Tibetans like having a good snack. Maybe you too. We definitely love it. Good thing, Lhasa has various tasty snacks to offer.
Lhasa people enjoy some snacks in particular. Let us introduce to you which are those snacks and where to get them.
The two top favourite snacks in town are definitely Bean Jelly and fried potatoes.
1) Bean Jelly
Bean jelly, as its name indicates, is made of mung bean flour. Sometimes jelly is made of corn flour.
In Lhasa dialect, it’s called “Lebhing” (ལབ་ཕིང་།).
A bean jelly dish might sound weird. However before forming an opinion, have a look at these pictures!
What exactly is this bean jelly snack?
“Lebhing” is generally cut in large thick slices. The slices are served in a bowl, usually made of paper. Then the slices are covered with chilli, spices, fresh green onions and sometimes coriander. Some “Lebhing” is cut like grated carrots. Some “Lebhing” is in such a liquid form that it cannot really be cut any way.
“Lebhing” is generally served cold. As it’s a snack served cold, this jelly bean is particularly popular during warmer days. The temperature rarely gets very high in Lhasa. However, as it is located at high altitude, the sun is strong, especially during summer. Moreover, the weather is very dry and it rarely rains. It usually rains only during the month of August and maybe during the end of July too. It might also snow from time to time between December and April. As for the rest of the time, the weather is very sunny and the sky stays extraordinarily blue. That’s why Tibetans might end up craving for a cold “Lebhing” even on a day of March.
When made at home however, some people cook it with meat and then serve it with rice or bread. This is also how some restaurants might serve “Lebhing”. Yet, snack restaurants usually only serve it cold.
Fun fact: In Tibetan, we do not say “eat Lebhing”. We say “lick Lebhing” (ལབ་ཕིང་ལྡག). In the past, “Lebhing” was primarily sold as a street food. Vendors would cut it in a thin slice and put it on the client’s palm then the client would lick it directly on his hand. As these vendors would sell the “Lebhing” for a cheap price, kids would often use their “snack pocket money” on it.
Where to have “Lebhing”?
Today “Lebhing” are sold in little restaurants called “Lebhing da sa” (ལབ་ཕིང་ལྡག་ས།), which means “places where you lick jellybean”. These little restaurants are usually composed of either one room with shared space for both the kitchen and dining area for customers. Some “Lebhing da sa” have a room for the customers and a separate space for the kitchen (usually in a “glass box” so you can see them preparing the Lebhing).
“Lebhing” restaurant owners will typically make a set amount of “Lebhing” each day. Once they have sold everything, they don’t make new “Lebhing”. According to them, it is the best way for the “Lehbing” to stay fresh and not go to waste. Which is why it’s better to go before 5:30pm. Some serve food only in the morning and in that case, it would be better to go before 1pm.
A bowl of “Lebhing” usually costs around 5 RMB.
What is the general atmosphere in a “Lebhing” restaurant?
First of all, these snack restaurants are usually quite small, around 3m² to 6m² maximum. The atmosphere is naturally quite intimate. You can definitely hear other people’s conversation (and others can hear yours).
Secondly, you will see people from all ages coming here. There are grandparents or parents coming with their grandchildren or children after picking them up from school (you can tell by the uniform worn by the children). There are friends in their 40’s, in their 30’s or in their 20’s, or teenagers. There are people coming alone. They will be concentrating on their food, watching their phone or video-calling their friends or family without earphones.
The best part is the sounds you can hear in a “Lebhing da sa”. There are two types of sounds, both related to the same phenomena. The first sound is this unique sound of one creating saliva to relieve her or his mouth burning because of the chilli. The second sound is that of running noses and nose-blowing. “Lebhing” is always served extremely spicy, so that it makes your nose run almost immediately. You know, in Lhasa, in front of almost all public toilets, a person (usually a lady) sells tissues. “Lebhing” restaurant owners should think about making a similar business inside of their shop, they might be able to top up their monthly income with it.
2) Fried potatoes
Fried potatoes seem to be the favourite snack of Lhasa people, closely tied with “Lebhing”. However you can see fried potatoes much more in Lhasa’s streets, as you can eat potatoes in the street more easily than “Lebhing”.
In Lhasa dialect, fried potatoes are called "Sho Dhrak" (ཞོག་བཀྲག)
Are they basic French fries or wedges?
Fried potatoes may vary in terms of shape. Usually they look like long French fries, a little thicker than in Western countries though. However they can also be round like potato chips. Sometimes, they are cut in cubes.
They may also vary in terms of spices. Usually fried potatoes are served with a mix of salt, pepper and chilli. In some places, other spices may be added, as well as green onions.
Where to get fried potatoes?
This dish is also served in “Lebhing” restaurants as well. You can also get this in teahouses, as we told you last time in our article about “Teahouses part 2 Having tea and snacks” (read here if you haven’t already).
Fried potatoes are usually served in a plastic bag or a paper bowl, especially if they are to take away. If you are staying in the “Lebhing” restaurant or in the teahouse, they will most likely be served in a little metal plate.
A plate of fried potatoes usually costs around 5 RMB. Some places sell a smaller portion for 3 RMB.
3) More snacks
There are other types of snacks in Lhasa. One is the “Lebhing” put in a traditional Tibetan plain round white bread called “Kogun” (ཀུའོ་ཁུན། or ཀོ་ཀུན།).
We usually buy it for 2 RMB from a young lady in a yellow truck on Jiangsu Road.
One other popular snack, though less traditional, is the cold noodles made of bean jelly. It is also popular in China. There, it would be called "Liang pi". You can get it from any “Lebhing” restaurant. It usually costs around 5 RMB.
Do those snacks look appealing to you? What would you like to try the most? Let us know 😊
And if we made any mistakes, please tell us! We would be more than happy to improve, in any way.
Special thanks to Thomas Pan who proofread this article!