While Tibet is known for its sweeping landscapes and awe-inspiring scenery, did you know that it also offers one of the most distinct and delicious cuisines?
What makes Tibetan cuisine so different is that it draws influence from neighbouring countries such as India and Nepal, while maintaining its unique character that’s reflective of the local climate and landscape. The high elevation of Tibet means that traditional Tibetan cuisine is also mainly based on dairy products (such as yak milk and cheese), yak meat, barley, and a few vegetables that can grow at high elevation (like potatoes).
We’ve narrowed down a list of our top 5 Tibetan foods below that you’ve got to try!
Tsampa is one of the staple foods of Tibet and is considered to be an essential part of every Tibetan’s daily diet. This roasted and ground barley flour is most commonly consumed by mixing it with butter tea in a bowl and formed it into small balls using your hands. Sometimes tsampa is also presented as an offering in the temples and during other religious ceremonies.
Momos are Tibetan dumplings which are filled with either yak meat or vegetables. With a skin typically made out of wheat flour, momos are usually steam cooked, but you can also find some fried varieties. While fillings vary between different meats and vegetables, they’re usually accompanied by a special chilli sauce that give this meal a delicious kick!
Yak butter tea is another staple of the Tibetan lifestyle. This black tea uses milk, salt, and a good serving of yak butter mixed in. Some family recipes even include ground walnuts making this drink wonderfully satisfying on a cold winter’s day! If you’re a fan of bulletproof coffee, you’ll want to try this! Its salty flavor often catches first-time drinkers by surprise, and can make it seem more like soup rather than tea. Yak butter has a bolder flavor than cow’s milk or butter, and has a taste closer to goat milk or cheese, but a lot of the flavour depends on how salted or aged it is.
Yaks play a pivotal role in Tibetan life, as they serve many uses like transportation and food. Yak meat is the most popular protein eaten by Tibetans due to the size of each yak, with the meat of one animal often being shared between multiple families. While it shares a similar taste to beef, yak meat has a much more gamey flavour to it, and is naturally lean with a high protein content. It’s prepared and cooked in many forms—boiled, dried, stewed, and cooked into curries and momo fillings, to name a few! Feeling extra adventurous? Try Tibetan blood sausages or spicy yak jerky!
Originating in the Eastern Tibet, this noodle soup is Tibetan comfort food. Slurp on a hot bowl of thukpa on a cold day to stay warm in those higher elevations! The flavor of the dish varies depending on which region of Tibet you’re in, but is usually served with simple vegetables (like potato or cabbage), yak meat, and fresh handmade noodles! As you travel, watch for how different chefs prepare their noodles (i.e. hand pulled, rolled, cut with a knife), and see if you can learn something about your cook!
Ready to dig in? They say food nourishes the soul, so be sure to indulge in Tibetan cuisine on your next trip. Shoot us a quick message as we’d love to help with planning your trip to the Roof of the World.
The list of incredible sights and experiences found in Tibet goes on and on. Here are some sample itineraries we’ve created to help you make the most out of your trip to Central Tibet, depending on how much time you have.