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Tsamba, Yak Meat And Other Tibetan Food

October 10, 2008

October 9, 2008

Yushu (41) One of the highlights of a trip to Tibet is sampling the
food. Though Tibetan food is often given a bad reputation by foreign
travelers, it really isn't that bad. The staple food in Tibet is
tsamba. Tsamba is ground barley flour with salty butter tea added.
Mixing the two together it turns into a dough. Often sugar is added
to give it a sweet taste. Nearly every Tibetan loves to eat tsamba.
When visiting a Tibetan home, it is usually one of the first foods
served to guests.

Yak butter tea is another famous part of the Tibetan diet. Actually,
there is no such thing as "yak butter tea" since yaks are male and do
not produce milk. Females, called "dri", produce the milk. Butter is
made by nomads using traditional wooden churns. Tibetans in towns and
cities often will buy a machine that separates the milk into cream
and butter. Tibetan butter is quite different than the butter used in
western countries. The taste is quite strong...almost rancid at
times. Butter is mixed with tea that is imported from China and with
salt. The tea is more like a soup than a tea. Though the taste takes
a little bit of getting used to, it really isn't bad. After living
among Tibetan people for the past 6+ years, I actually enjoy drinking
it. Tibetans don't serve tea in glasses, but in small bowls like in
the picture below.

Another popular tea in Tibet is milk tea. Nomad women milk their
"dri" each morning (pictured at bottom). Some of the milk is then
boiled on the stove with brick tea added. Along with butter tea, milk
tea warms Tibetans everyday on the high plateau.

The most popular meat eaten by Tibetan is yak meat. Contrary to
popular belief, most Tibetans in Tibet are not vegetarian. Yak meat
is very important to most Tibetans diet. Yak meat is usually eaten
boiled or dried, but in some areas of Tibet it is sometimes eaten raw
(top picture) in the winter. Boiled yak meat is quite good. Dried yak
meat, pictured below, is also good, but can be difficult to chew. I
have had raw frozen yak meat on a few occasions. While it isn't bad,
it isn't my favorite way to eat it.

DSC01501 Tibetans eat all types of dairy products including butter,
cheese and yogurt. Tibetan cheese is dried out in the dry air of the
plateau during the summer. It is made in small pea-sized pieces and
is almost rock hard. Yogurt is usually not fruit flavored in Tibet
like it is in other parts of the world. It has a strong bitter taste
without any sugar. Some Tibetans add several spoonfuls of sugar to
their yogurt which gives it a very sweet taste.

Tibetans who are farmers or who live in cities and towns with access
to fresh vegetables often eat noodles called thukpa (mian pian in
Amdo). Small noodle squares are added to vegetables such as onions,
tomatoes and green peppers. It is very good, especially during the
cold winter. Tibetans in the north eat it at least once a day.

DSC05725 Tibetans love to make fresh bread (pictured above) and it is
amazing! If the bread has been sitting out for a few days it becomes
hard as a rock and is difficult to eat, but when it is fresh it is
one of the best foods in Tibet.

There are many good Tibetan restaurants across the plateau that serve
these and other good Tibetan foods. In Lhasa, the area around the
Barkhor serves up traditional style Tibetan food for very low prices.
While in Tibet, you need to at least try tsamba and butter tea. If
you are able to taste other Tibetan foods, that is great, but you
have to try tsamba and butter tea.

I would love to hear from people in regards to their experiences with
Tibetan food. If you have any questions about food in Tibet or about
traveling in Tibet, please send an email to info@tibetanconnections.com.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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