Ghyuma: of bloodletting yaks and a sustainable Himalayan food.

Gyuma is essentially sausage made from cattle meat; but this food is more than just an indulgence and more like a tradition that ensures that the cattle remains healthy and re-energizes. The cattle we discuss about here, is the Yak which is one of the animals that is able to survive at really high altitudes where the temperatures can drop really low. The yak is a very versatile animal and is therefore reared by nomadic tribes and mostly Tibetans as livestock and an essential one at that.

The Yak’s bloodletting:

Yak is useful when it comes to providing dairy, their hide makes really great leather and the fur helps people keep warm in those regions. Along with all these uses, the yak is capable of continuously providing blood without having to kill it. Bloodletting is a tradition that has been observed since ages keeping in mind the yak’s health. A small incision is made on the neck region of the yak which allows a stream of blood to flow from its neck. The blood is collected in a mug and mostly drunk raw. The bloodletting helps with some things that are essential for the better health of the yak things like maintaining a healthy weight, preparing the animal to travel to a higher elevation, preventing the animal from bursting veins from excess blood and to relieve the animal from too much blood that leaves them sluggish; bloodletting will help them feel re-energized.

In Kenya the Maasai people are known to drink cow blood on a regular basis to help them cool their body and provide raw nutrition to carry on in the heat. In the same way, Tibetans living in high altitudes depend on the yak blood for nutrition and warmth that helps them survive the extreme climatic regions in good health.

Usually the yak herders do not butcher yaks if not absolutely necessary. Especially in the summers, they refrain from slaughtering because chances are the meat would go bad if not consumed within 2 days. The herders believe that if an animal is to be slaughtered each and every part of the animal must be used nothing must go to waste, which is a much noble thought. Only in cases where the animal gets wounded or severely injured on the way, and so it does not become a burden on the journey, it is terminated.

The ideal time to make gyuma:

It is only around mid-November when the temperatures start to drop really hard and the weather gets frosty, do they start to slaughter the yaks for the meat and other utilities. Even then, not every family slaughters a yak each; instead, two to three families get together and slaughter one animal. The family then gather men women and children to start with the tradition of making gyuma.

The process and tradition of making Gyuma:

Gyuma making is observed as a man’s job. In certain tribes the men hold prestigious positions for the Gyuma they make. Like in other tribes it is essential for women of the tribe to know how to make good momos, in others, men are supposed to know how to make gyuma. And just as traditions go, another tradition after making gyuma is that you share small portions of all kinds of gyuma that was prepared with the families in your encampment group. It is simply common courtesy and expected for you to share the meat, the gyuma as well as bones for soup with other families.

The gyuma is essentially made using yak blood, ground yak meat, natural intestine casing, and a small amount of cooked rice, some wheat, a little salt and a few herbs to add taste. Where the making of gyuma is a man’s job, cleaning the intestines are a woman’s job, this part of gyuma making is called “gyuma tha”. The intestines are partially fatty and have fat globules stuck to the inner casing of the intestine. The fat is considered an important flavour addition to the gyuma and so it is very skilful work to be cleaning the intestines because if one gets rid of all the fat inside it is not considered to be a good gyuma. And so the women have to be very careful while cleaning the intestines because they also have to make sure the casing are thoroughly clean and no dirt is deposited on the walls.

The making of Gyuma is called “gyuma yo”. There can be made two different kinds of gyuma one is the “che gyu” and the other being the “tra gyu”. Tra here means blood which means that the tragyu has yak blood mixed into it and che means flour which makes for another type of gyuma that is flour based.

There are different parts of the intestine that have particular names and functions. The topmost opening of the intestine is the “yora” which is used to put in the meat mix into the intestine. A funnel is placed on the yora and meat is pushed through the opening, filling the intestines up to the brink.

In gyuma, the tra gyu is the most sought after part and it makes for around 30 percent of the gyuma and the rest 70 percent is reserved for the che gyu. The meat is minced using two large knives and cut until the meat becomes really finely minced almost like ground meat.

There is a part in the intestine where two parts of the intestine are conjoined and it is called the “chingyu” chin means liver and the filling that fills this particular section is made from liver, no blood, wheat, spices and salt. This part is to be eaten without separating the two parts or cutting the two parts.

Another part that comes towards the end is called the “gyu kar” or the white sausage. This part is filled only with fat and is left to dry in the smoke. This particular part is cooked only in the spring or the summer.

Gyuma for children:

The throat has a small casing too that is usually thinner than the intestine which is why it is reserved for the children as it makes it easy for them to chew on it. The parents and the children have a great time connecting here. They ask the children about what they would like to have as a filling for their gyuma. The children have fun making their own mix and filling it into their gyuma.

Storage and consumption:

As winters come by, the prepared sausages are encased in an extra sheep stomach and left out so it freezes. Large garlands of gyuma are frozen and they are enough to last all winters. Whenever they are to be consumed, the gyuma is boiled in water and left to dry after which it is sliced into a centimetre thick pieces and then fried in the pan where the sausage becomes crunchy and delicious.

It is usually served with fresh vegetables such as diced onions, tomatoes, chillies and lettuce, or consumed with hot chilli chutney.

Gyuma that is fried in a pan especially the tragyu turns deep purple or black in colour; it glistens from all the fat and turns crunchy as well. A bite into the gyuma divulges a wholesome mouth feel which is almost creamy to taste and the spices do the rest of the magic. Even though the sausage is made from parts that may taste really strong, the end product does not taste funny at all instead it oozes decadence.

Gyuma is a very long tradition in terms of food in many tribes especially Tibetan and if at all one gets a chance to, one should try this unique sausage made by the Himalayan dwellers.

NE Origins

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