TIBETAN FOOD: TSAMPA, YAK MEAT AND CRISPY OIL

TIBETAN FOOD

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yak jerky
Traditionally, Tibetans have eaten meat and dairy products such as butter, milk, yoghurt and cheese from yaks, sheep, cattle and goats, with barley being their primary grain source. Sheep's belly stuffed with yak yogurt and sheep intestine filled with fat, blood and flour are considered delicacies.

Tibetan food is characterized by: 1) a variety of dishes made with yak meat or mutton; 2) milk products such as butter, yoghurt and hard cheese; and 3) dumpling and other foods made with highland barley and potato. Meats are generally stewed, braised, simmered, steamed, fried, roasted or made into soups, stews or dumplings. Barley and potato dishes are generally steamed, boiled or fried. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org tibettravel.org ]

Few crops grow in the high altitudes and harsh climate that characterizes Tibet, although a few areas in Tibet are low enough to grow such crops as rice, oranges, plums, and lemon. The most important crop is barley. Vegetables are scarce in the high altitude. Things like cabbages, turnips, radishes and onions grow best. In Lhasa you can many food that you can find in other Chinese cities as many items can be shipped in or grown in greenhouses. Tibetan cuisine not aims to provide sustenance and nutrition it is also designed to keep people warm and gives them energy to carry on in the high altitude and harsh weather. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org tibettravel.org ]

According to the Chinese government: “Zamba [Tsampa], roasted qingko barley or pea meal mixed with tea, is the staple food of Tibetan peasants. Tea with butter or milk is the favorite of all Tibetans. Buttered tea is made in a wooden tub. In pastoral areas, the staple foods are beef and mutton. They eat out of wooden bowls and with short-handled knives which they always carry with them. The Tibetans take five or six light meals a day and have a liking for qingko wine. Sour milk and cheese are also standard fare. In some areas, people also eat rice and noodles. Women in pastoral areas use butter as ointment to protect their skin. Lamas may eat meat.” [Source: China.org china.org *|*]

Westerners often have trouble with Tibetan food. Sometimes the yak butter has a lot of hair in it. Barley porridge often has dust and pebbles in it. Sometimes Westerners experience terrible stomach pains after sampling Tibetan meat. Conversely, Tibetans find it strange that Westerners eat chickens and fish.

In the book What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio, a five-foot-six-inch Tibetan yak herder is profiled. He eats 5,600 calories a day but only weighs 135 pounds.

Websites and Resources

Good Websites and Sources: Tibetan Food Tibet Info tibetinfor.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; China Vista Cultural China kaleidoscope.cultural-china.com ; Clothes ; China Culture.org chinaculture.org ; China.org China.org ;en.tibet.cn en.tibet.cn

Links in this Website: TIBETAN PEOPLE Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBETAN LIFE Factsanddetails.com/China ; FOOD, DRINK, DRUGS AND CLOTHES IN TIBET Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBETAN HEALTH AND MEDICINE Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBETAN FUNERALS AND DEATH Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBETAN NOMADS Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBETAN MINORITIES AND TIBETANS ABROAD Factsanddetails.com/China

Good Websites and Sources on Tibet: Central Tibetan Administration (Tibetan government in Exile) www.tibet.com ; Chinese Government Tibet website eng.tibet.cn/ Wikipedia Wikipedia Tibetan Resources phayul.com ; Open Directory dmoz.org/Regional/Asia/China/Tibet/ ; Snow Lion Publications (books on Tibet) snowlionpub.com ; Photos Tibet Photo Gallery Tibet Gallery Terra Nomada Terra Nomada ; Tibetan Cultural Sites: Conservancy for Tibetan Art and Culture tibetanculture.org ; Tibet Trip tibettrip.com ; Tibetan Cultural Region Directory kotan.org ; Tibetan Studies and Tibet Research: Tibetan Resources on The Web (Columbia University C.V. Starr East Asian Library ) columbia.edu ; Tibetan and Himalayan Library thlib.org Digital Himalaya ; digitalhimalaya.com ; Tibetan Studies Maps WWW Virtual Library ciolek.com/WWWVL-TibetanStudies ; Center for Research of Tibet case.edu ; Center for Advanced Tibetan Studies amnyemachen.org ; Tibetan Studies resources blog tibetan-studies-resources.blogspot.com ; News, Electronic Journals ciolek.com/WWWVLPages

