Tibetan Diet is a very unique and special for the high altitude. it is make unique because of the isolation by the geographical set up. While you are making your tour to Tibet, i think it is very important to know about and try a Tibetan diet. Many of our foreign friend specially those how are belong to religious conservative background, it is must to know information and with some ideas about what locals Tibetans are eating. I think this will help you make a informed decision about where to eat and what to order.
Following are the most prominent stable Tibetan diet.
Tsampa is the main Tibetan diet and most staple food of Tibet, it is a flour of roasted Barley or beans. Since it is roasted, it is already cooked and there is no need to cook it again. I think i can safely called it the world first fast food. Tsampa is deeply rooted in our Tibetan civilization, which according to some archaeologist is about 4000 to 5000 years old culture civilization. There were some archaeology evidence to proves the concept, which tells us we Tibetan have been consuming Tsampa since from per historic time. Its every day breakfast in my case and it encourage by our elderly generation to eat Tsampa every morning.
Tsampa can be eaten in many ways. In our traditional way, we eat it in two ways. One is by making to hard dough of Tsampa, this is called Pak, not a cake. You will mix the Tsampa with tea either in the bowl using your hand or using a small leather pouch call Thangku. In either way you will mix it using your hand and you will squeeze it in your hand before eating it. Many locals and tour guide prefer to call it a Tsampa cake, but cake is a western delicacy and i would not use to give a clear understanding about our culture. Western don’t have such culture, so i would prefer to use our own Tibetan teams. So Pak is Pak, not a cake.
When we make pak in the most lavish way, we put a piece of butter, some small amount of dried cheese, sugar and Tibetan tea. You will either mix it using the leather pouch called Thangku or you will mix it by your hand putting the mixture in a cup. For the beginner i would suggest eating it in the leather pouch. If you visit the rural nomad family, it is a common scene to see the head of the family making pak in the Thangku (the leather pouch). This also signify dependence in the family. If you visit the families in village or town set up, you will commonly see people using the cup and the bare hand in making pak.
The another way of eating Tsampa is called Jamthu. That means a smooth. In Jamthu all the ingredient are same yet the amount of the tea is more and we mix the mixture into a soup or dilute form. This way of eating Tsampa is mainly used when we are feeding our babies and young ones and in my case, when i am busy to chew the hard Pak.
The last way of eating Tsampa is by eating the dry Tsampa flour and drinking tea after tea. It requires great skills and experiences. If you are going to try, please have some thing to drink quickly after popping it in you mouth. Preferably Luke warm water. I would not encourage eating Tsampa in this way as it might choke you. In our communities and family elderly people loves to have Tsampa that way. They would like to have a pot of Tsampa on the table all the time and their would pop in a spoon of Tsampa as a snacks before sipping a tea.
If you go to Tibetan cuisine restaurant in Tibet now, if you order Tsampa, there will give to ready make pak. There would call it Tsampa cake. If you order the ready made Pak, you would miss the fun in making the pak yourself. I would suggest you to ask you guide to take you to some Tibetan family restaurant in Chushul country near Lhasa. You will most likely pass by that village on our way to Shigatse from Lhasa or Lhasa from Shigatse. In those family house you can wear Tibetan cloth and you host will show you who to make pak. This is a great fun in visiting those family restaurant. But in order to have greater fun in the family house you might want to avoid the busy tourist season.
We Tibetans are very fond of drinking tea. We have a old saying, “its a pure happiness if we have a smoothing tea every morning”. There are few kind of tea; butter tea, black tea, milk tea and sweet tea.
Butter tea is a tea made by mixing the tea with butter. It will be a fatty and salty. This gives surprise to many of you visiting friends as most of them a presumption that the tea is sweet, well all are not. In this case it is salty. This is must to have if you are having Tsampa in any forms. Traditionally we use to mix the tea and the butter in a our mixer call Dongmu. Its a wooden piston in a wooden pile, where one end is locked. The tea maker will pull up and push down on the piston from the unlocked side to the pipe to mix tea and the butter. please be cautious as some tea might be very salty to you. But if you are visiting house or nomad how makes their own butter, go for it. Its worth having the taste of it.
Black tea is kind of like afternoon tea when a family finish the butter tea made in the morning. Black tea is also a salty. Many restaurant offers a black tea as soon as you enter into the restaurant before you order your food. If their offers without you asking its free, but if you ask for it that means you will have to pay for it. In our Tibetan medicine concept we must have some thing hot to drink half an hour before you actually eat. This helps to warm up your stomach before you eat. So in many restaurant there will offer you something to drink before you eat.
