For thousands of years, Yak meat, mutton, yogurt, and tsampa have been the staple diets of all Tibetans. Healthy and nutritious, Tibetan food has developed over the millennia to become the foods that we know in Tibet today.

However, while many Tibetans are still happily eating tsampa and dried yak meat, there are those that are turning more and more to the fast-growing international food scene that is developing in the Tibetan capital. International food in Lhasa is growing very fast as international tourists increase rapidly each year.

International Food in the Lhasa
During Lhasa tour with our clients in winter

Since the opening of Tibet for international tourism, many international restaurants have opened up in the Tibetan capital. The increasing volume of tourists from international locations around the world, mostly those from North America and Europe, has prompted a rise in the number of restaurants that cater to the tastes of the west. Burgers, fried chicken, Indian and Nepali Masala, Japanese beef, cooked fish, and quality brewed coffee have all become a part of the standard diet of many young Tibetans in Lhasa.

Kentucky Fried Chicken – KFC

It was not until 2016 that the first ever KFC made it to the Tibetan capital, and in just three short years this American fast-food joint has become one of the most popular in the city. KFC already had more than 5,000 branches of their restaurants across China since first entering the country in 1987. Until 2016, every province and region of mainland china had several branches, with Tibet being the only area of China which did not have a KFC.

The initial idea for expanding into Tibet was considered back in 2004, but the parent company, Yum! Brands did not think it would be a profitable move and canceled the plans.

The logistics of getting the chicken and other ingredients to the plateau capital has increased the cost of the meals in Tibet when compared to other areas of China, and the KFC branch in Lhasa is more expensive than anywhere else in China. However, that has not stopped the Lhasa branch from being packed at lunch and dinner times throughout the year.

International Food in the Lhasa
Tibetan hotel in Lhasa

For some families who come to Lhasa infrequently on pilgrimage journeys to the sacred capital, traveling across the plateau to pray at the Jokhang Temple, a visit to KFC has become a part of the annual routine. Sodar Kunsang, who hails from Shigatse City, the second city of Tibet, says that he could still remember the long lines of people waiting outside the restaurant when it opened its doors in 2016.

Now, a visit to the restaurant has become a “must” during the family’s annual trip to Lhasa, and both his children love the taste of the fried chicken. “These chicken wings taste really good and different. Both the kids and my elderly mother love them,” he said, sitting at the window with his wife and children.

Burger King

Located close by the sacred Jokhang Temple, Burger King is another American fast-food restaurant that has become increasingly popular with the locals, especially the younger generations. For many Tibetans, sipping sweet Tibetan tea and eating yak soup noodles is still the breakfast of plateau champions, but for many, burger and fries have become a pleasant change for lunch in the city.

International Food in the Lhasa
international food in Lhasa: BurgerKing in Lhasa

And Lhasa is not the only place where the fast-food chain has opened its famous burger joints. Shigatse City also has a branch of Burger King and has kept to the classic franchise menu of burgers, chicken, French fries, soft drinks, salads, desserts, and specialist breakfast meals. And these burgers have become a popular snack for people traveling from China and Nepal to Lhasa, with the opening of a Burger King Restaurant at the Lhasa Gonggar International Airport.

Xishidong Japanese Restaurant

Owned by Tibetan chef Dorje Nyima, Xishidong is one of the first Japanese restaurants in Tibet and has been a popular restaurant for young office workers from the nearby businesses in Lhasa. It has also been popular with tourists from Japan, who can get authentic Japanese cuisine on the Tibetan plateau.

However, it is rare for older Tibetans to dine in the restaurant, due to the traditions of the Tibetan Buddhist people. Xishidong is one of the few restaurants in Lhasa that serves cooked fish, and the younger generations of Tibetans are beginning to love the fish dishes served there.

However, it is rare for older Tibetans to dine in the restaurant, due to the traditions of the Tibetan Buddhist people. Xishidong is one of the few restaurants in Lhasa that serves cooked fish, and the younger generations of Tibetans are beginning to love the fish dishes served there.

Dorje Nyima traveled to Japan for several years and learned how to cook Japanese cuisine whilst there. And while it is not easy to get fresh fish for the restaurant, frozen fish is delivered regularly from mainland China. Traditional Japanese sashimi may not be on the menu, but the cooked fish has become one of the most popular dishes.

And for the locals that do not eat fish, Dorje has invented his very own Yak Meat Sushi, which has been very popular since he first introduced it. The spices Dorje uses come from Zhejiang Province in Eastern China, and take around a week to be delivered after being ordered online. But Dorje is hoping that the upcoming Sichuan Tibet Railway may help him reduce his logistics costs.

Third Eye Restaurant

A traditional Nepali restaurant that specializes in Nepali cuisine, but does have some Indian and Tibetan options available, the Third Eye is owned by Nepali Aawazman Jubaju, who moved to Lhasa from Kathmandu more than 25 years ago. The Third Eye has been his pride and joy for 25 years, and with the recent increases in foreign travelers to Tibet, Jubaju’s customer numbers have exploded.

International Food in the Lhasa
Nepali Restaurant in Lhasa

Nepali cuisine has previously only had local Tibetan customers in winter, but with the increase in the number of tourists in the winter months over the last few years, thanks to the regional government’s measures to promote tourism, the Third Eye has seen good business increases all year round. And with more flights between Lhasa and Kathmandu than ever before, going home to fill up on the special ingredients he needs that are unavailable in Lhasa has been easier than ever.

The Sense Coffee

With its perfect location on Barkhor Street South, on the second floor of the Nissan E Wave Mall, the Sense Coffee is one of the most popular brewed coffee shops in Lhasa, a city where tea has always been the top drink. A modern international café, with a huge range of styles of coffee and grades of coffee beans, all of which are freshly ground for each cup of delicious coffee.

The Sense Coffee serves a wide range of cakes and pastries with its fresh brews. The stylish coffee shop serves up coffee that is as good as you will find in any coffee house in New York, Seattle, or Venice, including cappuccino, Americano, mocha, frappe, latte, and many others.

Itagelato Café

Competition in Lhasa is fierce for café owners, but Uma from the Itagelato Café says that the locals and tourists alike enjoy sitting down to good coffee and delightful snacks. In a region that is undergoing rapid economic development, people have more money to spend these days, which has meant an increase in local trade for Uma.

Selecting only the best coffee beans from around the world, Uma has them shipped to Lhasa so that her customers have a wider range of coffee to choose from. Her grades of coffee range from Arabica and Java to Columbian and Puerto Rican, which allows her to stay ahead of the game as more coffee shops open up in the plateau capital.

KFC, Burger King, Italian coffee, Yak Sushi, there are a whole host of international restaurants opening up on the Tibetan plateau, and these foreign foods are fast becoming a major part of the local dining scene in Lhasa. Yet, tourists still find it amazing to hear that there is a KFC and Burger King just around the corner of the Jokhang Temple. What’s more, they can order using their phones. International food has now become a part of the lives of the Tibetan people.