Typical Tibetan Food

The staple food for Tibetan are tsampa, yak and sheep meat, various dairy products and butter, grey flour (usually a buckwheat flour called nas), vegetables, butter tea, and wine made from nas. The local food and cuisine in Tibet reflect its climate and customs. Tsampa is often made with barley. Tibet is one of the few places in the world where people still eat barley. Many Tibetans in many places subsist almost entirely on barley dumplings. They are so poor they can’t even afford the most basic fruits and vegetables.

A typical Tibetan meal consists of yak milk, goat cheese, yoghurt, and tsampa (porridge) made from roasted or parched highland barley flour, and pencha (tea) made with salt and yak butter, which is often rancid. In some places roasted peas, ground corn, or corn paste is mixed with tea, milk or yogurt. A typical breakfast consists of sweet, thick rice soup or tsampa.

Dumplings (momos) are regarded as a treat. There are special dumplings for holidays. A Tibetan feast includes dumplings, big mutton ribs, dried yak meat, bowls of steaming rice and curry, salted nuts and seeds, cookies, candies, watermelons, beer, juice and water.

A typical meal served to tourists in the Three Parallel Rivers area on the border of Tibet and Yunnan Province consists of rice served with things like pork fat in garlic sauce, yak meat with peppers, field vegetables, hot, homemade barley wine, and apples for desert. Tibetans and Mongolian Buddhists do eat meat while Buddhists in other countries avoid eating meat.

Tibetan restaurants serve rice, momos, yak milk cheese, thukpa (noddles with meat) and Tibetan pizzas made with yak meat, grilled yak meat, melon, squash, wood-ear fungus, noodles, steamed buns, pig fat, eggs cooked in yak fat. A typical meal is comprised of seaweed soup, french fries and buns stuffed with yak meat. Chinese style dishes are often made from ingredients that originated outside of Tibet.

Describing the preparation of a meal made in Dolpo, Eric Valli wrote in Smithsonian, "She then puts the four ingredients of pack into individual wooden cups---some butter, powdered cheese, tsampa, and, for liquid, some of the tea...We hand-mix the ingredients into a thick paste. In Dolpo, this raw paste passes for daily bread; for feasts it is made more palatable with precious sugar.”

Tibetan Dishes

There are many types of dishes in Tibet. While some can be very expensive, most are not. Popular dishes include stewed chicken with Chinese caterpillar fungus (a traditional herb also used as a medicine which can also be stewed with beef), momos (Tibetan dumplings fried mutton ribs, roast lamb leg, air-dried meat, cold yak tongue, fried beef ribs, Tibetan sausage, potato curry, stewed beef and turnip, braised beef, steamed dumplings stuffed with beef, tsampa, steamed bread stuffed with potato, rice curry, ginseng sweet rice and various kinds of desserts.

Balep is Tibetan bread eaten for breakfast and lunch. Thukpa is mainly consumed for dinner. It consists of noodles of various shapes, vegetables and meat in broth. Other popular foods you will find in a Tibetan restaurant include dried meat, roast sheep intestines, sheep blood soup, yak meat, ox tongue, rice fried with yak butter, yogurt, and cheese. You will also frequently see momos, Tibetan dumplings, and thenthuk, Tibetan noodles. Traditional homemade Losar bread is sold on street corners. While they look like loaves of bread, these deep-fried cookies are eaten as sweets and served at Tibetan celebrations. Cathy Ang wrote in “Another special snack is kapse. This dough uses flour, water, sugar, butter, and red coloring. It is cut into pieces and they are twisted into the shape of a lotus flower. The flower is then fried until it is light yellow. The red color is inside and the light color outside.”

