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Tibetan Cuisine

In company with their unique culture, Tibetans have food of a very distinctive character.

Among the great varieties of Tibetan food, zanba and buttered tea are the most popular and distinguished. The former, made of qingke (barley flour) and tastes a little bit sour, is very nutritious and easy to take, while the latter, a Juema, a Tibetan snack mixture of butter, tea and salt, claims to be a good energy-giving beverage. Quite a lot tourists drink it during their stay in Tibet, in order to get used to the high altitudes and dry climate and it becomes quite addictive. Qinke wine, however, seems to have quite the opposite effect due to its strong after-effects. Many outsiders shrink from the challenge of drinking this wine despite in popularity with the locals. Other typical Tibetan foods include dried meat, mutton served with sheep's trotters, roasted sheep intestines, yogurt and cheese.


You can't say you have really tasted Tibetan food without trying qingke wine, buttered tea, sheep blood soup and yak meat.  


All the hotels in Tibet serve Tibetan food and the Tibetan restaurants along Eastern Beijing Road in Lhasa enjoy quite a reputation among tourists. Snow Goddess Palace at the foot of the Potala attracts innumerable tourists with its authentic Tibetan cuisine. If you enjoy a feast there you will be offered the following: For the first course you will be served with cold dishes, such as zanba, yak meat, beef tripe and ox tongue. Next comes the hot dishes with sheep blood soup, fried sheep lung and stir-fried beef with pickled carrot. The staple is steamed buns stuffed with minced beef and potato, or rice fried with butter. What a treat not only for your stomach, but also your eyes. Nevertheless, most people only taste a little of these beautiful dishes.


Tibetan food is not the only choice for tourists today. Different styles of food, such as Sichuan and Guangdong cuisine, are also available at hotels and streetside restaurants in Lhasa, Zetang and Shigatse. Western restaurants and buffet cafeterias are also available for the slightly more unadventurous of tourists.


The Buttered Tea

Buttered tea is the favorite drink of Tibetan people. It is made of boiled brick tea and ghee. Ghee, which looks like butter, is a kind of dairy product of fat abstracted from cow milk or sheep milk. Tibetan people like the ghee made of yak milk. When they make buttered tea, they mix boiled brick tea and ghee in a special can, add some salt, pour the mixed liquid into a pottery or metal teapot and finally heat up it (but not boil it). Different people have different tastes for the buttered tea. Some people like salty flavor, others prefer to light flavor. People who do manual labors, especially men, like the strong-tasted, cream-like buttered tea. Old people, women and children like light-flavored tea. People usually heat up the buttered tea because cold buttered tea is not easy to be digested and does harm to one's stomach.


Zanba (roasted highland qingke barley flour)

The staple food of Tibetan people is Zanba, a kind of dough made with roasted highland qingke barley flour and yak butter with water. Method of making: grind the roasted Highland Barley into flour, and mix it with ghee. It is similar to parching wheat flour in northern China. People in northern China grind the wheat into flour before parching it, but Tibetan people do the opposite. They roast the Barley seeds before grinding them into flour. What's more, Tibetan people do not remove the husk of the Barley.


When eating Zanba, Tibetan people put some ghee in a bowl, pour some boiled water into the bowl, then put some roasted flour into the water, and mix them with one hand. When mixing the tea, they press the flour slightly against the edge of the bowl with their fingers to avoid spilling the tea. After mixing all the roasted flour, the tea and the ghee until the thing gets thick, people knead it into dough balls and eat them. Tibetan people use hands instead of chopsticks or scoops when eating. This habit is a little similar to the habits of Indians, who also use hands when eating rice.



Zanba is a simple food. It is quite easy to take some Zanba when Tibetan people move about in search of pasture. When Tibetan people leave home for a long time, they always carry a Zanba bag on their waists. Whenever they are hungry, they eat some Zanba. Sometimes, they take out a wooden bowl, put some Zanba, buttered tea, and salt in the bowl, mix them. Then they knead the dough into balls and eat them. It's very convenient. Sometimes, they drink some buttered tea while eating Zanba. Sometimes, they pour Zamba and buttered tea into a leather bag named "tangu". Then, they hold the mouth of the bag with one hand and knead the bag with the other hand. After a while, the delicious Zanba dinner is ready.


During the Tibetan New Year Festival, every family will place an auspicious wood container called 'Zusuqima'on the Tibetan-style cupboard. In the container there are qingke, Zanba and zholma (groma food, a kind of Tibetan food), on top of which are ears of qingke wheat, wheat flowers and colored cards on which the sun, the moon and stars are drawn. When the neighbors or the relatives come to pay a New Year call, the hosts will entertain them with the food in 'Zusuqima'. The guest will take some Zanba with one hand and flick in the air for three times. Then he takes some Zanba and put it into mouth while saying 'Tashi Delek' (meaning good luck and happiness) to express the best wishes.


Lhasa's catering business is developing. Besides the Tibetan diet, other national styles of cooking including Chinese, Indian, Nepalese and Western food can all be enjoyed. Tibetan food, Sichuan cuisine, and Northern wheaten foods are most typical. The Tibetan diet is mainly made up of beef and mutton. Don't eat too much the first time to avoid dyspepsia. If you are not used to buttered tea, you can often drink sweet milk tea as an alternative. Highland barley wine is not strong, but too much will nevertheless result in deep sleep. It is recommended to eat garlic with some dishes, such as raw meat pulp. In some small restaurants, a dish and a soup cost about 10 yuan. Northwest China's hand-pulled noodles are rather cheap, as is nourishing Thenthuk (Tibetan noodles) with bone soup at only 4 yuan.



Qingke (highland barley) is the main ingredient of tsampa. Tsampa is barley flour, made from parched barley, un-husked and ground into fine flour, and then eaten with butter. People also make tsampa by mixing qingke flour and peas. Tsampa made from qingke is a Tibetan traditional food, served in most restaurants of Lhasa to give visitors from all over the world a taste of Tibet. At religious festivals, Tibetans will sprinkle tsampa as a sign of blessing.


Beef and Mutton

Tibetans mainly live on beef, mutton and milk products. In pastoral areas, people don't eat vegetables. In these areas, which include most of Tibet, the diet is monotonous and rich in fat and protein. Beef and mutton are rich in calories, which helps people who live on the roof of the World to keep warm. Tibetans have a custom of eating raw meat. If you go to a herdsman's or a farmer's home, you will see the air-dried beef and mutton hung inside the house or tents. The host will invariably treat you to such meat, which can only be tasted on the Plateau of Tibet.


Mashed Yak Meat

Tibetan medicines are mysterious. Mashed yak meat is a mixture of some Tibetan medicine and mashed raw beef (yak meat). Blood red and pungent, you will feel hot inside after eating it. It is said that Tibet is a place where time can stop still. People today still like to enjoy the sunshine at the foot of the Potala Palace after such a good meal, feeling rather satisfied.

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