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Authentic Tibetan Food with Songtsam

Songtsam Lodges is the perfect setting to enjoy extraordinary Tibetan food. Indulge in the best cuisine curated by Michelin-rated chefs!

May 15 2021
Tibet is larger than life. The entire region sits on high-altitude sites, in a unique microclimate that has shaped Tibet’s traditions for centuries, especially the food. Tibetan food is based around the core ingredients: tsampa or roasted barley flour, butter, meat, and noodles. These staples come together for a myriad of delicious dishes to enjoy from breakfast to dinner! Barley, dairy, yak, beef, and mutton reflect Tibet’s wintry landscape and become authentic feasts in Tibetan homes and eateries.

Songtsam Lodge kitchens are proud to represent Tibetan food and cooking traditions with seasonal menus that change every three months to represent the Tibetan ritualistic way of cooking the finest ingredients of each time of year.

As each lodge is at distinct altitudes, each has a culinary specialty. Tacheng makes the most of local hams, Cizhong serves a lovely rainbow trout, Benzilan makes magic with roasted yellow fruit, and Shangri-La specializes in the famous yak hot pot.

Along with the locally sourced ingredients, Songtsam Lodges tend their own organic farms, complementing regional ingredients with fresh produce. Songtsam’s vegetable patches are the star feature in the menu’s varied vegetarian dishes.

Masterfully combining traditional Tibetan and Yunnan cuisines with recognizable Western specialties makes having a meal at any Songtsam Lodges a memorable experience.

Here Are The Most Popular Tibetan Food Items To Enjoy During Your Trip To Tibet:

Butter Tea

There’s nothing more comforting and heart-warming than a creamy bowl of Tibetan butter tea or Po Cha. Tibetans make butter traditionally with yak milk, which is richer and fattier than common cow’s milk butter. Yaks, which are related to dairy cows, are Tibet’s leading source of dairy. 

A bowl of hot yak butter tea is how you want to start the day in Tibet, especially during the brisk winter months. Yak butter is blended with local black tea and simmered for long hours in a morning ritual unique to the area. 

Butter tea’s extraordinary scent is reminiscent of roasted nuts, and the butter’s unctuous texture is not dissimilar to a classic cappuccino!

For an immersive experience, Chef Wadgdui curates interactive cooking experiences for Songtsam guests, including making butter and cheese with yak milk and preparing your own butter tea. 

Tibet food butter tea Butter tea

Yak Hot Pot 

There’s no heartier meal than a reliable yak hot pot. Yaks are members of the Bovina family and are related to water buffaloes and cows. The large animal’s meat is robust and flavourful and tenderizes beautifully when cooked along with mutton in a hot pot.

Slow-cooked with green peppers, mountain grass fruits, potatoes, tomatoes, and livened with Chinese cabbage, mushrooms, and fresh mint leaves, this dish is commonly enjoyed in Tibet’s high altitudes and is the Songtsam Lodge Meili’s signature dish. You’ll also find this hearty broth in Songtsam Lodge Shangri-La — a delectable Tibetan home-style dish served with a sophisticated flair. 

Tibet food hot pot Hot pot

Beef Tartar with Tsampa 

Tsampa is roasted barley flour and is the primary source of carbohydrates in Tibet. It’s also a fantastic side dish for meatier preparations like fresh and silken-smooth beef tartar. 

Beef tartar is now an international classic, but it has its origins in Asia, close to Tibet. Although the tender premium beef is the principal ingredient in the delicate starter, the way it’s made is what gives it its personality. At Songtsam, the tender meat is seasoned with local spices and tossed with herbs for the most luxurious feel. 

Beef Tongue Salad

Before you say anything, know the beef tongue is a true delicacy with a decadently smooth texture and a mild, meaty flavor. It’s incredibly healthy, too! It has high amounts of Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, vitamin B12, iron, zinc, and selenium. It is also an essential source of healthy saturated fats.

Grass-fed beef tongue is an incredible source of nutrition for people in Tibet. It's cooked low-and-slow, this helps it gain its superb flavor and texture. The perfect addition to any fresh tossed salad and is a Tibetan food staple.

Stir-Fried Shredded Beef with Sour Radish 

Stir-fries are not uncommon in Tibet — they’re intensely flavorful and as colorful as they are tasty. Pickled, sour radishes, called Son Labu in Tibet, are a popular ingredient added; they lend their pleasantly bitter and tangy taste to many recipes and shine when tossed with crispy shredded beef for a satisfying meal. 

Local Beef Grilled in Stone 

Cattle in Tibet are of incredibly high quality. The meat is firm and textural, and the taste is umami-rich and meaty. Cooking such a delicacy is no easy feat. The best flavor is only achieved when the meat is cooked over a blistering stone, Tibetan-style.

Yunnan Style Cooking

The Yunnan Province neighbors Tibet to the south, and it is known as Dian cuisine. It is loved by many for its versatility and freshness.

