Tibetan Food and Cuisine

  • by Eric
  • Last Updated: 2020-06-04

Tibet, a pearl on the roof of the world, is full of mystery because of its remoteness. On this vast land, the ancient peoples, rich customs and splendid cultures are as firm as the Himalayas and as open to all rivers as the Brahmaputra. Nowadays, with the opening of Tibet, more and more tourists want to explore this pure land. If you travel to Tibet, you will be amazed by its natural scenery. However, Tibetan food will make your Tibet tour more perfect.

The Features of Tibetan Cuisines

Due to the unique ecological and cultural environment of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, the derived Tibetan cuisine style is quite different from that of other ethnic groups, forming the following features:

1. At an average altitude of above 4000 meters, Tibet is located in Qinghai-Tibet plateau, with thin air, abundant sunshine, and little rainfall. Due to these unique natural environments, Tibet has bred unique agricultural and sideline products, thus forming a unique food. In the vast plateau region, butter tea, sweet tea, milk residue, barley wine, beef, mutton, and other foods of the plateau characteristic have become the traditional food of the Tibetan people.

2. Tibet is at the junction of China and many countries. Tibetan food is greatly influenced by neighboring countries such as India and Nepal but retains its distinctive nomadic character. Besides, Tibet is a holy land of Tibetan Buddhism so it's also been deeply influenced by Tibetan Buddhist culture. As an ethnic minority group in China, Tibetan people have their own dietary taboos. For example, many Tibetan people don’t eat fish, because they think the fish is one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols of Buddhism.

3. Traditional Tibetan cooking methods are mainly boiled and fried, supplemented with certain mixed, steamed, and raw foods, and there are fewer fried dishes. This is mainly due to the high altitude of Tibet, which makes it difficult to stir-fry dishes. The raw materials of traditional Tibetan cuisine are mainly Tibetan barley, beef and mutton, and offal, ghee, milk residue, etc. It is difficult for seasonal vegetables to be included in Tibetan recipes. But in recent years, with the promotion of vegetable cultivation and consumption on the plateau, vegetables are getting to appear on the dining tables in Tibet, and fried food has become more and more popular.

4. There is a big difference in diet between the agricultural and pastoral areas of Tibet, and the dietary customs are also different. In pastoral areas, meat is the staple food, and only a small amount of Zanba is the supplement; but in agricultural areas, the conditions are just on the contrary. Herdsmen in northern Tibet don't like to put curry powder in their dishes, but almost all ethnic groups in the border will put curry. Another example is oatmeal. Although most people like it, eating ways are different. Monba people like to add milk residue inside.

5. The highest level of Tibetan cuisine is mainly concentrated in Lhasa and Shigatse, which are the center of Tibetan cuisine culture. As the old nobles, manor owners, government offices, Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama used to live there. Although Tibetan cuisine in many other places is also very distinctive, it is far comparable to these two places in terms of the complete variety, craftsmanship, and superb cooking techniques. In particular, the Tibetan cuisine in Lhasa has become the representative of the Tibetan cuisine as Lhasa food brings together the essence of Tibetan cuisine but more vibrant and diverse. You can taste a lot of authentic food at the Lhasa restaurants near Jokhang Temple and around Barkhor Street. Of course, you can also have Western food, Sichuan food, Nepalese food, or Indian food here.

Classic Tibetan Dishes

There are top 10 Tibetan dishes that you can’t miss when you visit Tibet.

  1. Tsampa(Zanba)

Tsampa is one of the traditional staple foods in Tibet.

The main ingredient of Tsampa is barley flour. When eating, add a small amount of butter tea, milk dregs, and sugar into the barley flour and mix them evenly, then knead it into a ball by hand. It is convenient to eat, carry and deposit. And it has rich nutrition and a high quantity of heat. It is also the best food to satisfy hunger and keep out the cold. Therefore, Tsampa has become one of the traditional staple foods in Tibet. Most Tibetans will eat Tsampa three times a day.

When Tibetan people celebrate Tibetan New Year, each family should place “Zhusuo Maqi”(a wooden bucket) on Tibetan type ark, then fill it with Tsampa, ginseng fruit, and other food. When Neighbors, relatives, and friends visit, the host will serve up the "Zhusuo Maqi". The guests with his hand grab a bit of Tsampa and throw it into the air for three times, and then grab a bit into their mouths, and then said: "Tashi Delek" (good luck).

  1. Butter Tea

Buttered tea is the favorite drink of Tibetans.

Butter tea is the favorite drink of Tibetans. A legend is that Princess Wencheng was not used to the diet of the plateau at the beginning of her visit to Tibet, so she came up with a way to drink half a cup of milk and then half a cup of tea. Later, in order to facilitate the milk and tea to drink together, it evolved into the butter tea as time went by.

Butter tea is the Tibetan daily essential drink and also a necessity of life on the Tibetan plateau. It can cure the altitude sickness, prevent lips from breaking due to dry weather, and also keep out the cold. There are certain rules for Tibetans to drink butter tea, which is generally added while drinking, rather than being dried in one mouthful.

