Foodie Guide of Tibet

For foodies, Tibet offers a different kind of fun. Tibetan food, like its people and their culture, has a very unique character — you either love it or hate it. As of everything, you will have to try it yourself to know. Tibetan food is a combined result of it’s environment — high altitude and harsh climate, it’s religious belief and ethnic customs. Besides, there are also Chinese and Muslim food in Tibet. Here we give you a general sum-up of what a foodie can be expected of Tibet.

TIBETAN
Tibetan foodThe basic Tibetan meal is a kind of dough made with tsampa (roasted-barley flour) and yak butter mixed with something wet – water, tea or beer. Tibetans skillfully knead and mix the paste by hand into dough-like balls, which is not as easy as it looks! Tsampa with milk powder and sugar makes a pretty good porridge and is a fine trekking staple, but only a Tibetan can eat it every day and still look forward to the next meal.

Some common Tibetan dishes include momos and thugpa. Momos are small dumplings filled with meat or vegetables or both. They are normally steamed but can be fried and are pretty good. More common is thugpa, a noodle soup with meat or vegetable or both. Variations on the theme include hipthuk (squares of noodles and yak meat in a soup) and thenthuk (more noodles). Glass noodles known as phing are also sometimes used.

 

The other main option is shemdre (sometimes called curried beef), a stew of potatoes and yak meat on a bed of rice. In smarter restaurants in Lhasa or Sigatse you can try dishes such as damje or shomday (butter fried rice with raisins and yoghurt), droma desi (wild ginseng with raisins, sugar, butter and rice) and shya vale (fried pancake-style pasties with a yak-meat filling). Formal Tibetan restaurants in particular are very big on yak offal, with large sections of menus sumptuously detailing the various ways of serving up yak tongues, stomachs and lungs.

In rural areas and markets you might see strings of little white lumps drying in the sun that even the flies leave alone – this is dried yak cheese and it’s eaten like a boiled sweet. For the first half-hour it is like having a small rock in your mouth, but eventually it starts to soften up and taste like old, dried yak cheese.

Also popular among nomads is yak sha (dried yak jerk). It is normally cut into strips and left to dry on tent lines and is pretty chewy stuff.

Tibetan Food in English
Tibetan Pronunciation
Chinese Script
Chinese Pronunciation
Butter Tea
bo-cha
酥油茶
suyou cha
Noodles
thuk-pa
藏面
zangmian
Rice, Potato and Yak-meat Stew
shemdre
咖喱牛肉饭
gali nirou fan
Roasted Barley Flour
tsampa
糌粑
zanba
Tibetan Yoghurt
sho
酸奶
suannai
Vegetable Dumplings
tse-momo
素菜包子
sucai baozi
Yak-meat Dumplings
sha-momo
牛肉包子
niurou baozi

CHINESE
shaguo mianxianChinese restaurants can be found in every settlement in Tibet, but are around 50% more expensive than elsewhere in China. Chinese food in Tibet is almost exclusively Sichuanese, the spiciest of China’s regional cuisines. One popular Sichuanese sauce is yuxiang, a spicy, piquant sauce of garlic, vinegar and chilli that is supposed to resemble the taste of fish (though it’s more like a sweet and tangy marinade). You’ll also taste huajiao (Sichuan papper), a curious mouth-numbing spice popular in Sichuanese food.

 

Chinese snacks are excellent and make for a fine light meal. The most common are shuijiao (ravioli-like dumplings), ordered by the bowl or weight, and baozi (thicker steamed dumplings), which are similar to momos and normally ordered by the steamer, and are a common breakfast food. Both are dipped in soy sauce, vinegar or chilli (or a mix of all). You can normally get a bowl of noodles anywhere for around ¥10; shaguo mianxian is a particularly tasty form of rice noodles cooked in a clay pot. Chaomian (fried noodles) and dan chaofan (egg fried rice) are not as popular in the West, but you can get them in many Chinese restaurants.

 

You can get decent breakfasts of yoghurt, muesli and toast at hostels in Lhasa, Gyantse and Shigatse, but else where you are more likely to find Chinese-style dumplings, fried bread sticks (youtiao) and tasteless rice porridge (xifan). One good breakfast-type food that is widely available is scrambled eggs and tomato (fanqie chaodan).

