November 1, 2015
Destination: Tibet (Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) or Xizang Autonomous Region)
Latitude, Longitude: 29.646923, 91.117212
Where: Tibetan Plateau in Eastern Asia
Area in km2: 1228400.00
Main religion: Tibetan Buddhism
Interesting fact: Highest region on earth, with an average elevation of 4,900 metres.
On top of the world.
Tibet, or ‘the roof of the world’, has long been quite isolated, resulting in a very specific culture and religion. Tibetan Buddhism is strongly integrated in daily activities – rituals and tradition are very much alive. For example, Tibetans avoid eating seafood in spite of the abundance of fish in lakes and rivers in the region. In Buddhist tradition it is better to eat bigger animals – this way, fewer lives have to be sacrificed to feed the same amount of people.
Tibet’s mountainous character results in long cold winters, only suitable for a limited assortment of vegetables. This way, the high altitude is reflected in the typical Tibetan cuisine. Recipes are simple and have a warming, hearty quality to them.
The most important crop in Tibet is barley – barley flour is used to make a dough called Tsampa. This dough is either rolled into noodles or made into dumplings called momo. Other important crops are buckwheat, mustard, cabbage and root vegetables (turnips, carrots and potatoes). You will find these ingredients in typical Tibetan noodle dishes, stews, dumplings and soups. These dishes are flavoured with ginger, garlic, coriander and onion and seasoned with spices like black pepper, fenugreek, turmeric and black cumin. The Szechuan peppercorn, or erma in Tibet, is a distinctive flavour maker often added to dumplings and meat dishes.
On the Tibetan plateau you will see livestock such as sheep, goats and yak. Their meat is often dried, or cooked into spicy stews with potatoes. Dairy also plays an important role in the Tibetan diet – butter tea is the standard drink, well-prepared yoghurt is a specialty and cheeses are frequently eaten. Chhurpi is a cheese made from buttermilk solids and comes in both a soft and a hard variety. The soft variety is hung in a cloth and can be compared to an Italian ricotta – with more character since it is often left to ferment a bit. The hard variety is pressed to dry out further, then cut into small cubes and dried over fire, hardening it even more. This results in a very hard chewy texture and a smokey flavour, good for hours of nibbling while on a trek.
Tibet is slowly becoming more accessible – with the growing infrastructure, tourism is rising. Tibet still relies mainly on agriculture but this might change soon since both the natural and spiritual side of Tibet make for great tourist appeal. Of course, this modernisation could also at the same time form a threat to the cultural heritage born out of isolation.
Words and photography by Sprout.