To travel safely and healthily through Tibet, food is essential to prevent unnecessary illness or trouble in the middle of a wonderful trip. We always suggest that our clients choose the restaurant carefully and eat light meals on the day of their first arrival in Lhasa.
You will also probably be offered Tibetan tea at some point; a salty tea made of yak butter, milk, salt, and tea leaves. While Tibetans love it, it is an acquired taste for most foreigners. Tibetans are very hospitable and will serve you tea continuously. You are welcome to take a sip or two out of respect but the host will keep refilling your cup. It is also OK to ask for hot water or sweat tea if butter tea is not to your liking.
There are just a few Tibetan restaurants specializing in local fare, and the further you go from Lhasa, the less traditional food you will find. Most restaurants in Tibet are Chinese and serve spicy Sichuan-style dishes. The food is hot and many dishes are stir-fried, eliminating most safety concerns. Most restaurants are safe to eat in, but if it looks deserted and dirty, or you just feel uncomfortable, you should probably seek another option.
Guesthouses cater to backpackers and the occasional hostel or hip restaurant will offer a Western breakfast menu of pancakes with honey and bananas, yogurt, or cereal. Otherwise, most hotels will serve a Chinese-style breakfast, including steamed dumplings, eggs boiled or scrambled with tomatoes, hot veggies, a bland form of rice pudding, and tea.
Vegetarians will have no trouble finding vegetable, noodle, and tofu dishes in Chinese restaurants. While you may get tired of the same words over and over, you are bound to find a favorite; whether it be spicy eggplant, fried green beans, or spicy tofu (watch out for tofu and meat combinations).
Water: Tap water is not considered safe for drinking for most Westerners, but is OK for brushing your teeth with. We recommend purchasing bottled water, bringing purification tablets, or boiling your own water if trekking. Note: There are no recycling facilities in Tibet, so please be mindful of your waste. You may be able to save your plastic bottles and turn them in at a convenience store, where they have a slightly better chance of being carted off to a landfill or the rare recycling plant in China. It is our most important to maintain the Tibetan environment for our future generations.