These meat-filled steamed buns are ubiquitous in Tibet and a trip to the plateau would be incomplete without trying one. In shape and form, they’re akin to the Chinese baozi but bear several delicious differences. The skin, made from white flour and water, is slightly thicker than Chinese dumplings and has a more doughy texture. Instead of pork, Tibetans use seasoned beef or yak meat for the filling and serve it alongside garlic chili sauce. In some variations, momos are fried, served in soup or contain other fillings such as potatoes.
2. Yak Butter Tea
Clarified yak butter and salt are infused with sweet tea in this quintessential Tibetan drink. Valued for its high caloric content, the oiliness of the butter also acts as a natural moisturizer for chapped lips in the dry climate of the plateau. When drinking with a local, be mindful that you never drain your cup. It’s customary for the host to top up your cup in between sips. When you’ve had enough, simply leave your cup untouched until it’s time to leave.
3. Balep Korkun
Made from the Tibetan staple tsampa, or barley wheat flour, this high-energy bread makes a great snack and is a useful aide in combating altitude sickness. In the high altitude, you may feel sleepy or sluggish, but some balep korkum can get you feeling right again.
It can be served toasted and flavored with butter and cumin or plain. There are also sweet versions of the bread that are made with concentrated sugar cane juice. You can find these at any local market or corner store.
4. Sha Phaley
After momos, sha phaleys come in at a close second among Tibetans. These semi-circle pan-fried meat pies can be a meal by itself. Biting through the flaky exterior, you’ll find tender and delicately seasoned yak meat bathed in grilled onions and cabbage. Add a dollop of Tibetan chili sauce for an extra kick. Typically served for lunch and breakfast, they pair excellently with rutang, a typical Tibetan beef soup. Overall, it’s a flavorful balanced meat pie that doesn’t leave you feeling like you need to run on the treadmill.
5. Shab Tra
In this traditional stir-fry, yak meat is fried in yak butter and tossed with chopped celery, carrots, and green chili. Normally very lean, yak meat absorbs the saltiness of the butter without losing it’s naturally sweet and delicate flavor. The freshness of the vegetables only adds to the flavor, making every bite bold but complex.
A giant of Tibetan street food, these spicy mung bean noodles are topped with red pepper chili, cilantro, soy sauce, and peanuts. Served cold, these noodles are especially popular in the summer.
Similar to Ricotta Cheese, this traditional Tibetan cheese is made from yak’s milk, buttermilk and a little lime or anything that contains lactic acid. It comes in two forms: soft and hard. In its soft state, the cheese is white, soft and neutral in taste. But when it’s left to ferment, it becomes quite hard and tangy. Usually, you will find the hard version being sold in the markets. Pop a piece into your mouth, let it soften and then chew it like gum