Milk tea is an another Tibetan tea style from Amdo region of China, which popularly known as Qinghai. The tea looks just like a chai, or sweet tea. But there is no salt or sweet in this tea. It is popularly known as Amchai, which mean Amdo tea.
Sweet tea, this tea is very popular in Tibet now. I would prefer to called it the latest generation to tea in Tibetan history. I really don’t know about its origin in Tibetan society. But i am sure, its definitely not a local origin. I believe the sweet tea is borrowed from India during the dawn of British empire in India. Now it has become the dominate in Tibet daily culture.
There are many popular tea shop in Lhasa, Gum chung and Ani Tsangku and Zetro are the most popular in Lhasa. These three tea house has become a must to visit place for many Domestic travelers. I always encourage our guest to spent some times in the mummering of hundreds of people in the house while sipping tea. Another funny things about Tibetan teas culture is tea are not commonly sold per cup. There are sold for pot. There are range of pots from number one to five. The number one pot contain about one liter of tea. Once a foreign guest was asking a guide if it is a factory upon seeing lots of bicycles parked outside the teas house.
This is a common assumption makes by any traveler who have never particle experience of being in Tibetan community. Yes we are Buddhist and we eat meat. Living in the highest place in the world, where traditionally we do not have a good vegetation. We will in the average of 4000 meters above the sea level. Meat is the only staple food after Tsampa. So this is why we will find meat in our dinning table. There are many people who skip eating meat of 8th, 10th,,15th, 18th, 20th, 25th 28th, and the last day of Tibetan lunar calender. Because these dates are consider as auspicious dates in you astrology.
But tradition we are only allow to consume the animals with hoof. We are not allow to eat any sea foods, chicken, and any other meat. There is only one fishing village in tibet and people from that village are allowed to eat fish. Yak beef is a dominant meat in our society, when ever you eat a meat in local restaurant, you are more likely being eating the Yak meat. It is must for travelers with Hinduism or any religion which prohibit you in consuming meat, It is better to tell you tour guide, and ask them to take you to the vegetarian restaurant. Vegetarianism is an emerging trend in our society, you will surely find a vegetarian restaurant in every town in Tibet. We do consume lamp meat but on very rare occasion and lamp more expensive then Yak beef. If you do to the Tibetan Muslim area of Lhasa. you can enjoy good lamp.
Noodle is the must food in Lhasa, if you meet a local friend he will either ask you to go for sweet tea or Noodle. But it means same, you are more likely to end up having both noodle and sweet tea. Both sells in Tea shop or any local restaurant. I always suggest all my clients to go for a tea and noodles in local restaurant while they are here. You will know the feeling when you actually sit with loads of other locals people and drinking tea with the welcoming smiling face.
There are many kind of Noodles in Tibet, Being in the world highest plateau our ancestor really have develop a very good skill in making noodle. Noodle warms up your body before going to bed. And for our family it is almost a common dinner for the entire winter. The most common noodles in market are Bhoe-thuk, Lup-thuk and tro-mei.
is the most common in every tea house and it is must to have for every one. This is a about two millimeter thick noodle. It is cooked and when it is served, it is serve after dripping it in a boiling meat soup. it is must have and please try it, i beg you will have more of it.
is the speciality of area in Lhasa called Lupu, the noodle is very thick and some time you will feel like the noodle is not properly cooked. You will not get it every where as it is under the copyright of a local co-operative which invent the Noodle. You will have to go to a special restaurant to have it. I think you would like it at the first try but if you do have room for second try next i think you will like it better then the previous visit.
this is the specialty of Amdo region. It is more of the taste of tomato. If you want to try it out the best option is to go to Amdo restaurant. This noodle has a close tie with Hui people. There are next to Tibetan in the region.
Point of pointer about Tibetan diet
1)All our foods are very salty for the outsider. I think this has something to do with the high altitude.
2)Tibetan Yak butter tea is Salty, not sweet.
3)In most of the local you might have to pay while ordering
4)If you want to try a local dish, ask you guide to refer you to a local Tibetan restaurant. Dont just ask for restaurant, you might end up eating in Nepalese restaurant.
5)Lastly i would recommend you to go for a local restaurant selling Tibetan food, while asking about the restaurant you can ask for good Bho-Zey restaurant
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