Chinese, Western, Indian, Nepaleses, Himalayan, and other cuisines are found in Lhasa and some other large cities. Many Chinese meat and vegetable dishes are available. Sichuan and Guangdong cuisine are the most prevalent. Sichuan dishes tend to be less spicy nature than those found elsewhere. Since fresh vegetables are difficult to obtain so many of the dishes include more meat than vegetable. Western-style guest houses in Lhasa serve up a variety of Western food including pancakes, apple pies, yak pizzas and yak burgers. Soft drinks, candy bars and snacks such as potato chips and peanuts are widely available.

Tibetan Eating Customs

At home Tibetans usually sit cross-legged on the floor while eating with their hands. Flies often buzz around the food. Some Tibetan eat by passing around food and a hunting knife from hand to hand. In some Himalayan cultures, men and women eat the same food but it is prepared differently for each sex. What is good for a man is judged unfit for woman and visa versa.

Tibetan people are expected to eat and drink quietly and not eat too much in one bite. When eating tsampa—a staple food of Tibetan people made from parched barley— place some flour with salted butter tea in a bowl, rotate the bowl with the left hand and mix the food with your fingers of your right hand. Then roll it into small lumps and squeeze it into your mouth with your fingers.

Tibetans sometimes use silver or high-quality porcelain dinner wares to serve dishes to guests, while the most common ones are wooden. 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. Rich Tibetans like to use bowls of gold and silver.

If you are invited into a home, remember that it is considered rude to ask for tea or food directly. You must wait to be offered food. Additionally, it is considered rude to request seconds. If there is additional food, you are offered food. If you are in a Sherpa home, you must decline the first offer of food, regardless of how hungry you are. To do otherwise is to insult your hosts. Informal social rules denote that is appropriate to refuse three times and accept on the fourth time. Use only the fingers of your RIGHT hand when touching food. If you are served the tail of a white sheep, it means that they are honoring you as the guest of honor.[Source: Catherine Go, tibetravel.org]

In Tibet, eating the meat of donkeys, horses and dogs is an absolute taboo in Tibet. Some regions also do not eat fish. Otherwise, many Tibetans eat a lot of meat, particularly yak meat. This a bit surprising in that Buddhism discourages the killing of animals and Buddhists are encouraged to be vegetarians. One reason Tibetans eat a lot of meat is that there is not much land that is good for agriculture on the Tibetan plateau. Grazing land for animals such as yaks and sheep is more plentiful.

Tsampa

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Tsampa
Tsampa is the staple of the Tibetan diet. It can be eaten dry, added to tea, or mixed with tea and butter to form patties or balls. Tsampa mixed with yak butter in a wooden bowl and shaped into balls is arguably the most common food in Tibet. Tsampa balls can also be made by mixing tsampa with cheese, sugar, curd and butter. Honored guests are sometimes served a bowl of tsampa with a raw egg or a piece of butter that is sculpted into a three-legged symbol, representing the earth, moon and sun.

Tsampa is a dough made with roasted flour and yak butter. The main staple grain for the Tibetans is nas, a wheat-like crop grown in high mountains and plateaus. To make this into flour, whole grain kernels are dried and roasted, then ground. This flour is then pan- fried to yield a product they call tsampa. This is also sometimes referred to as fried nas flour. Tsampa means "parched flour". Chinese call it “zanba, [Source: by Cathy Ang, Chinese Food in China, Hong Kong, and/or Taiwan, Fall Volume: 1999 <+>]

Because of the harsh climate and high altitude highland barley (nas) is about the only crop that can be widely grown in Tibet and on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau. Tsampa is made by drying highland barley in the sun, parching the barley, and grinding the barley into flour in a water mill. It is ground into coarse or fine flour according to different tastes, and it also can be ground into refined tsampaby removing the bran.Tsampa is divided into several kinds, including highland barley tsampa, pea tsampa, and mixed tsampa. Fine barley tsampa is the top-grade tsampa, which is usually eaten in festive occasions or in entertaining guests. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