 

Chinese Snacks in English
Chinese Script
Chinese Pronunciation
Beef noodles in a soup
牛肉面
niurou mian
Boiled dumplings
水饺
shuijiao
Fried Muslim noodles and beef
干拌面
ganban mian
Fried noodle squares
炒面片
chao mianpian
Dried noodle with vegetables
蔬菜炒面
shucai chaomian
Fried rice with egg
鸡蛋炒饭
jidan chaofan
Fried rice with vegetables
蔬菜炒饭
shucai chaofan
Muslin noodles
拉面
lamian
Steamed meat buns
包子
baozi
Steamed white rice
米饭
mifan
Vermicelli noodles in casserole pot
砂锅米线
shaguo mixian
Wonton (soup)
馄饨()
hundun (tang)
Xinjiang noodles
新疆拉面
Xinjian lamian
Chinese Dishes in English
Chinese Script
Chinese Pronunciation
Double-cooked fatty pork
回锅肉
huiguo rou
Dry-fried runner beans
干煸四季豆
ganban sijidou
Egg and tomato
番茄炒蛋
fanqie chaodan
Eggplant with garlic, ginger, vinegar and scallions
鱼香茄子
yuxiang qiezi
Fried green beans
素炒扁豆
suchao biandou
Fried vegetables
素炒素菜
suchao sucai
Pork and sizzling rice crust
青椒肉片
qingjiao roupian
Pork in soy sauce
京酱肉丝
jingjiang rousi
Braised eggplant
红烧茄子
hongshao qiezi
Spicy chicken with peanuts
宫保鸡丁
gongbao jiding
Spicy tofu
麻辣豆腐
mala doufu
Stir-fried baby bok choy
素炒小白菜
suchao xiao baicai
Stir-fried broccoli
素炒西兰花
suchao xilanhua
Stir-fried greens
素炒油菜/空心菜
suchao youcai/kongxincai
Stir-fried spinach
素炒菠菜
suchao bocai
Sweet and sour pork fillets
糖醋里脊
tangcu liji
Wood mushrooms and pork
木耳肉
muer rou

 

MUSLIM
Muslim food in TibetThe Muslim restaurants found in almost all urban centres in Tibet are an interesting alternative to Chinese or Tibetan food. They are normally recognizable by a green flag hanging outside or Arabic script on the restaurant sign. Most chefs come from the Linxia area of Gansu. The food is based on noodles, and, of course, there’s no pork.

 

Dished worth trying include ganbanmian, a kind of stir-fried spaghetti bolognaise made with beef (or yak) and sometimes green pappers; and chaomianpian, fried noodle squares with meat and vegetables. Xijiang banmian (Xinjiang noodles) are similar, but the sauce comes in a separate bowl, to be poured over the noodles. It’s fun to go into the kitchen and see your noodles being handmade on the spot.

 

Muslim restaurants also offer good breads and excellent ba bao cha (eight treasure tea), which is made with dried raisins, plums and rock sugar, and only releases its true flavour after several cups.

SELF-CATERING
There will likely be a time somewhere on your trip when you’ll need to be self-sufficient, whether you’re staying overnight at a monastery or are caught between towns on an overland trip. Unless you have a stove, your main savior will be instant noodles. Vegetables such as onions, carrots and bok choy can save even the cheapest pack of noodles from culinary oblivion, as can a packet of mixed spices brought from home.

 

It’s a good idea to stock up on instant coffee (or ground coffee and a French press), tea, oats, hot chocolate and dried soups, as flasks of boiling water are offered in every hotel and restaurants.

DRINKS
what to drink in TibetNONALCOHOLIC DRINKS
The local beverage that every traveller ends up trying at least once is yak-butter tea. Modern Tibetans these days use an electric blender to mix their yak-butter tea. The more palatable alternative to yak-butter tea is sweet, milk tea, or cha ngamo. It is similar to the tea drunk in neighbouring Nepal or Pakistan. Soft drinks and mineral water are available everywhere.

 

ALCOHOLIC DRINKS
The Tibetan brew is known as chang, a fermented barley beer. It has a rich, fruity taste and ranges from disgusting to pretty good. True connoisseurs serve it out of a jerry can. Those trekking in the Everest region should try the local variety, which is served in a big pot. Hot water is poured into the fermenting barley and the liquid is drunk through a wooden straw – it is very good way get to know local people, if drunk in small quantities. The main brand of local beer is Lhasa Beer, now brewed in Lhasa in a joint venture with Carlsberg at the world’s highest brewery. Supermarkets in Lhasa stock several types of Chinese red wine.

 

Drinks in English
Chinese Script
Chinese Pronunciation
Beer
啤酒
pijiu
Boiled water
开水
kai shui
Hot
热的
rede
Ice cold
冰的
bingde
Mineral water
矿泉水
kuangquan shui
Tea
cha