. We usually have a big pile of these to last us through the winter. When its time to eat, the string is cut and the sausages are boiled in water and they are ready to eat.
LOWA – Lung
A good sheep’s lung is usually kept for a long time. One way to make lung is to fill it with melted butter – this is called “Lowa-markhu’ and it is just delicious. But it’s often that one finds a good perfect unperforated lung, and when we do, they are kept frozen during the winter months and saved until early spring. At this time, usually some of the younger yaks that show some signs of weakness are treated with blood letting, by a small incision in the neck region to allow some bleeding. This has been found to help these young yaks restore their balance and regain energy. The blood from this will be used to fill the lungs that were saved over the winter. The lungs will be defrosted in cold water – it needs to be handled this with care as its quite delicate and can get perforated quite easily. Some butter is added to the blood and this will be used to fill the lung casing.