Tibetan cuisine which came into existence to support people who live at an elevation of 16,000 feet is evolved and quite different from the cuisines we taste on a regular basis. The Tibetan cuisine is heavily influenced by Buddhism and subtly draws inspiration from Indian and Nepali food and is modified to cater to the needs of the people living in Alpine temperatures.
In terms of grain, barley is the most consumed one and is usually accompanied by beef, mutton and yak meat with large quantities of dairy. The most common factor among all Tibetan dishes and beverages is that it is wholesome and packed with energy to keep full for very long.
It might seem weird seeing meat feature in almost every dish since the religion of Buddhism doesn’t support killing animals; however, it is necessary to eat meat because there isn’t much land for agriculture. However, the Tibetans are fiercely strict about their culture and continue to refrain from eating a few cuts of meat like fish because they believe fish is the water deity.
Tibetans also refrain from eating donkey, horse and dog meat too. It is alos a taboo to eat garlic before an auspicious event or in a religious place because of the pungent smell.
Tibetan delicacies include the staple food of Tibet called Tsampa which is made of roasted barley flour and is soulful and piquant. The famous soup of Tibet called Thupka or Thentuk which comprises of noodles with sauces and meat chunks is the perfect dish if you are looking for something to warm you up and keep you full.
The most popular Tibetan dish across the globe is the delicious momo which resembles a dumpling. The half-moon shaped snack is filled with vegetable or meat and is served with a variety of hot and spicy sauces.
A celebratory dish which is prepared during weddings or some special occasion here is Ginseng fruit rice which symbolises good fortune and is packed with nutritious elements. Made of rice, ginseng fruit, sugar and ghee, this food item tastes absolutely divine. Chexo is prepared with rice and yogurt and is very popular among the locals. Lucky Head is a wacky dish you should try; it is essentially the Sheep head which is believed to bring good fortune to the devourer. If you are a meat lover, you shouldn’t miss out on the Yak ribs stewed in carrots and the different varieties of blood sausages that Tibet has to offer to the tourists.
The national drink of this country is the butter tea made of butter, tea leaves, salt and water and is a perfect accompaniment to all dishes. You can also avail the ara which is made by distilling or fermenting rice, maize or barley or the Chaang (Qinke wine) which is a traditional Nepalese/Tibetan beer made of rice or barley and is preserved in a barrel made of bamboo known as the dhungro. Raksi, which resembles the Japanese saki in taste, is another beverage you can try out if you are looking for something strong
Tibet is also known for their extensive variety of rustic yet delectable breads and cheeses. The most famous bread here is Balep which is a quickbread and has various varieties like Balep Korkun which is pan-cooked bread and Shamey balep which are fried pies. Tingmo is another popular bread which is devoid of filling and resembles Chinese flower rolls. It is also known as steamed bun. Chhurpi, a cheese which is similar to the ricotta is made of buttermilk. The softer variant is consumed with rice while the hard version of this cheese is chewed like a betel nut. Sosha, a soft cheese, is pungent and is used in beef dishes. It is made of milk from yaks and goats. Chura leonpa, similar to cottage cheese, is made of curd and is eaten with rice or noodles or as a snack.
Tibetans have a sweet tooth which has led to the development of heavenly desserts which no one can say no to. Dre-Si served during the New Year, Losar, is made of rice, raisins, dates, droma (a root grown in Tibet) and nuts cooked in butter and shouldn’t be missed at any cost. Thue is another popular sweet dish which is available in almost all eateries across Tibet. It is made by combining Yak cheese, porang (Tibetan brown sugar) and unsalted butter which is used to make the dough which is shaped in a thuedrom (a wooden rectangular container). If you’re lucky, you might find Tu which is a cheese cake made with Yak butter, brown sugar and water.
Even though most dishes in Tibet are prepared with the same ingredients, they are very different in terms of taste and appearance. Every dish has a different story to tell about the cuisine which is simple, heart and worth every penny!
Written byNiharika Nandi
Niharika Nandi is a media trainee who loves exploring the fields of photography and baking simultaneously. She’s a self-proclaimed professional bathroom singer and believes that caffeine runs through her veins. This adrenaline junkie loves to pen down a million thoughts gushing through her mind at any instant and is very vocal about LGBTQ rights.