Skip to main content

East West Lifestyle

Recipes of China: Tibetan Beef Dumplings

February 23, 2017
Clarissa Wei travels to Tibet and learns how to make Tibetan dumplings
Clarissa Wei travels to Tibet and learns how to make Tibetan dumplings

Food Blogger Clarissa Wei learns to make Tibetan comfort food.

The Tibet Autonomous Region is a tough place to travel to. As a woman of Chinese heritage, I had enjoyed complete, unsupervised freedom in all of the country. I blended in easily; no one asked for my papers, even when I told people I was a journalist.

Tibet was the sole exception. As a foreigner, you are required to be under the careful watch of a tour group at all times. Still, the area was on my list of must-gos, and I forked over a couple grand to join a group for a week, specifically requesting one day at a cooking class.

They obliged and brought me to Tibetan Family Kitchen in Lhasa. The owners—a sweet couple—come from Lhasa by way of Xiahe, a town located in the Gansu province of China. They moved to Lhasa once they had their baby and opened a cooking school. There, they spent the afternoon teaching me how to make yak momos.

Tibetan Family Kitchen in Lhasa
Tibetan Family Kitchen in Lhasa

Momos are synonymous with dumplings, and they are a staple in the region. Winters, after all, are intensely cold and dumplings store well. They are also a fantastic source of carbohydrates. Yak, a domesticated ox with shaggy hair, is the protein of choice. For nomadic families, it is their main livestock and their source of meat, cloth and shelter.

Tibetan Family Kitchen in Lhasa
Yak is a domesticated ox with shaggy hair

Of course, yak isn’t readily available here in the States, so I’ve substituted it with beef. A fatty variety is preferred, which gives the dumpling more juice.

The rest of my Tibet trip was spent touring monasteries and pristine lakes. Lhasa is a cultural gem, filled with folks from all over the world who had made long pilgrimages to the Potala Palace, which was the former summer palace of the Dalai Lama before he fled to India. It was the political and religious center of Tibet prior to 1959. The red portion of the palace is the religious section; the white is the political. A couple of monks still live there to maintain the grounds, but today, the palace is essentially a museum. For Tibetan Buddhists, the palace is a sacred place. Local devotees will walk around the palace seven times, and it is not uncommon to see people praying to it, prostrating completely on the ground every three steps. There are many pilgrims who will walk this way from as far away as Eastern Tibet,often taking nine to 12 months to make the journey.

For nature-lovers, the region is absolutely breathtaking. It’s home to some of the most pristine lakes I have ever seen, and if you sign up for the right tour, you can even make it to the Mount Everest base camp.

Tibetan women
Tibetan women

In Lhasa, the food is an amalgamation of Chinese, Indian and Tibetan specialties. Tea houses are extremely casual; you sit down and waiters come over and pour out cups of butter milk tea. Dumplings are on nearly every menu. I highly recommend visiting the region, although the altitude can be quite difficult to adjust to.

If you can’t make it to Tibet, at the very least try its food. The dumplings are seasoned very differently from their Chinese counterparts. Cumin is the hallmark spice, and they are quite liberal with it.

Here’s a recipe, courtesy of the Tibetan Family Kitchen:

Yak dumplings is Tibetan comfort food
Yak dumplings is Tibetan comfort food

Tibetan Beef Dumplings

Cooking time: 1.5 hours

Servings: 20-30 dumplings


For the skin:

  • 3 cups of all-purpose wheat flour
  • 1.5 cups of water
  • 3 tsp baking soda


  • 1 lb. minced beef
  • 2 large stalks of celery, minced
  • 1 cup of spring onions, minced
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp red pepper, crushed
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp cumin

Dipping sauce:

  • Minced ginger, to taste
  • Vinegar, to taste
  1. Mix the skin ingredients together, slowly adding the water. You may have to adjust water and flour portion depending on how dry or humid the air is. While most bun recipes call for yeast, the Tibetans I encountered simply used baking soda.
  2. Knead the dough until it is flexible, and then let it rest in a cool and dry place for up to one hour.
  3. Mix up the filling ingredients together until it’s like mush.
  4. Wrap and shape the dumplings, pinching the sides together.
  5. Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Place 10 dumplings in the pan and cook until browned. Pour in 1 cup of water, cover with a lid and cook until the dumplings are tender and the meat is cooked through. This will take about 5 minutes. Repeat for remaining dumplings.
  6. Serve with vinegar and ginger for dipping sauce.

Hungry for more? Follow Clarissa’s journey through China as she uncovers authentic dishes and cultural insight.

Sign up for the Reach Further Newsletter

We’ll keep you in the know about the latest US-Asia business news and trends.



Suscríbase al boletín Reach Further

Lo mantendremos informado sobre las últimas noticias y tendencias comerciales entre Estados Unidos y China.