Chopstick Cinema

Celeste Heiter's Adventures in Asian Food & Film

Getting Acquainted with Tibetan Cuisine

When I began researching Tibetan food, I imagined that the recipes would all be simple and hearty. And that's exactly what I found. Tibetan food appears to be significantly limited compared to that of neighboring countries such as India and China. Tibet does not seem to enjoy the same abundance of naturally occurring edible flora and fauna, and therefore, the range of flavors and methods of preparation are less varied than those I have found in other Asian cuisines.

With the prevalence of Tibetan Buddhism as the country's main religion, vegetarian food is quite common, using ingredients such as tofu, potatoes, grains and leafy greens. However, the Tibetan diet also includes meats and dairy products, especially those produced by yaks, which are native to the mountainous terrain. These ox-like creatures are raised for both their meat and their milk, which also makes a pungent cheese.

Steamed dumplings filled with savory meats and vegetables are an everyday staple. Rich meat stews made with potatoes and a kind of rustic, doughy pasta are served to warm the cold winter nights. And spicy curries, similar to those of India, are commonly featured at the Tibetan table. Meals are also typically accompanied by simple flatbreads.