For tourists, and especially the Chinese, there’s an institution in Lhasa called the Mad Yak Restaurant – a kind of watch-while-you-dine museum of Tibetan culture. Along with a Tibetan buffet one gets to see traditional Tibetan folk dances and costumes. Certainly interesting, but also saddening that this is the only forum in which many of these items can still be found.
Tibetan cuisine is a peculiar mix of Indian, Chinese and a dose of yak meat. Yak meat in itself has a rather strong taste. Not bad, but also not something I would necessarily have to eat every day of my life. My favorite yak meat dish was a kind of steamed dumpling called momo filled with a nicely spiced ball of yak hash.
Yak-butter tea is another matter: Similar to the smell of yak-butter lamps, it tastes rather horrendously. I suppose, once in your lifetime you have to try it, but then you’re probably done with it. The old socks and the warm butter milk are again on full display. And one thing: cold yak-butter tea is a whole lot worse than warm yak-butter tea. So, if you ever have to drink it out of politeness – hurry! Yak yogurt is also something I’d stay away from. It seems there’s no way to subdue that rather rancid taste of yak-milk … Poor beasts. From afar they actually look rather cute and it seems their wool and skin is a staple in traditional Tibetan clothes-making.
Their traditional beer, called chang is a whole lot better. A fermented barley beer it has a somewhat sweet & sourish taste, but rather refreshing. Also, Lhasa beer, originally brewed by the Germans but now in collaboration with Carlsberg is quite drinkable. Light, and not very strong in taste, but still a whole lot better than an American Budweiser …
The other meat used in Tibetan cuisine is mutton. I had a very delicious curry soup with mutton and vegetables along with fried rice mixed with red raisins and sprinkles of yak meat.
As in Chinese cuisine, deserts is not an essential part of a Tibetan meal. However, they have delicious locally grown water melons. The weather in the Lhasa valley is a lot less harsh than one would think, given it’s altitude and the fact that the perennially snowy Mount Everest is just around the corner. In summer, high temperatures can reach 25 degrees celsius (high 70’s in Fahrenheit). Lows are around 10 degrees celsius (50F). In winter apparently, on sunny days, it still gets close to that.
|Lhasa – Yak-e-ti-Y
Their traditional costumes are very colorful and surprisingly elaborate for a people that started out predominantly as nomads. However, Lhasa has been an important city for the Tibetan people for centuries, so that some of these clothes probably were developed by settled people.