Tibet’s high altitude and climate puts limits on food crops that can be grown here and this is reflected in the local cuisine served in Tibet restaurants which lacks variety and is rather unimaginative. Restaurants in Tibet serve simple dishes made from the staple food items of barley, meat and dairy products are the norm. This doesn’t mean that you don’t get good food in Tibet or that your choice is limited to the local fare. The influx of the Chinese and the spurt in tourism has seen to it that visitors now have more options when it comes to food. Several Chinese diners and many restaurants that serve fusion dishes and local adaptations of western cuisine can now be found in Tibet. Most Chinese eateries here specialise in spicy Sichuan style food; while Chinese Muslim establishments, easy to spot with their green flags, serve distinctive Hui food. Discover some traditional Chinese restaurants on the China Restaurant Guide.
Unlike other Himalayan countries who eat with their hands, Tibet uses bamboo chopsticks.
Tsampa, barley flour, is the staple food in Tibet. Made from roasted barley that is ground into fine powder, it is usually eaten mixed with salted butter tea. Add a bit of sugar and milk and it becomes a hearty gruel. Other foods used in Tibet cuisine are yoghurt, milk, cheese and other dairy products. These form part of most meals and are consumed daily. Yak butter is a hot favourite with the local people who swear by its taste and nutritional value. Meat – yak, mutton and pork – is another staple and is often made into stews with potatoes. Tibet food also favours dried meat, mutton and beef in long stripes. It is common and is barbequed or even eaten raw by the Tibetans. Vegetables are hard to grow in the higher reaches and you find very few used in traditional cooking though more variety is found in the lower regions. A good time to try some local dishes is when you are perusing the local Tibet shops.
Thukpa is a filling noodle soup with meat and vegetables typically eaten for dinner. Other varieties of noodles include thenthuk and hipthuk. Momos are fried or steamed dumplings filled with meat and vegetables. This popular dish is found throughout the Himalayan region. Balep is common Tibetan bread. Gyurma is Tibetan blood sausage made with sheep or yak blood and barley or rice flour. Yak butter tea (pocha) is a typical drink for the local people, but an acquired taste for most foreigners. A salty concoction of Tibetan butter and black tea, it is churned with a thick rod in a long wooden tube. Other must try items include banana porridge and carrot cake.
Tea, salted or sweet, is a very popular drink in Tibet. Jasmine tea is a local specialty. Tea houses, found in most towns and cities, are an important part of the Tibetan cultural milieu.
Alcoholic drinks are served at most hotel bars, these are usually spirits distilled in mainland China. Foreign liquor is increasingly available in Lhasa. Local stuff is limited to Chang, a mild beer made from barley (but potent in these high altitudes); and pinjopo, a rice wine.