The development of the Tibetan food culture
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 food culture. It changed considerably for the first time in the 6th century. At that time trade between the Tupo 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 food 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 “jiasailiujuejie”, 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, Gyangze, and Xigaze. Even common people in Tibet had mastered some simple Han cooking skills. The new Tibetan food culture, which blended together diet, entertainment, enjoyment, and fun, came to be accepted by some noble families. However, due to the limit of the politics, economics, religion, culture, 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 food features in diet culture, cookery arts, and the dietary courtesies.
Buttered tea is the favorite drink of Tibetan people. It is made of boiled brick tea and ghee. Ghee, which looks like butter, is a kind of dairy product of fat abstracted from cow milk or sheep milk. Tibetan people like the ghee made of yak milk. When they make buttered tea, they mix boiled brick tea and ghee in a special can, add some salt, pour the mixed liquid into a pottery or metal teapot and finally heat up it (but not boil it). Different people have different tastes for the buttered tea. Some people like salty flavor, others prefer to light flavor. People who do manual labors, especially men, like the strong-tasted, cream-like buttered tea. Old people, children and women like light-flavored tea. People usually heat up the buttered tea because cold buttered tea is not easy to be digested and does harm to one’s stomach.
The staple food of Tibetan people is Zanba, a kind of dough made with roasted highland qingke barley flour and yak butter with water. Method of making: grind the roasted Highland Barley into flour, and mix it with ghee. It is similar to parching wheat flour in northern China. People in northern China grind the wheat into flour before parching it, but Tibetan people do the opposite. They roast the Barley seeds before grinding them into flour. What’s more, Tibetan people do not remove the husk of the Barley.
When eating Zanba, Tibetan people put some ghee in a bowl, pour some boiled water into the bowl, then put some roasted flour into the water, and mix them with one hand. When mixing the tea, they press the flour slightly against the edge of the bowl with their fingers to avoid spilling the tea. After mixing all the roasted flour, the tea and the ghee until the thing gets thick, people knead it into dough balls and eat them. Tibetan people use hands instead of chopsticks or scoops when eating. This habit is a little similar to the habits of Indians, who also use hands when eating rice.
Zanba is a simple food. It is quite easy to take some Zanba when Tibetan people move about in search of pasture. When Tibetan people leave home for a long time, they always carry a Zanba bag on their waists. Whenever they are hungry, they eat some Zanba. Sometimes, they take out a wood bowl, put some Zanba, buttered tea, and salt in the bowl, mix them. Then they knead the dough into balls and eat them. It’s very convenient. Sometimes, they drink some buttered tea while eating Zanba. Sometimes, they pour Zamba and buttered tea into a leather bag named “tangu”. Then, they hold the mouth of the bag with one hand and knead the bag with the other hand. After a while, the delicious Zanba dinner is ready.
During the Tibetan New Year Festival, every family will place an auspicious wood container called “Zusuqima” on the Tibetan-style cupboard. In the container are qingke, Zanba and zholma (groma food, a kind of Tibetan food), on top of which are ears of qingke wheat, wheat flowers and colored cards on which the sun, the moon and stars are drawn. When the neighbors or the relatives come to pay a New Year call, the hosts will entertain them with the food in “zhusiqima”. The guest will take some Zanba with one hand and flick in the air for three times. Then he takes some Zanba and put it in the mouth while saying “Tashi Delek” (meaning good luck and happiness) to express the best wishes.
In Tibetan region, when the peasants or the herdsmen butcher the sheep, they always save the sheep blood to make some blood sausages, the delicious local food. They not only cook some of the sheep blood to eat, but also put the sheep blood in a long tube of skin, cook it and eat the food served in thin slices. The cooked blood sausage tastes delicious and tender. Method of making: chop the sheep meat into pieces, add some salt, some Chinese prickly ash powder and some Zanba powder in the meat and mix them together. Then put the mixed material in the cleansed tube, tie the tube once every few decimeters with threads. The cooking of the blood sausage is also special: cook the prepared sausages in the soup until they rise and turn grayish white. Take out the sausages, which are about eighty percent done, put them on a plate. The whole families sit around on the ground, cut the blood sausages into thin slices and eat.
Amdo, where Tibetan people live, refers to the region where Qinghai, Gansu and northwestern Sichuan Province border each other. Tibetans living in this region like to eat a kind of dough strips - Amdo dough strips very much. It is the common wheaten food in Tibetan families.
1. Add some hot water to the flour and knead it into a ball, which is a little softer than the kneaded flour for making noodles. Then cut the ball into thick 4-cun-long strips (cun is a unit of length, equal to 1/3 decimeters)
2. Put the dough strips one by one on a board, apply some cooking oil on the surface, cover them with a piece of clean cloth and place them there for several minutes.