  1. Sweet Tea

Sweet tea has become a distinctive drink in Lhasa catering culture.

With a history of more than one hundred years, Sweet tea has become a distinctive drink in the catering culture. Lhasa sweet tea is made of boiled black tea juice, milk or milk powder, and white sugar, etc. It is sweet and delicious, rich in nutrition, loved by people. Tibetan sweet tea houses are mainly concentrated in Lhasa and Shigatse, of which Lhasa is the maximum. If you look around the sweet tea houses on Barkhor Street or near the Potala Palace, you will find that children of seven or eight years old, as well as elderly Tibetans like to soak in the sweet tea houses.

  1. Yak Meat

Yak meat is a common food in Tibetan areas.

Yak meat is a common food in Tibetan areas. There are yak jerky, marinated yak meat, and a variety of dishes made with fresh yak meat. Tibetan yak meat is selected from the yak over 3800 meters above sea level. It is high in protein, low in fat, low in calories, and rich in a variety of amino acids. It has significant effects on disease resistance, cell activity, and organ function. And, its nutrition value is ten times that of common beef.

  1. Tibetan Noodle

Tibetan noodles are a typical Tibetan breakfast, a traditional Tibetan snack.

Tibetan noodles are a typical Tibetan breakfast, a traditional Tibetan snack. It's one of the favorite foods of Tibetans. In fact, the Tibetan noodles are not called Tibetan noodles, but alkaline noodles. It got its name from the way noodles are made with a lot of alkalies. Tibetan noodles are very different from plain noodles in taste.

After many pilgrims make a pilgrimage around Jokhang Temple, they will eat a bowl of Tibetan noodles and drink a cup of sweet tea in the tea house around Barkhor Street. If you visit Lhasa, you may have a bowl of Tibetan noodles and enjoy the unique flavor.

  1. Tibetan Yogurt

Tibetan yak yogurt has a history of thousands of years as an indispensable food to Tibetan people.

Tibetan yak yogurt has a history of thousands of years as an indispensable food and offering to Tibetan people. The biggest festival of Tibet, the Shoton Festival, is named after yogurt.

When you come to Tibet, the traditional concept of "yogurt" will be overturned entirely. The thick layers and pure taste of Tibetan yogurt are just like the pure blue sky with white clouds here, which can't be surpassed. And, Tibet yak yogurt in the production and processing procedure is not allowed to add any additive. For thousands of years, yogurt has been used as a starter to produce probiotics. Tibetan yogurt is a natural delicacy and is worth a try during a trip to Tibet. In Lhasa, near the Potala Palace, a place called "Yoghurt Workshop" is a good place to taste Tibetan yogurt.

  1. Highland Barley Wine(Chang)

Highland barley wine is a kind of local Tibetan wine.

Highland barley liquor, called “qiang” in Tibetan, is made from highland barley, the main grain produced on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau. It is the most famous wine of the Qinghai-Tibet people. It is an essential drink for celebrating the festival, getting married, having children, and greeting friends or relatives.

The highland barley wine is fragrant and mellow, sweet, and clear. The first barley wine had no complicated process. In Tibetan areas, almost every family can make it. Later, the brewing technology of barley wine was gradually improved. Over the past 1,300 years, the Tibetan wine culture, with barley wine as the carrier, is well known at home and abroad for its unique charm and stands out among the hundred gardens of liquor culture in China and the world at large.

  1. Tibetan Momo

It is similar to the traditional Chinese dumpling, but not completely the same.

Tibetan Momo is popular among Tibetans. The momo is similar to the traditional Chinese dumpling, but not wholly the same. It is the Tibetan type bun with some form of filling. Most of the time, Tibetans use yak meat as the filling. Of course, if you are a vegetarian, there are also momo with cabbage, onions, mushrooms, and other vegetables as filling. There are many ways of making momo. But the most commonly used methods are steaming and frying. Sometimes, the momo is also used to make soup. Usually, Tibetan people like to eat momos with a special sauce.

  1. Sheep Blood Sausage

It looks not very good, but the taste is very good.

With a long history, sheep blood sausage is a specialty food in Lhasa, Tibet. The sheep's blood, scooped from the sheep's cavity into a bowl, usually can fill its gut. When filled, the first crush the blood clot by hand, stir into buckwheat flour or white flour, then add chopped belly, oil, salt, spices, garlic, and other things. Sheep blood sausage is excellent. After cooking, the color is a little black and red, which looks not very good, but the taste is delicious. Usually, when Tibetans can’t finish the sheep blood sausage, they will freeze it.

Besides, there are other types of sausages in Tibet, such as meat sausage and oil sausages.

  1. Air Dried Meat

Air dried beef and mutton is a favorite food of Tibetans.

Air-dried beef and mutton is a favorite food of Tibetans. It is usually made each winter, often at the end of November. At this time, the temperature is below zero. Tibetans cut the beef and mutton into small pieces and string them up, then hang them with bamboo cages in the shade under the tents and eaves to freeze and air dry. After the second year in March, they will be taken down to be roasted or eaten raw, which are very delicious. Due to the unique climatic characteristics of Tibet, Tibetan air-dried meat has its features.

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