Before joining Songtsam as Executive Chef and Head Chef at the luxurious Songtsam Lijang Lodge, Chef Wu Guijun specialized in authentic Sichuan and Yunnan cuisines. He now makes use of his expertise to surprise Songtsam’s guests with bold, hearty meals based on traditional flavors.

The chef’s cooking is reduced in oil and spices. Aligned with Songtsam’s high-quality standards, where everything is cooked fresh to order with no MSG. Read on and discover the Yunnan specialties offered in Songtsam Lodges. 

Fried Begonia with Short Ribs

Yunnan’s ancient city of Lijiang is known for its 800-year-old bridges, but also its beautiful begonias. The flowers’ mild, citrusy flavor elevates the taste of the freshly butchered pork ribs found in Lijiang’s market, visited regularly by Chef Wu Guijun.

Chef Guijun describes the fork-tender ribs as “a little sweet, a little sour and a little spicy” — the textbook definition of Yunnan’s flavors. 

Fried Pine Needles 

“When I was young in the village, it was difficult to find fresh vegetables in the Springtime, so my mother would pick up pine needles and cook them for us.” — Chef Wu Guijun.

Inspired by the Yunnan specialist’s childhood, you can enjoy the resinous and herbal taste of fried pine needles at Songtsam Linka Lijiang. The crispy pine needles are beautifully seasoned, becoming a fantastic appetizer with the most attractive scents reminiscent of the forest. This is a dish you won’t find anywhere else in the world! 

Fried Bitter Thorn Flower with Eggs 

Thorn flowers are authentic treats in Yunnan Province, where foraging for ingredients is customary. The unique taste of bitter thorn flowers is attractive and immensely complex. This is especially true when skilfully cooked to crispy perfection and topped with eggs. 

This is no ordinary dish since it takes great skill to cook the eggs precisely right. The delightful specialty takes years to master. 

Fried bitter thorn flower with eggs Fired bitter thorn flower with eggs

Chickpea Jelly

Liang Fen is the local name for the street food delicacy known as Chickpea Jelly. Originally from Eryuan, north of Yunnan, the specialty noodles were successfully introduced to Lijiang, where they’re now enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.

Chickpeas are soaked, ground, filtered, pulped, boiled, and sliced to get the springiest noodles in Yunnan’s repertoire. When cooked with leeks, bean sprouts, fresh mint leaves, spicy chili oil, and sour vinegar, they become a dish you’ll remember for a long time. 

You’ll find chickpea jelly in street stalls, casual eateries, and high-end restaurants — they’re loved by all!

Granny's Potatoes

Granny’s potatoes is a comforting dish that is the local version of mashed potatoes. The coarse texture is appealing, and the unique seasoning, including spring onions and chili oil. This gives the starchy side dish a vibrant personality. 

Enjoy granny's potatoes with a side of stewed green beans for the complete experience; these dishes are the very definition of Yunnan soul food. 

Air-Dried Marinated Pork Ribs Hot Pot in Copper pot 

Patience is a critical ingredient in classic Yunnan cooking, where slow-cooked preparations often steal the spotlight at the table. 

One such extraordinary dish is the typical dry-cured pork ribs marinated with salt and dried for a year. Before being slow-cooked in a copper pot to achieve a tender texture and the most pleasing taste. The secret is in the fragrant and rich broth. It is seasoned with garlic oil and other local spices and served with vermicelli, veggies, chive flowers, mint, and fermented bean curd. 

Incredibly popular in Lijiang, this dish is made with free-range, local pork, and the meat hangs to gain flavor intensity. Dry-curing pork is an ancestral tradition in the area, and it’s part of the people’s culture since forever. 

Roasted Matsutake 

The world-renowned Matsutake mushrooms grow freely around the town of Lijiang. The coveted mushroom has the most delectable taste, especially when skilfully slow-roasted to perfection. 

While other mushrooms commonly serve as side dishes, Songtsam’s roasted matsutake is the highlight of any meal. 

Dried Pepper Boletus 

If you need a break from the hearty meat alternatives on the menu, the equally satisfying boletus edulis mushrooms will undoubtedly be a meal to remember.

The large mushroom can grow up 30 cm wide, and is good for your health; it improves microcirculation through your body and can boost your immune system. Needless to say, boletus mushrooms are utterly delicious. 

Western Style Cuisine

Because at Songtsam we know the best meal is one that reminds you of home, we invited Michelin star Chef Losang Tseten Barshee from Basel, Switzerland, to train local chefs in Western cuisine. 

Our goal is to offer guests more and more varied dining options with the absolute best local cuisine and international classics. When cooked with the region’s pristine produce, Songtsam’s western cooking is of world-class quality. 

At Songtsam, “Guests can enjoy local delicacies and explore how the West treats local ingredients.” Here are the most popular western-style dishes on our menu. 

‘Mr. Baima’ Truffle Soup 

This exquisite and tasty soup is named after Mr. Baima Duoji, founder and chairman of Songtsam Boutique Retreats. This luxurious treat meets the standards of our most distinguished guests.  

