Tibetan Diet is a unique and special for the high altitude. It is made unique because of the isolation by the geographical setup. While you are making your tour to Tibet, I think it is essential to know about and try a Tibetan diet. Many of our foreign friends especially those how are belong to the conservative religious background, it is must to understand information and with some ideas about what locals Tibetans are eating. I think this will help you make an 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 be 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 everyday 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 the 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 the cake is a western delicacy and I would not use to give a clear understanding of our culture. Western doesn’t have such a 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 signifies dependence in the family. If you visit the families in the village or town set up, you will commonly see people using the cup and the bare hand in making pak.
Another way of eating Tsampa is called Jamthu. That means smooth. In Jamthu, all the ingredient are same, yet the amount of the tea is more, and we mix the mixture into soup or dilute form. This way of eating Tsampa is mainly use 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 something to drink quickly after popping it in your 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 there, would pop in a spoon of Tsampa as a snack before sipping a tea.
If you go to Tibetan cuisine restaurant in Tibet now, if you order Tsampa, there will give to ready make park. 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 ask your 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 houses, you can wear Tibetan cloth and your host will show you who to make pak. This is a great fun visiting those family restaurants. 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 an old saying, “ it’s pure happiness if we have a smoothing tea every morning.” There are a few kinds 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 our mixer call Dongmu. It’s 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. It’s worth having the taste of it.
Black tea is kind of like afternoon tea when a family finishes the butter tea made in the morning. Black tea is also salty. Many restaurants offer black tea as soon as you enter 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 something hot to drink half an hour before you actually eat. This helps to warm up your stomach before you eat. So in many restaurants, 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 drink 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 call it the latest generation of tea in Tibetan history. I really don’t know about its origin in Tibetan society. But I am sure, it’s definitely not a local origin. I believe the sweet tea is borrowed from India during the dawn of the British empire in India. Now it has become dominant in Tibet daily culture.
There are much popular tea shops 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 thing about Tibetan teas culture is tea is not commonly sold per cup. There are sold for pot. There is the range of pots from number one to five. The number one pot contains 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 has never particle experience of being in the 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 sea level. Meat is the only staple food after Tsampa. So this is why we will find meat on our dining table. There are many people who skip eating the meat of 8th, 10th, 15th, 18th, 20th, 25th 28th, and the last day of the Tibetan lunar calendar. Because these dates are considered as auspicious dates in you astrology.
But tradition we are only allowed to consume the animals with the hoof. We are not allowed to eat any plates of seafood, 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 whenever you eat a meal in the local restaurant, you are more likely being eating the Yak meat. It is the must for travelers with Hinduism or any religion which prohibit you in consuming meat, It is better to tell you the 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 a 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 sell in the Tea shop or any local restaurant. I always suggest all my clients go for tea and noodles in the local restaurant while they are here. You will know the feeling when you sit with loads of other locals people and drinking tea with the welcoming smiling face.
There are many kinds of Noodles in Tibet, Being in the world highest plateau our ancestor really have developed an excellent skill in making noodle. Noodle warms up your body before going to bed. And for our family, it is almost a typical dinner for the entire winter. The most common noodles in the market are Bhoe-thuk, Lup-thuk, and tro-mei.
is the most common in every tea house and it is must to have for everyone. This is an about two-millimeter thick noodle. It is cooked and when it is served, it is served after dripping it in a boiling meat soup. it is must have and please try it, I beg you will have more of it.
Lup Thuk is the specialty of the area in Lhasa called Lupu, the noodle is very thick, and, sometime you will feel like the noodle is not properly cooke. You will not get it everywhere as it is under the copyright of a local co-operative which invent the Noodle. You will have to go to a particular restaurant to have it. I think you would like it at the first try, but if you do have room for the second try next, I think you will love it better then the previous visit.
this is the specialty of the 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 your guide to refer you to a local Tibetan restaurant. Don’t just ask for the restaurant, you might end up eating in Nepalese restaurant.
5)Lastly, I would recommend you to go to a local restaurant selling Tibetan food while asking about the restaurant you can ask for good Bho-Zey restaurant
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