Cheers to Chee, the Beer of the Lepchas

Cheers to Chee, the Beer of the Lepchas
Chee, served the traditional way, Photo Credit:

An important part of Lepcha culture, the fermented millet drink is a rage in Sikkim

Karan Kaushik
May 04 , 2021
04 Min Read

A major reason to travel again and again to a place is often the flavours that it offers, both in terms of food and drink. Food is the best way to a traveller's heart, and when you throw in a local tipple into the mix, the smorgasbord is a tantalising one. Sikkim, which is known for its wealth of local drinks, is also home to the Chee, more commonly known as the Chhang among people across Sikkim, Tibet and Nepal. If the Apong is the beverage of choice of the Mising tribe of Assam and communities throughout Arunachal, it is the millet beer of Chee that one ought to try when you next visit the Himalayan state.

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Also known as dungro or tongba in Nepali, Chee is a traditional Lepcha drink made from fermented millet. It can also be made from rice, wheat and buckwheat. On special occasions, it is also prepared from thungloo roots. To prepare the drink, millet is first filtered to remove stones and other impurities. It is then grounded in an okhli (Hindi) or tukcham (Lepcha) using a moosal (Hindi) or tuling (Lepcha). It is then cooked on fire and later kept to cool down in the talung. Yeast is then added to the drink. It takes two to three days for the fermentation and a distinct smell indicates that it is ready to consume.

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After it is prepared, it is stored in a tight container, which is also a part of the fermentation process. The drink is garnished with millet seeds, white rice and wheat grains and served hot in a bamboo pitcher known as puthyut in Lepcha or dungro in Nepali. The straw used to drink chee is also made from bamboo and is known as pihip in Lepcha or piksing in Nepali. The taste borders on that of ale.

READ: Have You Tried These Local Indian Drinks?

Lepchas conduct a small ritual of sorts before drinking Chee, which involves offering drops of the drink thrice to the Lepcha Gods. In relation to this, goes an interesting story: it is believed that once a Lepcha family asked a cockroach to steal yeast from Matlimanyoo, the Goddess of Earthquakes and Wine (according to some, she is also held as a sorceress), in order to ferment Chee. When the goddess came to know of the scheme, she cursed that the drink would prove to be an effective medicine if had in moderation, but excess consumption will turn it into poison.

Chee in a bamboo tumbler, at a homestay in Sikkim

There’s an interesting way to clean the straw before drinking Chee and it’s an absolutely unique experience to consume the drink in the Lepcha style. Besides giving you a mild high, the drink also acts as a great painkiller and helps in wearing out fatigue. You can’t visit Sikkim and not have a soothing tumbler of Chee.

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