Off the beaten path around Lhasa - authentic Tibetan restaurants
Maybe you're planning your first tour to Lhasa, the Tibetan holy city - if so, you should know that Lhasa is also a gourmet city! The various food options in such a small and isolated place will definitely outpace your imagination! One can easily find a healthy variety of cuisines, including Western, Indian and Nepalese, and of course, Chinese, but if you are willing there are some extraordinary local places which can provide your tongue the taste of real Tibet!
Most travelers spend the first morning of their Tibet tour exploring the Potala Palace. This magnificent Tibetan structure takes a few hours to fully explore, and afterward you will likely need a break before heading to the next stunning site. Ask your local Tibetan guide - they will surely know - about the tea house in a cave by the Potala.
After only a 10 minute walk along the main road, you arrive at a tiny door - don't hesitate, go on inside! This Tibetan tea house is in a small cave, the walls and ceiling hewn right out of the rock! Inside is a bit of dark, part of the enticing ambience. Seated at the few simple tables and benches, Lhasa locals and pilgrims enjoying their tea and chatting. Tibetan sweet tea is a great alternative if you don't like the strong flavor of yak butter tea, and 5 ~ 10 CNY for a small pot is a very fair price. Locals drink tea every day, and some say it can help you acclimatize to the high altitude better.
Tip: Make sure to turn off the flash on your camera and it's always suggested to ask for permission before you take pictures of Tibetans.
If you want to start your Tibet trek earlier than most, stretch
your legs and explore Lhasa deeper. There are lots of small restaurants hiding down the quiet alleys of Lhasa's old town. Normally, these restaurants offer Tibetan noodles, curry dishes, tsampa, and my favorite - Momos!
'Momo' means 'dumpling' in Tibetan, and they are normally filled with yak meat or potatoes or both, and practically every Tibetan housewife knows how to make them! Some creative Tibetan cooks even add special Tibetan spices inside to make them more delicious. Trust me, you will love it!
Tip: Invite your guide to lead your exploratory tour, since most of the small restaurants are too "local" to have an English menu - you will probably need your guide to help you order (or just point at dishes on other tables that look yummy!) The "Potato Momo" at Snowland Restaurant is also good.
The Tibetan Plateau is a huge expanse of land, and many Tibet tours involve long stretches of driving - not only will the beautiful landscapes along the way keep you fully engaged, the nice local "not-in-the-guidebook" local fare will definitely make your trip worthwhile.
On my own Tibet trek, I stopped in an unassuming family restaurant on the way back to Lhasa from Shigatse, hidden behind a small sundries shop. I had already bought instant noodles when I noticed the small restaurant, and when I went inside, I found that they had a delicious curry rice with potatoes and beef!
Tip: Due to the high altitude, you may get half-cooked rice at times, which tastes like little stones. Tibetans prefer tsampa, a roasted barley flour usually mixed with butter tea. If you wake up early on your overland Tibet trek, you may be able to share a breakfast with your driver and guide - I bet they won't mind sharing their tsampa with you!
Can't wait to find your own yummy place in Tibet? Arrange a tour now and find your own local Tibetan dive to tell your friends about. If you can't find a travel partner, not to worry - check out the 2012 Tibet group tours, covering all the must-see spots in Tibet, as well as many of the unsung local hangouts as well!