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Nov 19, 2005 01:12 PM

Tibetan Cuisine – Milking the Yak

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While trying out the Tibetan restaurants in the area, I found the food can be subtly spiced, some might say bland.

While googling for a spice listed on one menu (emma), there was the link (at the very bottom) that summed up why the food lacks variety. One picture IS worth a thousand words.

Someone did put together an excellent slide show and there are pictures of Tibetan food, recipes and even a shot of a woman milking a yak. Even though there are no titles for the slides, just click next to the number. Slides 11,12,13 are missing and the last two slides have Tibetan links.

The next link has recipes for the most common Tibetan foods:

Thenthuk (Tibetan Noodle Soup)
Momo (Tibetan Dumplings)- like steamed potstickers. The recipe explains and illustrates the momo shapes.
Po Cha (Tibetan Butter Tea) Sometimes spelled Bod-jha. In Tibet, yak butter is used.
Balep Korkun – A Central Tibetan flatbread that looks like naan.

Other Tibetan foods / recipes I’ve read about or sampled:

Tsampa - a doughy barley flour Tibetan staple. Barley flower doesn’t have enough gluten to for bread.
Thuk - wheat flour noodles
Ngoe thuk - pan fried noodles with meat
Thukpa – noodle stew with meat, barley & vegetables
Sha Khampo – a dried jerky usually made with beef, mutton or yak
Yak tongue and liver sausage – There’s a time when NOT authentic can be good.
Barley Beer (Chang) – Tried this. Not enough of a buzz for courage to eat yak liver

Here’s another good website about Tibetan food:

For further recipes and Tibetan food information this has links to lots of good sites, one of which cautions "Novices should be warned that Tibetan cheese is usually hard enough to break teeth, and should be moistened in the mouth before chewing.”

Tibetan restaurants will often be decorated with the colors red, blue, green, yellow and white. Often there will be prayer flags in those colors. They represent the earth, water, sky, fire and clouds. Tibetans hang the flags for good luck, peace, health and happiness.

Tibetan food is flavored, so to speak, with ginger, onions, salt, coriander and garlic. If the menu says “Tibetan spices” it might mean Copan masala or Indian garum masala. Here’ s a link to a recipe for Copan masala which the monks at the Copan monesary (who have a cookbook) use for dishes.

FYI, here’s the link to the Copan monastery which has a pretty slick website, IMO, complete with an online store. They don’t sell the spice mix though. No link to mapquest either for driving directions.

As to the mysterious emma spice on the menu, the only thing Google turned up was Emma Bunton of the Spice Girls. It must have been a menu typo.


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  1. The Nyingma Institute on Highland Ave. in Berkeley, CA sells a Tibetan cookbook. It's a pretty good one too. Recipes for momos included.
    A lot of Tibetan cooking, when not vegetarian, uses mutton.
    Traditional Tibetan buttered tea features rancid butter.
    The tsampa, barley flower, is a nomadic staple, eaten raw while hiking - out of a pouch with the fingers, or toasted at the campfire, or even mixed with the tea.
    I recently saw a show of Tibetan artifacts at the Asian Art Museum in SF. One exhibit that amazed me was a Tibetan teapot. A very big tea pot - maybe a foot across. Made out of solid gold.
    Another interesting item of Tibetan serve ware is the skull cup. Buddhism features many symbols of memento mori - remember that you are going to die, integrated into not just art objects, but objects of daily life usage as well. Cups were often made from the tops of skulls, sometimes rimmed with gold or silver.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Niki Rothman

      I remembered the name of the cookbook: "Odiyan Country Cooking"

    2. Emma, or Yerma, is the Tibetan name for a Sichuan peppercorn variety that grows in the Himalayas.


      1. Emma is indeed a spice, not a typo. I used to live at Kopan monastery. I believe the pronunciation is like Erma, or Yerma and it's a very unique spice. It makes your mouth tingle almost like novacaine. Really. The Sherpas of Nepal put erma on boiled potatoes. The english name is Szechaun Pepper. Here's a link to it.

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