As the capital of Tibet, Lhasa has numerous restaurants serving authentic Tibetan cuisine. Foreign dishes, like western, Nepalese, and Indian, are also available in Lhasa due to its flouring tourism and boarding location. When traveling in Lhasa, having delicious meals at restaurants with the pleasant ambiance is the icing on the cake.
With an average altitude of 4,500m/14,760ft, Tibet is not a suitable place for most crops to thrive there. Because of particular geographical features, religious beliefs, and other factors, Tibetan gastronomy remains quite distinctive from most others. Nepal and India food, for the most part, influence the local cuisine. Furthermore, cooking is hardly an option here since water doesn’t boil as well as at lower altitudes due to lower air pressure. Therefore, both Tibet and its capital city feature unique characters in the food and diet.
The high-altitude barley is among rare cereals present in the diet of the Tibetan people. Tibetans rely on yak, the domesticated cattle-like mammal, to provide further essential dietary components, such as meat, butter, and milk. From butter and milk, they produce butter tea and yogurt, for example. As you can assume, the local food is rich in proteins, allowing the residents to withstand the local climate.
There are many typical local dishes you can eat in Lhasa when traveling Tibet. Some you shouldn’t miss while around are:
Tsampa, a barley flour, is the most common ingredient of the local cuisine. For the Tibetan people, Tsampa is their companion throughout the day and life. Of course, you do not eat the flour directly, you need to add some liquid, most of the time tea, sometimes milk or yogurt to it.
Noodles are the next main dietary ingredient in the Roof of the World. It is among the most beloved dishes in Lhasa among residents and pilgrims. Besides noodles, prepared in alkaline water, they include yak meat and some vegetables.
This favorite dumpling dish is highly versatile since it caters both to meat-eaters and vegetarians. The typical filling of Tibetan Momo is yak meat, with vegetables, such as cabbage, mushrooms, and onion, serving as replacements when needed. Steaming and frying are the usual methods in preparing this local specialty.
Tibetan Hot Pot
The main ingredients of this dish favorite among the Tibetans are yak meat and bone. The meat is juicy and tender, while complementary components, such as the local dipping sauce, tofu, and a few vegetables, add a variety of flavors.
Yogurt made of yak milk and “enriched” with raisins is a local snack absent additives. Probably tasting mellower than most yogurts you have ever tried, Tibetans like this iconic specialty so much. And the Shoton Festival is proof enough of how popular Tibetan Yogurt is among the members of the local community.
Consisting of yak butter, tea leaves, water, and salt, Butter Tea is a highly-nutritious beverage that keeps you warm in harsh weather conditions. Furthermore, the tea alleviates symptoms of high-altitude sickness, helping travelers accustom to the elevation more easily. Your friendly hosts like to drink Butter Tea while having Tsampa.
Best Restaurants in Lhasa, Tibet
Lhasa, the principal city of the Autonomous Province of Tibet, is the culinary hotspot of the Roof of the World. Since you are as good as granted to visit the capital during your Tibet tour, don’t miss to visit some of its reputable restaurants.
Tibetan Family Kitchen
Location: No1. Pozhang Saba Alley. Bhakor South Street, Lhasa 850000 China
Tibet Family Kitchen is a family-run restaurant offering travelers a relaxing atmosphere, friendly service, and healthy and tasty Tibetan food. If interested, ask your attentive hosts for a cooking class to take home something else alongside pleasant memories from the trip. Some dishes you can order at Tibet Family Kitchen are Momo dumplings, Tsampa, noodles, and sweet rice.
Since the owners and staff speak Chinese and English, you will communicate with them easily. The ambiance exudes authenticity, and the food selection is excellent.
Regarding prices, you may pay a little more here than at other restaurants of this type in Lhasa. However, you can consider Tibet Family Kitchen an affordable eatery, especially by western standards.
Location: Southeast corner of Barkhor Street (yellow establishment)
Makye Ame is among the most popular eateries in Lhasa, serving local, Nepalese, and Indian specialties. Besides delicious food that ranks the establishment among the finest Tibetan restaurants by many patrons, you can enjoy authentic local architecture. Finally, Makye Ame, meaning “Pure Lady,” was a site of a beautiful love story the sixth Dalai Lama wrote a poem about.
