Top 10 Tibetan food you need to try in Tibet
Tibet is located in the high altitude plateau, which is not conducive to the normal growth of general plants. The main crop is Qingke barley, and the staple food in Tibet is relatively scarce. Most of the food is meat and dairy products, also known as "red food" and "white food." “Red food" is the main food in winter, which can protect against the cold; while in summer, people prefer to eat "white food".
Beef (mainly yak meat) and mutton, ghee (butter), Zanba and tea are the most common foods and also called the "Four Treasures" of the Tibetan diet. Tibetan food has a light taste, many dishes do not contain any spicy seasonings except salt and scallion garlic.
The restaurants in Tibet are mainly divided into Tibetan restaurants, Sichuan restaurants, and Nepalese restaurants, together with a few western restaurants at the luxury hotels in Lhasa and Nyingchi. In terms of geographical distribution, Lhasa and Nyingchi have the most abundant types of restaurants and the largest number of restaurants. The conditions in the Ngari Prefecture (like Mt Kailash and the Guge Kingdom) are rather difficult, there are only a few counties and areas along the way that have restaurants, so please prepare some food and snacks before going to Ngari Region. Certainly, there are many vegetarian restaurants all over Tibet. If you are a vegetarian, you should not worry about the meals during the tour in Tibet.
1. Zanba 糌粑
Zanba (Tsampa) is a transliteration of fried noodles in Tibetan language: stir-fry the Qingke barley, and then grind it into a powder, which is also known as the roasted Qingke barley flour. It is simple to eat, you can add some ghee, milk residue, and sugar to make a small ball or strip. Zanba is a traditional staple food and a must-eat daily food for Tibetans, it is also a special Tibetan cuisine for tourists who travel to Tibet. It is rich in nutrients, easy to carry, and anti-cold hunger.
2. Air-dried Meat 风干肉
Tibetan yak meat and mutton contains many trace elements not found in other meats. At the end of the year, Tibetans cut fresh yak meat and mutton into small strips and hung them in a cool place to dry naturally. They will be crispy and sweet when eaten in February and March of the following year. The air-dried yak meat in the Shannan Prefecture is more flavorful with seasoning, crispy in the Ngari Prefecture, and retains the half-cooked taste in the Chamdo Prefecture.
3. Yak Yogurt 牦牛酸奶
Tibetan yak yogurt has been an indispensable food and offering for the Tibetan people for thousands of years. The biggest Shoton festival is named after yogurt. It is made from fermented yak milk and has a heavier taste. There are two types of Tibetan yogurts. One is made with milk that has been refined from ghee, and the other is made with milk that has not been refined from ghee.
4. Tibetan Noodles 藏面
Tibetan noodles is a traditional delicacy popular in Lhasa. The noodles are mainly made of wheat flour, pressed out and cooked in advance, then let it dry, and put in the hot beef soup when eating. The taste is slightly raw, which is one of the characteristics of Tibetan noodles. There are also many restaurants that improve the traditional soup noodles and turn them into fried noodles after meeting the needs of customers.
5. Potato Buns 土豆包子
The so-called potato buns are buns stuffed with mashed potatoes. Potatoes in Tibetan areas are different from other places. The potatoes taste particularly sweet because they grow on the plateau, with sufficient sunshine, the large temperature difference between day and night, and a lot of starch precipitation. It can be used as a staple food or a snack, and it tastes better with some ketchup or chili sauce.
6. Chang (Tibetan Barley Wine) 青稞酒
Chang is the favorite drink of the Tibetan people, no matter during daily routines and festivals/weddings. It would be a great regret to travel Tibet without drinking a cup of Chang. The brewing of Chang is relatively simple: dry the cooked Qingke barley with water vapor, then grind the fermented koji into a powder. Finally, put all them in a jar and store it for two to three days before drinking.
7. Yak-Butter Tea 酥油茶
Yak-Butter Tea is a specialty drink of Tibet, which is made from ghee and strong tea. Generally, Tibetan people will eat it together with staple food like Zanba. In addition to relieving thirst and hunger, Yak-Butter Tea can also treat altitude sickness which is highly recommended for travelers. Put the appropriate amount of ghee in a special bucket, add table salt, then pour the boiled thick tea juice, and mix it repeatedly with a wooden handle, so that the ghee and tea juice is dissolved into one, and it is milky.
8. Sweet Tea 甜茶
The sweet tea is as famous as Yak-butter tea in Tibet. Unlike the yak-butter tea, sweet tea's flavor can be accepted by most travelers. Tea houses offering sweet tea can be found everywhere in Tibet. Traditionally it was cooked with black tea plus sugar and milk, but right now is basically with black tea and sweet milk powder. The sweet tea has hundreds of years of history in Lhasa. It would be an ideal experience to have a cup of sweet tea in the old tea house at Barkhor street, to feel the local's lifestyle.
9. Tibetan Crispy Butter Cake 藏族酥酪糕
Tibetan Crispy Butter Cake is a traditional hospitality cake for guests and friends. Dry the creamed starch and grind it into powder, then mix it with butter, sugar, ginseng fruit, peach kernels, raisins, etc. to make a round or square shape, then put in the steamer for a while. The taste is sweet and creamy. For travelers who plan to trek, it can be a good snack choice as it will help you replenish physical strength and improve nutrition.
10. Tibetan Hotpot 藏式火锅
Tibetan style hot pot is a hot pot made from local high mountain fresh yak meat, yak meatballs, dried yak meat after processing, and equipped with a variety of local seasonal vegetables. The soup base is cooked with yak bones for several hours. In addition to yak meat, it also comes with Tibetan pork slices, plus the wild mushrooms and some herbs. As a result of mixing a variety of food ingredients and medicinal materials, the taste is rich in level, delicious, and high in nutritional value.
Some useful tips
- Do not buckle the bowl upside down, only the bowls used by Tibetans before death will be buckled upside down.
- Tibetans generally eat yak meat and mutton only, as fish is available in very few areas.
- It is recommended not to drink alcohol on the first day of your Tibet tour, which is not conducive to your adaptation to the plateau climate, and will even increase altitude sickness.
- Tibetans have some taboos against eating garlic. Garlic as a condiment is usually eaten by people, but travelers should not eat garlic before visiting monasteries, sacred mountains, and holy lakes, to avoid the smell of garlic contaminating the sacred places.