There are several ways to prepare and eat Tsampa. It can be made into a congee which can be mixed with fried soybeans, cheese, butter, and salt. It can also be mixed with butter-tea, butter, or ground pieces of brick tea. When mixed with butter, it is most often formed into a flat shape, sort of a thick pie ready for serving. Tsampa served with buttered tea is salty, while the Tsampa made into porridge is often sweet. Tibetan people eat Tsampa at every meal, and when traveling, it is brought along as a ready-made meal. To create Tsampa, Tibetans put some ghee (yak butter) in a bowl, pour some boiled water or tea into the bowl, add some roasted barley flour into the water or tea, mix and then knead the mixture into dough balls and eat them. [Source: <+>, Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org tibettravel.org ]

Tsampa is considered by many Westerners to be bland, pastey and un-appetizing while Tibetans say it smells and tastes good. Tsampa has a certain novelty value the first time you try it, but only a Tibetan can eat it every day and still look forward to the next meal. Generally, roasted highland barley, with the husk, is ground into very fine flour usually using a hand mill.

Eating Tsampa

Cathy Ang wrote: “Tsampa balls are often made mixing nas flour with melted butter (crispy oil), cheese powder, and sugar. They can but do not need to include hot butter-tea. These balls are usually slightly flattened to about an inch in thickness. This most important food is used daily, and at banquets, and when Tibetan’s travel, especially for long distance journeys.” [Source: by Cathy Ang, Chinese Food in China, Hong Kong, and/or Taiwan, Fall Volume: 1999]

To eat the tsampa, people should first pour a little buttered tea into a bowl. Add some butter, fine milk sediments, and white sugar into it, and then put the tsampa flour into the bowl. Then hold the bowl with the left hand, and thoroughly mix the ingredients with the right hand. Finally, mold the dough into small balls for eating. Other ingredients may also be added to enhance the flavor. Use only the fingers of your right hand when touching food. Eat the lump of tsampa-tea with your fingers. Tsampa is easy to carry and there are many ways to eat it. Thus it is widely considered the best food for a traveler. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

Tibetans eat tsampa every day. As tsampa is nutritious and is easy to carry about, it is the most convenient food for the Tibetans living on the plateau. When Tibetans go on a long journey, if they bring a bowl or tsampa bag, tsampa, butter, and dry milk sediments, no matter where they are, they can use buttered tea, or even only some water, to make a meal of fragrant and nice tsampa without lighting a fire to cook. ~

Tsampa made of highland barley is not only the traditional food of Tibetan people, but also frequently appears in main hotels in Lhasa as the main dish served to guests from home and abroad. In religious festivals, Tibetans cast tsampa to express their blessings to each other. There are two main ways of preparing and eating tsampa. One is to make tsampa dough with Tibetan buttered tea while the other is to make porridge together with beef or mutton and vegetables. The tsampa porridge is known as tupa. Unlike the tsampa dough served with Tibetan buttered tea, tupa porridge is often served with sugar. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org tibettravel.org]

Tibetan Meat

Eating the meat of donkeys, horses and dogs is an absolute taboo in Tibet. Some regions also do not eat fish. Otherwise, many Tibetans eat a lot of meat, particularly yak meat. This a bit surprising in that Buddhism discourages the killing of animals and Buddhists are encouraged to be vegetarians. One reason Tibetans eat a lot of meat is that there is not much land that is good for agriculture on the Tibetan plateau. Grazing land for animals such as yaks and sheep is more plentiful.

