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.
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.
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.
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:
Tibetan Beef Dumplings
Cooking time: 1.5 hours
Servings: 20-30 dumplingsIngredients:
For the skin:
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