Some Basic Things to Know About Tibetan Food

Learn how Tibetan food evolved to sustain those who live at a high elevation and what ingredients make the Asian cuisine unlike any other in the world.

| July 2019

Photo from Adobe Stock/

Tibetan food, which evolved to sustain a hardy people living at an average elevation of 16,000 feet, is like no other food in the world. Who else but Tibetans have a great time drinking salty tea and eating sweet rice in the same sitting? Or grow up on a steady diet of roasted barley flour made into a dough with tea, butter, sugar and dried cheese from the female yak (dri)? While these dishes can be an acquired taste for non-Tibetans, there is a wealth of other uniquely Tibetan flavors that inspire total devotion in food lovers around the world.

We have written Tibetan Home Cooking to share with you the most common, well-loved Tibetan foods that are cooked in Tibetan homes, both inside Tibet and around the world. Each recipe in this book is authentically Tibetan, created by Lobsang Wangdu and a small group of excellent Tibetan chefs, featuring Tsering Tamding la. Each recipe is based on the cook’s personal history with a particular well-known Tibetan dish, usually passed down in the family for hundreds of years.

— Lobsang Wangdu and Yolanda O’Bannon

Some Basic Things to Know about Tibetan Food

The staple food of Tibet is tsampa, which is flour made from roasted highland barley. Tibetans in fact, are collectively referred to as tsampa-eaters (po mi tsamsey). The most common way to eat tsampa is in pa, which is made from tsampa, and various combinations of tea, butter, sugar and dried cheese.

There’s no such thing as “yak butter” or “yak cheese.” Only the male of the species is called a yak in Tibet. The females, called dri, produce the butter, cheese, yogurt and milk used in Tibetan cooking, so what is commonly referred to as “yak” cheese or butter is actually dri butter or dri cheese.



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