Tibetan Catering Culture


Tibetan people have their own unique food structure and catering customs. Zanba (roasted highland barley flour), butter, tea and beef & mutton are known as the four treasures of the Tibet diet. There are also the barley wine and various kinds of dairy products.

Tibetan Food

Tibetan food has a long history and is rich in variety. It is grouped into three major kinds, namely, staple food, dish and soup. Tibetan food pays close attention to a light taste. Peppery seasoning is normally not used, only salt and garlic.

File photo shows zanba made of roasted highland barley as a staple food for Tibetans, photo from Xinhua.

Zanba is the staple food of the Tibetan people and is simple. Mill the parched highland barley grains into flour, which is zanba. When eating, put the zanba into a bowl, add a little tea, butter and milk dregs to it, and mix and knead into a dumpling.

Air-dried meat is a unique food in Tibet. When the temperature falls below zero at the end of the year, slit the quality beef and then hang it in a windy place to dry. It can be eaten in the following February or March, the crisp meat having a unique taste.

There are numberous ways of cooking the food at a Tibetan-style feast, along with means of holding a feast. In traditional society, the social status of guests was a determinant of the style of feast. There are both vegetable and meat-based feasts in Tibet.

Tibetan people have many taboos regarding meat. Generally, they eat only beef and mutton, and never consume horse, donkey, mule and dog meat. While people in the cities and towns consume fish, shrimp, eel and other seafood, but the people in the farming and pasturing areas never touch them.

File photo shows two Tibetans serving yak beef for their guests, photo from Xinhua.

File photo shows a traditional Tibetan food named Auspicious Sheep Head, which is served during the Tibetan New Year in Rear Tibet, photo from Xinhua.

With the enhancement of the social economy and cultural life, the technique of cooking Tibetan dishes and the forms of taking the meal have been improved and enriched.

Wine Culture

Tibetan barley wine is brewed from fermented barley grown in the highlands, with lower alcohol content. Men and women of all ages like to drink it and it is indispensable during happy events and festivals.

File photo shows a tourist from the United States drinking the highland barley wine, the most popular liquor among Tibetans, photo from Xinhua.

There is a rich etiquette and many social customs associated with drinking wine. Every time new wine is brewed, it is first offered to the gods and then to toast the oldest members of the family according to the ancient precept that "the old and young should observe order". At last, the family members can drink their fill. During a festival, marriage feast, or gathering of many people, the first toast is offered to the sainted elder present and then passes around clockwise. The toaster should raise the wine cup to about the height of his head with both hands in offering it to the person accepting the toast. The other person then takes over the cup with both hands, dips his or her right ring finger into the wine while holding the cup in the other hand and flicks the wine drops on the finger into the air. The movement is repeated three times to show respect to heaven, earth and deities respectively. Sometimes, the person will make a congratulatory speech in a light tone before drinking.

When drinking at a gathering, singing is absolutely necessary. Tibetan toast songs are melodious and fair-sounding and express blessings and admiration. At a general feast, the host and hostess will sing the toast song. On very grand occasions, there are girls especially in charge of toasting others. The beautifully-dressed girl, singing the enhanting toast songs, will persuade each of the guests to drink in turn until all are drunk.

Tibetan Tea Culture

Butter tea is an indispensable drink in Tibetan life. The butter is the cream extracted usually from cow or sheep's milk, but the golden yellow butter extracted from yak milk in summer is the best; that extracted from sheep's milk is white. When drinking tea, the Tibetan people pay attention to rank according to age, and the order of master and guest. Guest cannot drink too fast. Generally speaking, drinking three bowls is the most propitious.

File photo shows the butter tea, a beverage in Tibetans' daily life and an indispensable item for religious rituals and festivals, photo from Xinhua.


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