For lack of vegetables, meat features heavily in Tibetan cuisine. People living at higher altitudes generally consume more meat than those of the lower regions. The most commonly eaten meats in Tibet are yak, beef, goat and mutton, often dried, or cooked in a spicy stew with potatoes. Beef and mutton contain a lot of protein which is helpful in fighting the cold. Many Tibetans often eat raw meat. Dried yak meat and mutton strips are also popular foods in Tibet. The dried meat is crisp and tasty. The cold temperature in the winter and drying kills many germs so the meat is generally safe to eat ven though it is uncooked. Dried meats can be easily stored and are useful when traveling long distances. Tibetans are also very fond of sausages. Blood sausage, meat sausage, flour sausage and liver sausage are very popular among Tibetans.

Cathy Ang wrote: “Tibetan people eat fresh and air dried meat of yak and sheep; they do not make air-dried meat from horse, mule or donkey. They seldom eat goat meat and are forbidden to eat dog meat. Yak and sheep meat are air dried in early winter. By late November the temperature in Tibet is about zero degrees Celsius. Yak and sheep meats, either as whole carcasses or as one-foot long--inch-wide strips, are hung in very well ventilated places and allowed to dry. These dried items can be and are stored for long periods.” [Source: by Cathy Ang, Chinese Food in China, Hong Kong, and/or Taiwan, Fall Volume: 1999]

The local habit of drinking tea is due in part due to the fact that many Tibetans eat lots of yak, sheep and goat meat. Strong buttered tea not only helps to keep the body warm, it is said it also helps to promote the digestion of the meat is eaten almost three meals a day, 365 days a year.

Yaks as Food

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Making yak cheese
Unlike goats and sheep, yaks produce milk all year round. On average a yak produces eight times more milk than a goat, and 16 times more than a sheep. The milk is rich and contains double the protein and minerals of cow’s milk but it spoils in two hours, which explains why it is usually made into butter. Yak milking takes some skill.

Yak curd is both consumed fresh and dried. Some European and Nepalese cheesemakers are teaching Tibetans how to make cheese, which sells for around $14 a kilogram in Beijing and Shanghai. One European food critic who tried the cheese in Beijing said it was “young, piquant, a little dry,”comparable to a cheeky Griyere...great with a glass of wine.”

Yak meat is also good but can be very tough and chewy. It is eaten cooked or dried. Although Tibetan Buddhists frown on the killing of yaks and other animals, there is no ban on the eating of yak meat.

Yaks in Mustang are not killed. But once a year they are bled and the dried blood is eaten. The tails are cut off and sold in India as fly whisks. Owners of yaks in Mustang sometimes hope their animals will fall off a cliff. Only then do they get at more than 800 pounds of yak meat. The only people allowed to kill animals are the Shembas---a low status tribe similar to the untouchable in India, who are not allowed to live in the city.⌂

Yak Butter Products

Yak butter is probably the most important thing taken from a yak. It is mixed with tea and barley gruel, and sometimes used as a hairdressing, in lamps, and for greasing squeaky prayer wheels and truck axles. Tibetans make incredibly detailed yak butter sculptures and friezes of flowers, landscapes, trees, temples, human figures animals and god and goddesses.

Yak butter stays preserved for a long time in leather bags. When sealed in airtight sheepskin bags, butter will remain edible for up to a year. But it doesn’t always seem that way. The sour smell of rancid yak butter, wrote Theroux "resembles the smell of an American family's refrigerator after a long midsummer power cut. It is the reek of old milk."

A common sound in rural Tibet is the dull rhythmic noise of milk being sloshed into butter in a yak-skin bag. The process also yields buttermilk, which is sometimes boiled down to a thick film, which is then dried in the sun for several days producing chourpi, a cheese which Valli said is "so hard you must chew a wad of it for ten minutes before swallowing."

Butter and cheese are also made from sheep, goats and cattle. Tibetans that were transplanted to Switzerland n the 1960s first used normal butter as a substitute when they couldn't get any yak butter, but when the cost of butter became prohibitively expensive they switched to margarine.♣

Meat and Tibetan Religious Beliefs

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Yak meat
Tibetans often eat raw yak meat off the bone, the writer Paul Theroux wrote, "like a cannibal, tearing shreds of red meat off a shank." As an act of hospitality, Tibetans sometimes shove the bone in a visitor’s face and ask if they want to take a bite. For a meal Tibetans sometimes blast the head of a goat or a sheep with a blowtorch and then smash the skull and eat the brains.

