Tibetan cuisine

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A Tibetan woman making momos at a gathering in the U.S.
Shipment of barley grain, a food staple in Tibet. It is roasted and ground into powder to make a flour
Tibetan bowls and spoons, Field Museum
Examples of Tibetan cheese at the Zhongdian Market

Tibetan cuisine includes the culinary traditions and practices of Tibet and its peoples, many of whom have found refuge in India and Nepal. It reflects the Tibetan landscape of mountains and plateaus and includes influences from neighbors (including China, India and Nepal). It is known for its use of noodles, goat, yak, mutton, dumplings, cheese (often from yak or goat milk), butter (also from animals adapted to the Tibetan climate) and soups. Sepen is a Tibetan hot sauce.[1][2]

Tibetan crops must be able to grow at the high altitudes, although a few areas in Tibet are low enough to grow such crops as rice, oranges, bananas, and lemon.[3] The most important crop in Tibet is barley. Flour milled from roasted barley, called tsampa, is the staple food of Tibet, as well as Sha Phaley (meat and cabbage in bread).[4] Balep is Tibetan bread eaten for breakfast and lunch. There are various other types of balep bread and fried pies. Thukpa is a dinner staple consisting of vegetables, meat, and noodles of various shapes 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 by Tibetans, and the rich are known to have used bowls of gold and silver.[5]

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 and others.

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.


Tibetan snack Sha Phaley in Nepal
Tibetan kitchen items including a small butter churn with shoulder strap, suitable for nomadic life, cooking pot, bowls, and spoons
Thukpa, a Tibetan noodle dish as served in Japan (tomatoes are not widely grown in Tibet)

Other Tibetan foods include:

Breads and fried dough foods[edit]


  • 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
  • Thukpa bhatuk- a common Tibetan noodle soup made with little bhasta noodles

Sweet foods[edit]

  • 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.[7]


Holiday dishes[edit]

Cheeses, yogurt and butter[edit]

A type of Tibetan cheese

Tibetan cheeses, yogurt and butter are staples of Tibetan cuisine. Varieties of Tibetan cheese include soft cheese curds resembling cottage cheese made from buttermilk called chura loenpa (or ser).[11] Hard cheese is called chura kampo. Extra hard cheese, made from solidified yogurt, is called chhurpi, and is also found in Sikkim and Nepal.[12] Another type of cheese called shosha or churul, with a flavor said to resemble Limburger. It is made from cream and the skin of milk.[11]


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 Sri Lanka (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.[13]

Alcoholic beverages[edit]

Traditionally, Tibetan Buddhism prohibited the consumption of alcoholic beverages.

Alcoholic beverages in Tibet include:


Tibetan barley has been a staple food in Tibet since the fifth century AD. This grain, along with a cool climate that permitted storage, produced a civilization that was able to raise great armies.[14] It is made into a flour product called tsampa that is still a staple in Tibet.[15] The flour is roasted and mixed with butter and butter tea to form a stiff dough that is eaten in small balls.


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ [2]
  3. ^ "Administrative Division". Tibet Facts & Figures 2007. China Internet Information Center. 24 April 2008. Retrieved 1 November 2010. 
  4. ^ Tibetan Marches. André Migot. Translated from the French by Peter Fleming, p. 103. (1955). E. P. Dutton & Co. Inc. New York.
  5. ^ Tamang, Jyoti Prakash (2009). Himalayan Fermented Foods: Microbiology, Nutrition, and Ethnic Values. CRC Press. p. 9. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Li, Tao; Jiang, Hongying (2003). Tibetan customs. 五洲传播出版社. p. 35. ISBN 978-7-5085-0254-0. Retrieved 5 August 2011. 
  7. ^ Norbu, Jamyang. "Dipping a Donkey-Ear in Butter Tea". Shadow Tibet. Retrieved 3 March 2011. 
  8. ^ [3]
  9. ^ http://www.yowangdu.com/tibetan-food/khapse.html
  10. ^ [4]
  11. ^ a b Food in Tibetan Life By Rinjing Dorfe, pp. 93, 96
  12. ^ Allen, Bryan; Allen, Silvia. "Mozzarella of the East (Cheese-making and Bai culture)" (PDF). SIL International. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 
  13. ^ Tibetan Marches. André Migot. Translated from the French by Peter Fleming, pp. 102-3. (1955). E. P. Dutton & Co. Inc. New York.
  14. ^ Fernandez, Felipe Armesto (2001). Civilizations: Culture, Ambition and the Transformation of Nature. p. 265. ISBN 0-7432-1650-4. 
  15. ^ Dreyer, June Teufel; Sautman, Barry (2006). Contemporary Tibet : politics, development, and society in a disputed region. Armonk, New York: Sharpe. p. 262. ISBN 0-7656-1354-9. 


  • "Brick Tea and Tsampa" in Tibetan Marches, pp. 99–104. André Migot. Translated from the French by Peter Fleming, p. 101. (1955). E. P. Dutton & Co. Inc. New York.
  • Bruno J. Richtsfeld: Tee und Teekultur in Tibet. In: Markus Mergenthaler (Hg.): TeeWege. Historie/Kultur/Genuss. Dettelbach 2013, S. 28-77, ISBN 9783897544376