Tibetan foods and beverages have diverse of its kind, which found only in Tibetan Plateau regions. Tibet, known as the “Roof of the World”, is famous for its unmatched beauty and ancient history. Due to the extremely high altitudes, and harsh climate, Tibetan culture has had to adapt. Tibetan food has also adapted. Tibetan food is not only sustenance, but also helps Tibetan people survive the harsh climates.
Their food keeps them warm, gives them energy, helps them with the high altitude, and gives them nutrients essential to the harsh climate. Due to the high altitude of Tibet, water boils at 90 degrees making cooking with water impossible, and vegetables are scarce in the high altitude, so Tibetan cuisine has become very specialized. The main ingredients are meat, and dairy products. The food in Tibet shows a strong similarity to that in India and parts of China, but is uniquely Tibetan.
The Tibetan cookery used to have the local touch. As the influence of the outer food culture began to reach Tibet, there had been three great changes on the Tibetan foods culture. It changed considerably for the first time in the 6th century. At that time trade between the Tibet Kingdom and the central China, even the mid-Asian countries, had increased. Many new cooking materials, such as rice, milk, vegetables and fruits and new methods were introduced into Tibet, and the cooking methods of Tibetan foods were greatly improved.
After Princess Wencheng entered Tibet (in 641), the Tibetan and Han (Han is the largest nationality in China) food cultures began to mix with each other. Tibetan people began to try various kinds of diet and attached importance to medicated diet (treatment using some nutritious food, which also has medical effects on people), as Han nationality people had been doing.
During the 18th century, the Tibetan cookery greatly developed again. At that time, Emperor Guangxu (1875-1909) was in reign in Qing Dynasty (1616-1911). Luxurious banquets were held from time to time. Dishes making developed to an extreme in variety, scale, richness and the cooking skills as well. With the intercommunication of both economics and cultures, the Han diet culture penetrated into Tibet gradually.
There was a Tibetan dish named “GyaSay Liu Chobgyal”, meaning the 18 Han dishes (In the Qing Dynasty the court invented a special type of cuisine for the royal family, which included many elaborate dishes at one meal. It is called Man Han Quan Xi. It is said that it takes three to four days for them to make just one meal). With the influence of the Han diet culture, there were more and more vegetables, fruits, kitchen utensils in Tibet. Such as in Lhasa, Gyangtse, and Shigaze. Even common people in Tibet had mastered some simple Han cooking skills.
The new Tibetan foods culture blended together diet, entertainment, enjoyment, and fun. It came to be accepted by some noble families. However, due to the limit of the economics, geography, transport and the lack of communication, only a small group of noble or merchantmen’s families mastered the cooking skills of the nice and luxurious food and enjoyed it.
During the 1980s, the Tibetan cookery was greatly developed for a third time. With the open policies and the development of tourism in Tibet, new cooking materials were used, and cooking skills were improved. The new Tibetan foods features in diet culture, cookery arts, and the dietary courtesies.