Tibetans are devout Buddhists who have traditionally opposed the killing of animals because they believe in reincarnation and they maintain that killing an animal is killing the soul of a being that may one day be a human being. Some Buddhists hold special ceremonies for dead chickens or dead fish. Tibetan Buddhists believe that dogs are the last reincarnation before rebirth as humans, and as a result the country is filled with mangy dogs.

Even so many Tibetans eat meat. Before cows and sheep are slaughtered they are sometimes led counter clockwise around a temple of a monastery as "their final act on earth." Butchering has traditionally been done by castes of northern people known such as the Makheps.

Why Tibetans Don't Eat Fish, Chickens and Birds

Tibetans don't eat fish (even though many live by lakes filled with fish), chickens, ducks, vegetables, wild asses, or meat from animals killed by women. Some Tibetans believe that eating meat will cause it to snow and eating fish will cause it to rain. ♠

Eating fish is as abhorrent to Tibetans as eating pork is to Muslims and eating beef is to Hindus. Tibetan don't eat fish for several reasons. 1) fish sometimes eat the bodies of the dead ("water burial”---in which a body is dumped in a lake where fish can eat it---is one of the five ways of disposing of dead bodies). 2) water is considered sacred (fishing disturbs the water); and 3) fish don't have tongues, and hence they can't gossip. Tibetan detest gossip and they reward the fish for keeping their mouths shut by not eating them.

Tibetans don't eat some birds because of other kind of burial’sky burial, in which dead bodies are cut into little pieces and fed to vultures and other birds. The Bhutanese say that "all living things are sacred...but especially ravens." They believe killing a raven is worse than massacring a thousand monks and elaborate offerings of dough and butter are left on the roof of temples for ravens. [Source: John Scofield, National Geographic, November 1976]

The Bhutanese also believe that chickens are sacred animals and pigs are evil. "For judgement in the period between death and rebirth," Scofield writes, "a chicken will put white pebbles onto a scale to represent their good deeds, while a pig shovels on black pebbles to signify the evil one has done." Bhutanese will eat pork but not chicken. In he old days travelers used to carry live roosters in the knapsacks to ensure safety. [Source: John Scofield, National Geographic, November 1976]

Tibetan Stone Pot-Cooked Chicken

You may find some Tibetan foods outside of Tibet, but it is difficult to enjoy authentic Nyingchi stone pot-cooked chicken, a famous traditional Tibetan cuisine dish, in any place except in Nyingchi, east Tibet. The stone pot-cooked chicken from Lulang of Nyingchi prefecture is the most famous. All the ingredients are local, including Tibetan chicken stocked by local Tibetans, ginseng, Dangshen, conic gymnadenia tuber only produced in Nyingchi, radix-polygoni multiflori, angelica, Tibetan caladium, yam slices, rhizoma gastrodiae, coix seed, lily root, ginger, pepper, red dates, medlar and some other 15 kinds of spices. Even the local water is deemed an essential ingredient. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org tibettravel.org ]

Tibetan chicken is a unique kind of fowl chicken that can endure the cold and poor-oxygen environment of the high plateau. Tibetan chickens are raised in a pollution-free environment and feed on green grass and small bugs. The unique region they come from and special way they are raised makes Tibetan chickens an excellent free range meat source, rich in protein and low in fat

The stone pot is also unique to the region. The original stone material is scarce natural steatite from steep cliff faces of the banks of Brahmaputra River. Due to climate factors, the stone can only be collected and stone pot only made in July and August. Local Tibetans use traditional cutting tool to carve a single rock into a stone pot. The stone pot contains zinc, calcium and other 14 minerals useful for health. It is said stone-pot cooked food reduces the chances of developing hypertension, heart disease, cardiovascular disease and some other disease.

