Tibetan cuisine reflects local climates and customs. Few crops grow at the high altitudes that characterize Tibet, although a few areas in Tibet are low enough to grow such crops as rice, oranges, bananas, and lemon. The most important crop is barley.
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Flour milled from roasted barley, called tsampa, is the staple food of Tibet. Balep is Tibetan bread eaten for breakfast and lunch. Thukpa is mainly consumed for dinner. It consists of noodles of various shapes, vegetables, and meat in broth. Tibetan cuisine is traditionally served with bamboo chopsticks, in contrast to other Himalayan cuisines, which are eaten by hand. Small soup bowls are also used, and rich Tibetans are fed from bowls of gold and silver.
Meat dishes are likely to be yak, goat, or mutton, often dried or cooked in a spicy stew with potatoes. Mustard seed is cultivated in Tibet and therefore features heavily in its cuisine. Yak yoghurt, butter, and cheese are frequently eaten, and well-prepared yoghurt is considered something of a prestige item. As well as consumed in Tibet, varieties of Tibetan dishes are consumed in Ladakh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and by the Tibetan diaspora in India, and various regions of northern Nepal, such as Mustang.
Famous Tibetan Dishes
- Sha Balep-a bread stuffed with seasoned beef and fashioned into semi-circular or circular shapes and which according to regional variations is either deep fried or pan fried like pot stickers
- Balep korkun - a central Tibetan flatbread cooked on a skillet rather than in an oven
- Tingmo (food) - a type of steamed bun, a heavier version of the Chinese baozi
- Thenthuk - a type of cold-weather soup made with noodles and various vegetables
- Shab Tra-Stir - fried meat tossed with celery, carrots and fresh green chili
- Gyurma (Juema) - Tibetan blood sausages with yak or sheep's blood and roasted barley flour or rice as filler
- De-Thuk - a type of soup that includes yak or sheep stock along with rice, different types of Tibetan cheeses and droma which is a type of Tibetan root
- Tsam-thuk - a type of soup that uses yak or sheep stock and roasted barley flour as well as a variety of Tibetan cheeses
- Dre-si - Tibetan sweet dish using rice that is cooked in unsalted butter and mixed with raisins, droma (gourd shaped root found in Tibet), dates and other nuts. This dish is usually served only on Losar (Tibetan new year).
- Khapsey - Tibetan cookies or biscuits that is deep fried and usually made during celebrations such as the Tibetan new year or weddings. Khapseys are fashioned into many different intricate shapes and textures. Some are sprinkled with powdered sugar while other shapes such as the donkey ear-shaped khapseys are used for decoration.
In larger Tibetan towns and cities many restaurants now serve Sichuan-style Chinese food. Western imports and fusion dishes, such as fried yak and chips, are also popular. Nevertheless, many small restaurants serving traditional Tibetan dishes persist in both cities and the countryside.
Most Tibetans drink many cups of yak butter tea each day. Jasmine tea is also sometimes available.
"Brick tea is made by methods only distantly related to those employed in China or Ceylon. When the water boils, a great handful of the stuff is crumbled into it and allowed to stew for between five and ten minutes, until the whole infusion is so opaque that it looks almost black. At this stage a pinch of salt is added; the Tibetans always put salt, never sugar, in their tea. I have been told that they sometimes add a little soda, in order to give the beverage a pinkish tinge, but I never saw this done in Sikang. They very seldom, on the other hand, drink tea without butter in it. If you are at home, you empty the saucepan into a big wooden churn, straining the tea through a colander made of reed or horsehair. Then you drop a large lump of butter into it, and, after being vigorously stirred, this brew is transferred to a huge copper teapot and put on a brazier to keep it hot. When you are traveling, you do not normally take a churn with you, so everyone fills his wooden bowl with tea, scoops a piece of butter out of a basket, puts it in the bowl, stirs the mixture gently with his finger, and, finally, drinks the tea."
Alcoholic beverages include:
- Chang, a beer usually made from barley
- Pinjopo, a rice wine
- Ara, distilled or fermented grain alcohol