Tibet may not be one of the cheapest travel destinations on your bucket list, but it’s definitely a must see place to discover unique religion, breath-taking scenery and of course delicious cuisine. So if you are backpacking in China, be sure to get out to Tibet for a totally rewarding experience food wise and of course to tour the monasteries and see this magical place with your own eyes. Tibet is wonderful, here is our guide to finding affordable food in Lhasa while backpacking in Tibet.
When you finally get your Tibet permit and book your Tibet tour with one of the Chinese agencies, you will have a change to explore Lhasa and discover its taste, so different from the Chinese cuisine you have tried in Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Chongqing and Shanghai. I will talk about the journey up to Tibet in a future article, as it involves a huge increase in altitude and quite simply a phenomenal and unforgetful ride on the Tibet train all the way from Chengdu up to Lhasa. Yes, once you’ve survived the highest train journey in the world, you will be ready for your Tibetan cuisine and culture.
Highlights of Tibetan cuisine
A majority of Tibetan dishes are based on dairy products such as cheese and yak milk. Unfortunately, you won’t find many fruits and vegetables here as they are scarce in such a high altitude, which is completely understandable. Street drinks and snacks, in contrast to the rest of China, are rarely available, but the food is always fresh, nutritious and extremely yummy.
One of the most famous Tibetan dishes are yak wraps served with Lhasa beer as well as deep fried momos with veggies. Yak meat tastes a lot like a duck meat – it’s hard and chewy. The yak wraps are often topped with garlic sauce or spicy tomato sauce. If you order a plate of this goodies, you will be given a bottle of traditional Lhasa beer for free in some restaurants. Lhasa Beer, made from Saaz hops, yeast, Himalayan Spring Water and Tibetan barley, is considered to be the first Tibetan beer available to the world! Definitely one for the beer lovers of the world – a beer brewed at high altitude. In fact the slogan reads “Beer from the roof of the world”! Mine’s a cold one.
When it comes to dinners, you can’t miss out on momos which are a bit similar to Chinese baozi and jiaozi. They are deep fried and filled with veggies and yak meat, often served with oil and pepper sauce, yummy! The best drink to enjoy with momos is hot chocolate.
The most famous Tibetan drink is salted butter tea known as po cha. Locals make it early in the morning and serve it throughout the day in the street and in local restaurant. This drink will certainly give you a boost of energy for all day! It is an acquired taste though so be ready for it and enjoy it! All of us here at Backpacking in China are big fans of this tea, but we know that it’s not for all travellers.
Dining out in Lhasa on the cheap
Typical Tibetan restaurants and tea houses are open mostly for locals and you won’t see many foreigners here. They serve a great variety of dishes such as yak noodle soups for a very seasonable price – less than $1 a meal. Unfortunately, foreign visitors are not allowed to dine out there for the sake of strict Chinese rules. Therefore, you can eat only in tourist restaurants where a typical Tibetan meal costs around $4-$5. Most of the restaurants can be found clustered around the Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Street, the center of Lhasa City, so that travelers can find places to eat and drink within easy reach.
A great alternative for backpackers is sticking to Tibetan street food. There are not many food vendors around, but you can find a few food stands nearby Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Street. For a breakfast roll with some hot milk you will pay less than $1,50.
There are also a few stands with fruits and bottled butter milk open daily from 10 am to 7 pm. If you feel like having some snacks between your meals, fuel your body with a banana, watermelon or peaches. They cost nearly nothing.
I would highly recommend to visit Crazy Yak Saloon. It is located next door to Kirey Hotel on Beijing East Road so you can easily spot it. They do a great variety of affordable yak dishes and there is a dance show from 19:30 to 20:30 every evening. Meal prices start from $3 per person which is not too bad for Lhasa.
While this website aims to cover all parts of China, the Chinese Empire and even China towns around the world, it must be noted that the situation in Tibet is much different to the rest of China. Tibetan visas and permits must be obtained separately and you will need to read up on all that and prepare things in advance. There will be lots of forms, paperwork and information to sort out ahead of your visit. At times, the border is also closed for foreigners so it is important to check out the situation and keep up to date with what is happening in Tibet.
But once you have your Tibetan visa, your train booked and are ready to go, there is an endless range of activities to consider from tibet trekking to food sampling, to monastery visits and even the chance to see the world’s highest mountain!! Yes, Mount Everest is here in Tibet and it borders onto Nepal, sadly recently affected by huge earthquakes. Again a trip to Everest can be sorted by your tour agency, but expect that it will last a few days to get there and back due to the height of the mountain and the work networks. Due to the recent earthquakes, please also take caution and listen to everything the tour company tells you ahead of your trip and I’m sure you will be fine!
So that’s a taster for Tibet for you all. Safe travels and enjoy your trip!