So, you will benefit from learning the story besides enjoying delicious Tibetan and Asian food. Also, you can sign up for a cooking class. Some specialties you should order are home-made yogurt, Grassland Grilled Mushroom, Tashi-Delek (beef in a sauce), and Cheese Balls.
Menus are in English, so you don’t need to worry about language barriers. Regarding prices, Makye Ame is a mid-range Lhasa restaurant. When visiting the eatery, arrive before 5 pm to avoid waiting for a table.
Pure Lady overlooks Barkhor Street, allowing you to admire hustle and bustle of central Lhasa streets while having a meal.
House of Shambhala Restaurant
Location: No.7 Kirey 2nd Alley, across Muru monastery alleyway, Lhasa China
Located at a namesake hotel, the House of Shambhala Restaurant welcomes everyone. Besides Tibetan, you can have Nepali, Indian, and western-style food at this reputable eatery. Friendly employees speak English and are very forthcoming.
You may say that the House of Shambhala Restaurant is a mid-range eatery. Some dishes and beverages you should consider ordering are Yak Pizza, Yak dumplings, Roti Prata, milk tea, and lemon and ginger tea. Finally, most foreign visitors like local-style ambiance and decoration.
Besides dishes for gourmands, House of Shambhala prepares meals for vegetarians and vegans. To enjoy views of the capital of the province while dining, go to the restaurant’s outdoor rooftop.
Location: 1/F, No.8 Zangyiyuan Road, Chengguan District, Lhasa
Snowland is a moderately-priced restaurant that is especially popular among budget travelers looking for good value for money dining. Besides Tibetan and Nepali food, you can find western-style dishes here. Options for vegans and vegetarians are available.
Consult menus in English when deciding what to eat, but take Yak Pepper Steak and Crepes Suzette into consideration. However, the selection of dishes is quite extensive, and you may find a variety of specialties to your liking.
When visiting Snowland, make sure to bring cash since the restaurant doesn’t accept cards. If you grow hungry after 9 pm, come to this eatery to have discounted cakes.
Location: 100 Beijing Dong Lu
Dunya, serving international food, is a little more on the expensive side compared to most Lhasa restaurants. Still, you shouldn’t overextend yourself (spend over 10 USD) even if you try to. The restaurant’s owners come from various parts of the world (Tibet, Europe, and the US), so communicating in English won’t be a problem.
Besides international dishes, you can order Tibetan food at Dunya, as well. So, if you long for Italian specialties, order pasta or pizza. As for local specialties, Yak Sizzler is a safe bet.
Location: No.3 Minchi Chang East Road
As its name suggests, Lhasa Kitchen prepares local dishes, but you can find international specialties here, too. You can order Indian, Nepali, Chinese, and Western food, and it seems that travelers are particularly fond of the first two foreign cuisines. As you probably guess, the staff speaks English, so you don’t need to worry about the language barrier.
Lhasa Kitchen is an affordable dining venue, and the picture accompanying every specialty on the menu will make your decisions easier.
Where to drink sweet tea in Lhasa?
Travelers wishing to join Tibetans practicing their favorite pastime should visit Canggu Nunery or Guangming Gangqiong Teahouse. These teahouses popular among the local populace and pilgrims frequent these establishments to have delicious teas featuring strong fragrances.
When visiting Guangming, make sure to drink your sweet tea before 5 pm, which is the closing time no matter how many patrons are present.
Eating etiquette and taboos in Tibet
When your host fills you a cup, don’t start drinking right away. First, have a conversation with your host. When you need to use hands for eating, use your right hand. Also, don’t eat loudly and with open mouth, which the local people consider offensive.
Furthermore, practice using chopsticks before traveling to Tibet since eating local dishes usually doesn’t involve forks, knives, and spoons. If you receive an invitation from a local to dine, start eating after your host. Finally, refrain from eating before everyone receives their portions at a restaurant.
When you start having Tibetan food, you may need a little time to get used to it. If so, be persistent, and you will have a great time enjoying local food in a short time. Note that the local cuisine in Lhasa and Tibet features little fruit since geographical features don’t suit the cultivation of these.
As for restaurants and eateries in Lhasa, the ones we mentioned above cater to international travelers, and their employees speak English. But, if you intend to visit other Lhasa restaurants, certain knowledge of Tibetan or Chinese would benefit you.