Nepalese tongba in its namesake vessel.
Typealcoholic beverage
Country of origin Limbuwan (present-day in Sikkim,India and Eastern Nepal)
Region of originNepal, Sikkim, Darjeeling district
Alcohol by volume 2–5%
Proof (US)4–10°
Colourmilky white
Ingredientsmillet, yeast, water etc.
Related productsChhaang

Tongba (Nepali: तोङबा pronounced [toŋba]) is a millet-based alcoholic beverage found in the eastern mountainous region of Nepal, Bhutan and neighbouring Indian regions of Sikkim and Darjeeling. It is the traditional drink of the Limbu people.[1][2] [3] Tongba is culturally and religiously important to the Limbu people; offering it is a sign of respect to a guest, and the drink is also an important element of special occasions and festivals.[3]


Tongba is actually the name of the vessel that holds the fermented millet beverage known as mandokpenaa thee.[4] Tongba is prepared from brown finger millet (Eleusine coracana, also known as ragi in India or kodo in Nepal) grown in hilly regions, and it is cooked and combined with traditionally cultured khesung, which is a microbial colony or starter culture. 'Khesung' is the Limbu version of the Nepali term 'murcha'; the Lepchas call it 'thamik', and Bhutias refer to it as 'phab'.

Ethno-medicinal properties

Tongba is a fermented millet beer from the Himalayas that contains biologically active components that may have therapeutic properties against high-altitude illnesses.[5] Tongba is made by steeping fermented millet for a few minutes, then sucking the resulting cloudy liquid through a bamboo straw with a seed-filtering bottom. It's slightly alcoholic, smooth, and has a mild, milky, mushroomy taste with some bready hints.[6][7]

Tongba is a staple for travelers who carry their meals on their backs. It's also good for people who live in colder regions because it helps with digestion and boosts immunity.

Tongba contains glycoside, amino acids, fatty acids, terpenoids, and phenol, which have antioxidant and antibacterial potential[8] and therapeutic properties against high-altitude illnesses including body moisture retention property in high-altitude cold and dry weather. Studies have also shown that tongba is metabolomically similar to Japanese sake.[5]

See also


  1. ^ Easen, Nick (2004-03-01). "Mountain High - TIME". Archived from the original on October 15, 2009. Retrieved 2009-08-29.
  2. ^ P.53 Nepalese Cooking By Lauren Baird, 2011
  3. ^ a b MAHARJAN, UJJWALA (2011-12-16). "Sipping hot Tongba in cold winter - My Republica". Archived from the original on 2016-09-18. Retrieved 2014-08-25.
  4. ^ P.75 Handbook of Plant-Based Fermented Food and Beverage Technology, Second Edition By Y. H. Hui, E. Özgül Evranuz CRC Press, 17 May 2012
  5. ^ a b Majumder, S.; Chakraborty, S.; Ghosh, A.; Bhattacharya, M. (2022-12-01). "The Himalayan ethnic beverage tongba with therapeutic properties in high-altitude illnesses and metabolomic similarities to Japanese sake". Acta Universitatis Sapientiae, Alimentaria. 15 (1): 67–83. doi:10.2478/ausal-2022-0006. ISSN 2066-7744.
  6. ^ dccrossley (2016-01-04). "Tongba, A Study of Emptiness". David Crossley's Wide World of Wine. Retrieved 2024-04-20.
  7. ^ "Nepal's Bottomless Beer". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 2024-04-20.
  8. ^ Majumder, Soumya; Ghosh, Arindam; Saha, Sumedha; Acharyya, Sukanya; Chakraborty, Sourav; Subba, Preeti; Nandi, Sudeshna; Sarkar, Sahadeb; Bhattacharya, Malay (2024-02-01). "In vitro bioactivities and gastrointestinal simulation validate ethnomedicinal efficacy of five fermented kodo-based Himalayan traditional drinks and bioaccessibility of bioactive components". Food Production, Processing and Nutrition. 6 (1): 4. doi:10.1186/s43014-023-00184-7. ISSN 2661-8974.