Tibetan food, like Tibetan people and their culture, has a very distinct character. Many people have given Tibetan cuisine a bad reputation while others like it and think it's not that bad. Whether it's tasty or not, you need to try it yourself. Even if you have explored all Tibet attractions, your trip to tibet is never complete without trying tibetan food.
Tsampa (糌粑) is the staple food in Tibet. Tibetan people eat tsampa at every meal and bring it as a ready-made food when traveling. Tsampa is a dough made with roasted barley flour and ghee (yak butter).
There are 2 basic methods to make and eat tsampa. One is to make dough with butter tea. The other is to make porridge with beef or mutton, and vegetables. The former one is salty while the latter is added with sugar to give it a sweet taste.
Tibetans are famous for their heavy yak butter tea. Nomads drink cup after cup of butter tea daily, as it is filling and keeps them warm. In some regions, a bit of salt is added to the tea. While many foreigners balk at the idea of drinking butter tea, it is tasty if you think of it as a kind of soup.
Tibetans in central Tibet enjoy drinking sweet milk tea, known as ja ngarmo. The sweet tea is similar to British milk tea, and many visitors to Tibet enjoy the drink. However, Tibetans in the eastern regions of Amdo and Kham prefer plain milk tea or salty milk tea.
Momos, or dumplings, are every Tibetan’s favorite food. Momos are typically made on special occasions, and family and friends pitch in to make them together. Momos can easily be found at most restaurants, and there are many kinds, including potato momos, mutton momos, veg momos, and others. Tibetans dip the momos into spicy chili paste for added flavor, and wash it down with soup broth.
Thukpa is a noodle soup typically eaten for lunch or dinner. It includes thick noodles, boiled spinach, and bits of mutton, pork, or yak beef. One popular version of this soup, called tenthuk, uses small chunks of pasta made from pulled noodles. A large bowl of this warm, filling noodle soup is tasty on a cold night.
Tibetan nomads make yogurt (sho) from yak milk. In the summer, it is easy to buy buckets of fresh yogurt directly from the nomads. Restaurants also offer small bowls of yogurt, which can be eaten plain, with a bit of sugar, or mixed with rice.
Tibetans make all sorts of bread. The most common form of bread (pale) is small, thick, and round. Another popular kind of bread, tingmo, is small, round, and soft. Bread is typically eaten with all meals. Special, crispy bread (kapse) is made during the Tibetan New Year.
A popular dish in Tibetan restaurants is shamdre, which includes beef, rice, and potatoes. The meal is hearty and filling. Tibetans love potatoes, and often enjoy them with a bit of chili.
Tibetans eat a lot of meat, including yak beef, mutton, and pork. Traditionally, the meat is dried and preserved. It is then cut up and tossed into stews or eaten straight off the bone. Don’t be surprised if nomads invite you into their tent, hand you a knife and give you a big bowl of dried yak meat still on the bone!
Droma is a wild-harvested root found on the plateau grasslands. Served atop a plate of rice and sprinkled with a little sugar and melted butter, droma root is chewy and tasty. Its flavor is similar to sweet potatoes or parsnips. Highly nutritious, the small, red root is full of iron, protein and antioxidants.
In the summer, wild mushrooms grow on the plateau grasslands. Nomads pick these mushrooms while herding yaks and sheep, and then sell them along the road or in town. Mushrooms can be used as momo filling or their stems can be plucked, a little bit of salt and butter added, and then roasted over the fire. The results are delicious!
Now that an increasing variety of food is available in Tibet, eating vegetarian has become an option. While most Tibetans continue to eat a traditional meat diet, many young Tibetans believe that eating vegetarian is in line with their Buddhist beliefs. In the cities, there are many vegetarian options (including Nepali/Indian/Sichuan food), but outside the city, travelers may want to bring some peanut butter as a supplement.
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