Tibetan Food Culture
We will introduce Tibetan food culture from the cookware, dinnerware, tea consumption, Monastic kitchens, etc.
Tibetans use pots, pans, cans, steamers and boxes of various sizes, made from different materials. Tibetan women carry a large wooden container that can hold 25 liters of water to fetch water every day. When they return to the house, they pour water into the built-in copper jars that can hold more than 100 liters of water. An iron or brass pot is used on the stove for cooking. Pans were seldom used before, but now they are becoming more and more popular. Boxes made of wood are used for containing tsampa, butter and cheese. Carefully woven baskets with matching top are used to store dried fruits, rice and sugar. The basket is also used to contain dried meat and cheese when they go out. In southern Tibet, a mortar is essential for crushing chilies.
Tibetan tableware, including plates, bowls and teacups, is traditionally made from wood, sometimes clay is used and lacquered. According to the tradition of the village or family, this handicraft has been handed down from generation to generation. Those who can afford it buy high-quality porcelain bowls elsewhere. Nowadays, other types of porcelain are used as well. Chopsticks are made by oneself or imported from the forest areas in the south. The nobility even uses chopsticks made from ivory with silver ornaments. Spoons are necessary for most dishes. Poor people and children simply wear them around their necks to have them with themselves all the time. When eating fruits, sometimes a knife is used. Some foods are eaten by hand. These foods include bread and also tsampa where a special technique is used to reach the right consistency by kneading it in the bowl.
Tibetan food is one of the schools of Chinese food series, with a long history and rich variety. Tibetan food is divided into three categories: staple food, dishes and soup. Tibetan food taste is light and mild, many dishes, in addition to salt and garlic, generally do not put spicy spices. In terms of eating meat, Tibetan taboo is more. Generally only eat beef and mutton, do not eat horses, donkeys, mules, especially do not eat dog. Fish, shrimp, snake, eel and other aquatic seafood food, in addition to some urban residents, people in agricultural and pastoral areas are generally not used to eat. With the improvement of social economy and cultural life, Tibetan food has been continuously improved and enriched in cooking techniques and eating forms.
Drinking tea in Tibet is not an art as it is in Japan, but still tea is something like an elixir that everyone drinks a lot of it every day. The teacups are worn in the abdominal fold of their traditional clothes – the chuba. Particularly revered are tea cups made from a wood called “dzabija”, which is grown in Bhutan and eastern Tibet. They have extremely smooth surfaces, impressive texture patterns and balanced forms that are related to the natural composition of the raw wood. They are comfortable to hold. Of course, their production takes a lot of effort, and not everyone is able to buy such a special cup. The cup is usually covered with a layer of silver inside to facilitate cleaning. The nobility and high lamas also used stands and tops which were intricately ornamented with motives of the Tibetan mythology. The tops are used to preserve the scent of the tea. The most precious cups from the outer provinces were made of white jade. All teacups have no handle. The best cups are made from metal or silver and are only used for guests and festivals. Ordinary, everyday teapots are made from wood or clay, while the better ones are made from precious metals, such as copper or brass, which is beautifully decorated. A unique tool in the Tibetan kitchen is undoubtedly the tea mixing cylinder called Dongmo. It is used to make the famous buttered tea. Usually its capacity is 4 litres. It is made of wood and decorated with brass. There is a whisk in the hole at the top. By 15-20 up and down movements, the yak butter tea will reach the right emulsion.
Yak butter tea is an indispensable drink for Tibetans in Tibet. And making Yak butter tea is inseparable from butter, salt and tea. Yak butter is the cream extracted from cow’s milk and goat’s milk, and the best is the golden yellow yak butter extracted from summer yak’s milk. When Tibetans drink tea, they pay attention to the order of the elder and the young, the host and guest. Guests can not drink tea too quickly, generally, drinking three bowls of tea is most auspicious.
It is not common sense that Tibetan monks are self-sufficient. They cook for themselves and raise money for this by praying for farmers and nomads or by rituals for the well being of families. Only some monks are paid a fixed wage such as the abbot and some monks who work for the government. In the monastery’s kitchens, there are huge pots (mostly used for making soups) to be able to feed all the monks. During the breaks of religious studies, the monks are served tea and soup. The novices walk through the rows and pour tea from richly decorated tea pots.