3. Prepare the meat broth. Add some sheep meat, salt to the water, and boil it.
4. Press the prepared dough strip flat, then stretch the strip gradually and put it around your left wrist and hold one end of the strip with the left hand. Pull the strip into smaller pieces with your right hand and put them into the meat soup and cook. The cooked dough strip will be ready in a few minutes, add some spices to your own taste.
Feature: Tasty, delicious, tender and appetizing.
Tu-pa is the food similar to Jiaozi (the Chinese dumpling), which is the favorite food in China, especially northern China. Method of making: put some chopped meat on a piece of flat round dough strip and roll up it, put the ends together, just as how Chinese people make Jiaozi. Tu-pa is the food for the family reunion dinner, usually held on December 29 of the Tibetan lunar calendar. Sometimes small pieces of stones, capsicums, charcoals or wool threads are put in Tu-pa, each representing a special meaning. Stone means that the people who happen to pick up this Tu-pa will be stonehearted in the next year. Woolen thread means a kind heart. Charcoal means the vicious mind. Capsicum means a loose tongue. Of course those special Tu-pas do not really mean those bad things. They are just for fun. No matter who happen to take that Tu-pa, they immediately spit it out. People laugh happily then. This habit really adds to the fun and happiness of the festival.
The lung sausages and liver sausages are the special Tibetan preserved meat products. They are also called Cui Lung or Cui Liver (Cui means blown).
1. Lung sausage: blow air into the fresh pig lung while flapping it with one hand to make the lung swell and soften. Add some salt, some tsao-ko powder (tsao-ko is a kind of spice), capsicum powder and some mashed garlic into the hot water and mix them into mush. Fill the mush into the lung through the larynx with a soupspoon. Shake the lung while blowing, flapping and filling in it. Repeat the process for five or six times until the lung is filled up.
2.Tie the windpipe of the lung with twine, hung the lung sausage high above the fire pit to dry it. The salted lung can be eaten after 2 or three months.
3.Liver sausage: Cut open the bile duct of the fresh pig liver. Tie the cuts of the ducts except the biggest one. Blow air into the liver through the cut while flapping the liver with hands and filling it with spices, mixed with wine. Apply the rest of the spice on the surface of the liver. Put bamboo strips between the liver strips. Then hung the liver in a draught to dry it. The liver sausage is done after 1 to 1 and a half months’ airing.
4. Clean the liver sausage and cook it. Cut the liver into thin slices, add some spices, such as gingili oil, sauce, vinegar, shallot pieces and ginger pieces. The delicious liver sausage is done.
Fresh and tasty. Not greasy. It is also appetizing. It is possible to preserve the food for as long as 1 year.
Made from the highland barley, the main food produced in Tibet, Highland barley wine (also called Chiang in Tibet) is the wine favorite to Tibetan people and is a necessary part at festivals, marriage feasts and on some other important occasions.
clean the barley grains quickly (the washing can not take so long a time) before putting them into a large deep pot, pour in water, of which the amount is two thirds that of the grains and cook them. After the barley grains absorb all the water in the pot, burn the fire less brilliantly. Stir the grains with a crabstick so as to cook them fully. Pinch a piece of barley grain to see whether it is soft enough to be pressed flat. Add some water to continue the cooking if the grains are not soft enough. When the grains are 80 percent cooked, take the pot off the fire and cool down the barley for 20 to 30 minutes until after the grains absorb all the water in the pot. Lay open the barley grains on a piece of clean cloth when they are still warm, sprinkle evenly distiller’s yeast on the grains. It is important to make sure that the barley grains are neither too hot nor too cold when sprinkling the yeast. If the barley grains are too hot, the wine will taste bitter. If they are too cold, they cannot be fermented fully. After sprinkling the yeast on the barley grain, put them in a pot, which is then covered with a blanket or other things to keep the pot warm. Generally, two days later in summer, or three days later in winter the barley will be fermented fully. If the temperature is suitable, the pot of barley will smell of wine after only one day.
When Tibetan people toast or drink wine during festivals or on other happy occasions, they use silver flagons and silver cups. People put a little ghee on the mouth of the flagon or the cup as the “pure white decoration”. When the host presents you a cup of wine, you should dip your ring finger in the wine and flick the wine in the air three times to express your respects to the heaven, the earth and the ancestors before sipping the wine. The host will fill the cup, and you take a sip of the wine again. After the host fills your cup for the forth time, you have to bottom it up.
After finishing the meal, the host will toast each of the guests a big bowl of wine, which is called the “after-meal wine”. Guests who drink cannot refuse this wine. Otherwise, the host will make him drink two bowls of wine as a penance. Tibetan people used to use silver bowls to toast the guests. But nowadays they usually use big porcelain bowls.
Tibetans toast each other with songs wishing people well, good health and so on. The person who is being toasted empties their cup when the song is finished.