Yak Butter Tea, Paro Bhutan

For me, one of the great joys of traveling is to eat weird food. What I like best about it is that at some point, some of it stops being weird food and becomes something that I occasionally cook myself. Remember, not too long ago sushi and stir-fry were “weird” foods in the US.

This one, though, is one I’ll likely never make. I’ve had it twice, and though my wife hates it, I don’t mind it. In the right setting, it can even be pretty good. It’s yak butter tea (as you might have predicted from the title of the post). Instead of milk, you put a big glob of salty yak butter in the tea. It’s a lot more like drinking a broth than a tea, and if you can make the adjustment from thinking, ‘I’m drinking a nice, light cup of tea,’ to, ‘I’m drinking a mug of tea-flavored broth,’ you’re in good shape.

The first time I had it was in a village on the Pamir Plateau in western China, about two hours east of the Afghan-Pakistan-China border, in a Kyrgyz village that had yaks, goats, scrub grass and not much else. It came with stale bread, and forgetting the rules of polite manners, I drained my bowl (about an American cereal bowl worth, or a Starbucks venti), forcing my host to fill it to the rim again. The second one I managed to drink most of so as not to be rude. I was full for a good couple hours afterward.

This one is in Bhutan at the Zurig Dzong Monastery in Paro. We’d been hiking all morning, and even though we were sitting in the hot sun, the tea with a granola bar was just about perfect to get me through the rest of the hiking we had before lunch. My wife went for the version that had regular, boring cow’s milk in it.

Yak butter tea at Zurig Dzong.

Yak butter tea at Zurig Dzong.

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