Tibetan Butter, Cream and Dairy Products

Cream and butter can be prepared and cooked in various ways and has many different names. Usually, it is fermented from fresh milk that kept in bucket, pot or other container. To make cream and butter: 1) Churn milk continuously with a stick after it has turned sour until milk and oil separates. 2) Then, remove the white fat floating on the top, which is cream. 3) If the cream is heated up in a boiler and churned slowly, yellow oil can be extracted. This is butter. The stuff under the butter is ghee dregs. Mongolians and Tibetans believe butter is the essence of milk for it contains multi notorious substance, which is helpful to relieve your mind as well as rest to attain mental tranquility. Moreover, butter can also moisten the lungs and relax the muscles and joints, brighten your eyes and increase life span.

Cathy Ang wrote: In Tibet, dairy products are mostly made from yak milk with some cow’s milk. There are three main dairy foods: 1) crispy oil (butter oil), 2) sour milk, and 3) milk solid residues. Crispy oil is made from yak, cow or sheep’s milk. Traditionally, women warm up fresh milk and then transfer it to a wooden barrel. They beat the contents of the barrel several hundred times to separate the oil. This oil is yellow and floats on the top. It is collected in a leather bag, cooled and solidified. When used, it is called 'crispy oil' and is popular in butter-tea and for a traditional pie they make called Tsampa Pie. Crispy oil is also used to stir-fry meat and to make wheat flour pies. Crispy oil made from yak milk is also used to make a Crispy Oil Biscuit, a uniquely-flavored Tibetan staple.[Source: by Cathy Ang, Chinese Food in China, Hong Kong, and/or Taiwan, Fall Volume: 1999 <+>]

“One type of sour milk is made from milk after the removal of the crispy oil. Another type is made from whole milk; this latter kind is considered more nutritious. After making the crispy butter oil, the remaining fluid is boiled, the liquid is then removed and the milk solids left in the container formed pie shape for storage. The solid residue left in the container can be made into cheese. If it is from yak milk, this would be a yak milk cheese. During the step when the milk is boiled, Tibetans often remove the milk film, and similar to making bean curd sheets, they dry it for later use.” <+>

Tibetan Tableware and Cookware

According to Tibetan tradition, wooden bowls are the most common tableware in Tibet. Tibetan wood bowls are usually made of birch by cutting and polishing. The wooden bowls are firm and beautiful with dedicate patterns. The process of making wooden bowls includes: choosing the wood, drying the wood, cutting and carving, polishing and coloring. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org tibettravel.org ]

Wooden bowls in Tibet can be classified as big bowls, small bowls, bowls with covers, troughs, etc. Wooden bowls can be used for drinking buttered tea, eating tsampa, and storing food, spices and condiment. Wooden bowls can be carried easily. Apart from wooden bowls, Tibetan people also use jade, gold and silver tableware. But these are not used in ordinary families.

Cookware in Tibet is usually made of pottery. Pottery in Tibet has a history of over 4600 years. A butter barrel is another indispensable kitchen item in Tibet. A butter barrel usually is comprised of two parts, a barrel body and a blender. Tibet butter tea is a necessity food for Tibetans. With a butter barrel the butter tea mixture can be easily and properly made. To make it Tibetans put some tea-leaves into the tea barrel first, and then add the yak butter, salt and some spices, push the stick up and down until all the ingredients are mixed well. The finished product is Tibet butter tea.

Image Sources: Food and Drink: Weird Meat blog; Purdue University and Antique Tibet. Clothes: Purdue University, Snowland Cuckooo and Johompas.

Text Sources: 1) Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China , edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K.Hall & Company, 1994); 2) Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~; 3) Ethnic China ethnic-china.com \*\; 4) Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/; 5) China.org, the Chinese government news site china.org *|* New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated July 2015

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