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Vegetarian Tourists in Tibet

  • by Nance
  • Last Updated: 2023-11-14

When traveling to Tibet, many vegetarian tourists may be worried that there are no vegetarian options. But in fact, Tibet has a variety of vegetarian options. You don’t have to worry about what to eat in Tibet, and you can enjoy the delicious vegetarian dishes, such as tofu and potatoes. Also, there are many vegetarian restaurants in Tibet for you to choose from.

Vegetarian meal
Vegetarian meal of DK Cafe, Lhasa.

Why aren't Tibetans Vegetarian?

Although some Tibetans follow the vegetarian, most of Tibet people who are not vegetarians and treat meat as their staple food. Buddhists in China are not allowed to eat meat, but in fact, there is an important branch of Buddhism in Tibet called Tibetan Buddhism, which allows its believers to eat "clean meat". That is why many monks in Tibet were found to eat meat.

In addition, since the Tibet people live on the Tibet Plateau, most of the vegetables can’t grow, so Tibet people can only eat meat to supplement the energy they need for daily activities. It's more like a compulsion than a choice.

In recent years, with the development of the economy in Tibet, more and more convenient transportation and scientific-technological cultivation have made vegetable and grain varieties in Tibet more abundant. In this case, a lot of Tibetan monks changed their diet and became a vegetarian.

Vegetarian Food in Tibet

Many believers who make pilgrimages to Tibet every year choose to be vegetarian, and there is also a tradition of vegetarianism among the older generation of Buddhists in Tibet. It can be said that vegetarianism has become a part of Tibetan people’s living habits, so vegetarians will feel like they are following the local customs in Tibet.

In cities such as Lhasa, Shigatse, and Nyingchi, ordinary restaurants also provide vegetarian options, and there are even specialized vegetarian restaurants serving delicious vegetarian food. Especially along the Kailash route, due to the large number of Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims, vegetarian restaurants occupy a place in the local cuisine industry. Therefore, vegetarian food in Tibet is not difficult to find. For those who follow a vegetarian lifestyle, you can comfortably travel to Tibet and enjoy delicious vegetarian food.

Staple Foods for Vegetarians

The main food sources for Tibetan vegetarians are potatoes and highland barley, which are staple foods in Tibet. Potatoes in Tibet grow on the vast land of the Yarlung Zangbo River basin, at an altitude of about 3,800 meters. Potatoes from the plateau are sweet and waxy, rich in carbohydrates and starch.

Highland barley is the traditional staple food of local people. Highland barley is rich in nutrients, rich in starch, protein, calcium, phosphorus and other nutrients, and contains a variety of amino acids and dietary fiber. It is a healthy food choice that also provides essential nutrients to vegetarians.

Whether in local family restaurants or vegetarian restaurants, you can taste a variety of delicious vegetarian dishes based on potatoes and highland barley. Whether you are trying various delicious dishes made from potatoes, or pasta and shortbread made from highland barley, they can satisfy the taste buds of vegetarians.

Dishes for Vegetarian

When you travel to Tibet, you can eat Balep, a simple round flatbread. It's made of barley flour, water, and baking powder, and can be cooked in any frying pan. When you eat Balep, make sure you have some bottled water.

Balep
Balep, a Tibetan bread.

You can easily eat Tsampa in Tibet. Tsampa is made from wheat flour meanwhile mixed with Tibetan butter tea. As a convenient dish, Tsampa is very popular among nomadic people and travelers.

You can have milk or Tibet Yogurt to supplement the protein you need every day. Also, you are recommended to try to drink Tibetan butter tea. Tibetan butter tea is made by repeated boiling of tea leaves. Tea contains vitamins, which can reduce the damage caused by the lack of vegetables on the plateau. The best butter tea was boiled for about half a day and added the traditional tea rolls, salt, and butter. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but many travelers like it.

Traditional Tibetan restaurants also provide a variety of vegetarian dishes, such as potato rice bowls, fried potatoes, potato buns, curry potatoes, sketches, vegetarian buns, vegetarian dumplings, pickled cabbage vermicelli buns, Tibetan vegetarian hot pot, and Tibetan vegetarian mushroom soup, etc.

Where to Eat Vegetarian Food in Tibet?

Vegetarians don’t need to worry about dining in Tibet as there are many restaurants offering a wide variety of vegetarian options.

Traditional Tibetan restaurant

Traditional Tibetan restaurants also provide a variety of vegetarian meal options for vegetarians, such as fruit rice, curry potatoes, roasted mushrooms, vegetarian pancakes, etc. Lahaha Karbo Vegetarian Coffee Bar is a restaurant with the best variety of vegetarian dishes. It provides vegetarians with many innovative Tibetan vegetarian dishes, such as tsampa roasted mushrooms, steamed buns with milk residue, vegetarian meat pancakes, fried highland barley, vegetarian pizza, etc.

Ordinary sweet tea house

In ordinary sweet tea houses, you can also easily find simple, delicious and cheap vegetarian options, such as vegetarian noodles, potato curry rice, vegetarian steamed buns, vegetarian dumplings, etc. A vegetarian bun, a pot of sweet tea, and a dish of chili sauce are a delicious lunch.

GuangMing Gang Qiong Sweet Teahouse
Guang Ming Gang Qiong Sweet Teahouse

High-end vegetarian restaurant

For vegetarians who are looking for a more refined experience, Lhasa also has high-end restaurants that specialize in vegetarian food. For example, Qingshui Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant features gourmet vegetarian food, and One Leaf One World Tibetan Tea Hotpot, which specializes in Tibetan tea hotpot. They provide exquisite vegetarian dishes and an elegant dining environment, but the corresponding consumption may be higher than that of ordinary restaurants.

Things to Know Beforehand

Vegetarian food does not mean cheaper

Since Tibet is located on a plateau, most vegetables and fruits need to be transported over long distances from Sichuan, Xinjiang and other places. The transportation and storage costs are high, so the prices of general dishes are also high. Especially in higher altitudes and remote areas, vegetable prices are more expensive than meat.

There are more vegetarian options in Lhasa, but options are limited in other areas.

Lhasa is the most developed transportation area in Tibet, and most vegetables and fruits will arrive in Lhasa first. As the most popular tourist city in Tibet, Lhasa has a large number of tourists, so the restaurants provide a wide range of food options, covering almost all kinds of vegetarian dishes.

If vegetarians have special requirements, please inform them in advance.

For the average vegetarian, traveling to Tibet is usually not too problematic, and restaurants usually offer a variety of vegetarian options. However, for special vegetarians who cannot accept any animal products at all, please be sure to indicate this in advance when booking the tour, so that the tour guide can arrange food that suits your taste.

In addition, when eating in Chinese restaurants in Tibet, multiple dishes are usually shared at the same table, while pasta, fried rice and buffets are usually served on a single plate per person. If you have special needs, such as a single plate for one person or a vegetarian diet, please communicate with the travel consultant or tour guide in advance so that your needs can be met as much as possible.

Conclusion

Vegetarians traveling to Tibet don't need to worry about finding vegetarian restaurants. In addition to dedicated vegetarian restaurants, many restaurants in Tibet offer fully vegetarian dishes and food options. At the same time, Tibet has an abundant supply of vegetables and fruits. Tourists can purchase vegetarian ingredients in Lhasa in advance and carry them in the car to facilitate your dietary needs.

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