China is home to a wide variety of wild mushrooms, from the meaty matsutake to the fragrant black truffles. ‘Mr. Baima’ truffle soup features such extraordinary ingredients in the most delectable way — a croissant pastry served with boiled Nixi chicken and flavored with authentic black truffles. 

mr.baima truffle soap Mr. Baima truffle soap

Half Widow Black Truffle Salad 

As Songtsam’s chef explains, “Besides the truffle soup, two other dishes on the Lijiang menu use local truffles, ‘Half Widow’ black truffle salad and ‘Daniela’ pizza.”

Black truffles are amongst the most decadent luxury ingredients globally, and they lend their earthy, umami-rich flavors to a wide variety of recipes. The ‘Half Widow’ salad, named after the black veil widows use when mourning, is an homage to the famous black truffle, the chief ingredient in the neatly arranged salad tossed with potatoes. 

Yak Steak

Yak is as lean meat like venison or bison. With just five percent fat, compared to the fifteen percent in beef, this healthier alternative to red meat is not only flavourful but juicy and tender. Nothing compares to the delicate taste of a thick yak steak.

Yaks have been an integral part of the Tibetan culture for 5,000 years, and they provide the most nutritious meat and dairy in people’s diets. If you haven’t tried yak meat, do so — it’s becoming increasingly popular worldwide. 

Hot Pot with Blue Foot Chicken and Morels 

The dish Chef Losang Tseten Barshee found most “unforgettable” during his stewardship in Shangri La, was the hotpot with blue foot chicken and local fresh morels. Inspired by such rich and complex broth, the chef developed this satisfying hot pot with a highly regional flavor and sophisticated flair. The innovative take on the classic offers you a clear chicken broth livened by earthy local morels and traditional spices for the most exquisite stew. 

Delicious food for Afternoon Tea and Beyond in Songtsam 

Afternoons at Songtsam estates are lovely. Tea flows, and so do delectable sweets and pastries. Local delicacies abound, and the beverages are equally astounding. The region’s fine wine and sweet drinks will surely swoon your senses while you relax with the most beautiful sunsets in the background. 

Ice Wine

Yunnan received recognition as “Asia’s answer to Bordeaux”, as fine wine production in the region is of the highest standards. The impressive elevations of up to 7,000 feet allow wine grapes to ripen to perfection while retaining their precious acidity, and amongst Yunnan’s most attractive wine styles, you’ll find Ice Wine.

The grapes for this unique sweet wine grow in Tacheng and are harvested early in the morning when they’re frozen – when pressed, winemakers obtain sweet, liquid gold that becomes the most luscious beverage in the region. 

Sweet Rice Wine with Boiled Eggs (dessert) 

Afternoon tea at Songtsam is a cherished tradition, and amongst the luscious drinks and specialty foods offered, you’ll find the unique sweet rice wine with boiled eggs.

The kitchen staff brews the rice wine on-site and mixes it with boiled eggs and brown sugar for a dessert like no other. This is a highlight at Songtsam Lodge Benzilan, where the cool autumn breeze invites you to spend long hours enjoying tea and sweets. 

Osmanthus Honey Wine 

Osmanthus flowers grown in the colorful garden at Songtsam Lodge Tacheng become the secret ingredient in this sweet Honey Wine, made by brewing local honey, offering the purest essence of the region’s high mountains. 

The fragrant wine is lusciously sweet and refined; you can’t emulate the labor-intensive and time-consuming process — making osmanthus honey wine is an act of love. One Songtsam’s guests gladly enjoy every season. 

Osmanthus honey wine Osmanthus honey wine

Cizhong Rose Honey Wine 

The Tibetan Cizhong Village in Northwest Yunnan is known far and wide for its honey wine. Not dissimilar from fine European wine, the Yunnan fermented grape juice is steeped in tradition. 

The sweet Rose Honey grapes are picked in Autumn and fermented patiently in clay vessels following strict, traditional methods in which the entire village takes part – from hand-picking the grapes to crushing them, everyone plays a part in this sweet community effort. 

The result is the authentic Rose Honey wine, a structured red wine beautifully balanced between a pleasing tartness and the most attractive sweetness. If you enjoy wine, you’ll love Cizhong Rose Honey Wine.

Highland Barley Ice Cream 

There’s nothing quite like silken and creamy ice cream for a sweet ending to a meal, and when flavored with the region’s local highland barley, this ice cream is like no other. 

This is a unique treat to enjoy in summer or winter; a scoop of this gratifying dessert has the perfect texture and the most rewarding taste — the perfect fit to satisfy your sweet tooth!

Highland Barley Ice cream Highland barley ice cream

Tibetan Food is a Life-changing Experience 

Songtsam Boutique Retreats and Lodges are the perfect setting to enjoy the extraordinary Tibetan cuisine. Exploring the region’s bountiful ingredients transformed to heavenly perfection by our skilled chefs is an authentic homage to the local food traditions. 

There’s no equal for Tibetan and Yunnanese cuisines; their vibrant flavor combinations and textures will make every meal a highlight of your trip — every mouthful is a life-changing experience.