Traveling to Tibet is an awesome adventure, and no trip to Tibet would be complete without a visit to the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest. However, no trip to Tibet could be done without trying the awe-inspiring delights of the high plateau cuisine of Tibet. Everywhere you go to visit Tibet, food is one of the main delights of this land at the roof of the world, and while some of the dishes may be familiar, with western or Chinese counterparts that can be found around the world, much of the Tibetan cuisine is unique to the plateau, and can only be found on the highest plateau on the planet.
Unique highland food culture in Tibet
Tibetan cuisine has been heavily influenced by the landscape, climate, and general environment, and has developed as a result of the ingr4edients that can be grown on the plateau, without the need to import foods from other places outside Tibet. Landlocked and ringed by the world’s highest mountain range, Tibetan farming has developed a distinct style, built around the available crops that can be grown easily on the plateau’s rich and fertile farmlands. In this harsh and desolate environment, only a few crops that are hardy enough to survive the climate can be found growing well here, with the main crop being the hardy highland barley that has become one of the staple ingredients in the large majority of Tibetan cuisine.
Farming in the plateau region can only be done for a short period of the year, and the farmers spend the time during the planting, tending, and harvesting of the crops working hard to ensure the best harvest possible. With a lack of modern farming methods until recently, farmers have relied heavily on crop rotations and environmental farming methods that have been passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years. Yak herders have been the most influential farmers for the Tibetan cuisine, providing yak meat for Tibetan dishes, the most eaten meat on the plateau and a delicious kind of beef that has a flavor all of its own.
Even the religion of Tibet has had an effect on the cuisine of the region. Buddhism is the predominant religion in Tibet, and as Buddhists, most Tibetans only eat certain types of meats, and never eat fish. While Buddhism does talk about the sanctity of all life on earth, Tibetan’s still eat meat, and vegetarianism has never really had much of a chance to get a foothold in the region, due mostly because of the lack of vegetables that can be grown in the climate. However, Buddhists are thankful for the food that the yaks and sheep provide for them, and it is less of a hardship for your faith to kill one animal for a lot of food and be thankful to that one beast, than to kill many animals for a little food. The wheel of life still rolls on.
Dine in local restaurants at Barkhor Street
Lhasa is well known in Asia for having a huge variety of restaurants that sell all kinds of cuisines, from Tibetan and Chinese to Korean, Western, Indian, and a dozen other styles of cooking. However, there are plenty of restaurants where you can get good, authentic Tibetan cuisine at an affordable price, and many of them can be found on or in the vicinity of the famous Barkhor Street.
One of the most famous restaurants on Barkhor Street, on the southwestern side of the circuitous street, the Makye Ame is the legendary place where the 6th Dalai Lama fell in love with a local girl. The restaurant serves a delightful range of local Tibetan dishes, from mutton chops and turnip fried beef to yogurt, tsampa, and fresh barley wine. And just like everywhere else in Tibet, it serves both sweet and butter tea for the diners.
Located directly opposite the famous Jokhang Temple, the Namaste Restaurant has a great view of the main market on Barkhor Street, and provides a wide selection of Tibetan cuisine dishes, along with some Nepali, Indian, and English dishes for their diners. The Tibetan dishes are their specialty, however, and the taste of their thukpa is to die for, and rated as one of the best noodle soups in Lhasa.
Crazy Yak Restaurant
The largest restaurant in Lhasa, it is not hard to guess what is one the menu, the name says it all. Chicken and other dishes are available, but the specialty of the restaurant is its delicious yak meat, served in more ways than you can possibly try in one sitting. The yak menu is so vast you will have to keep coming back to get through it all, and the yak meat they serve is tender and tasty, whether it is served in a soup or stew, or just roasted with salad and cumin. The true Tibetan culture is also very visible in the décor and theme of the restaurant, and song and dance performances are presented daily by local Tibetan artists. A real Tibetan dining experience you should not miss out on.
Located in the Kirey Hotel, the Tashi are two separate restaurants in the one hote, but with exactly the same menu. Possibly it came about due to having more guests than seats, but it works, and they are known locally as Tashi I and Tashi II. The service is fast and friendly, and the atmosphere is relaxing and pleasant, a great place to enjoy some real traditional Tibetan food, or some good old spaghetti and fries. The Tashi’s are famous for their delicious momos and tsampa, and the fried yak meat or thukpa are diner favorites. The signature dish of the restaurants is “bobis”, a creamy meaty dish that is made from fried meat and/or vegetables with a creamy cheese sauce made from yak’s milk cheese.
If you are looking for that classic Lhasa delicacy, the Chicken Sizzler, then the Nam-Tso restaurant is the place to go for it. Their specialty dish, the chicken sizzler is just that, sizzling chicken marinated and cooked in a variety of spices and soy sauce, over a flame and is served on a sizzling hot plate with a selection of steamed or grilled vegetables, or just a side salad. The restaurant also offers some non-Tibetan dishes, such as burritos, lasagna, and burgers, all of which are made with locally sourced yak meat, and have some interesting vegetarian options as well. The table are set in a courtyard that is open to the sky, which makes dining in the sunshine of Lhasa a pure delight.
In brief, if you are interested in Tibetan cuisine culture, it’s a must-try for you to taste the food during your Tibet travel. I believe you can get closer to local life and authentic customs in person through traditional Tibetan meals.