This will appeal to the adventurous foodie, you know, the types that just gotta try exotic cuisines. They are there just for the experience and for the learning — enjoyment of the food is secondary. If the food turns out great, it’s a bonus.
And that is like me.
I had been eying this location on Fraser and 50th for a few weeks already. All that time, there was a temporary banner that says Vancouver Tibet Kitchen without a mention on exactly when they will be opened.
As I was driving home last week, that banner was gone. In its place is a new banner that says “Tibet Kitchen Now Open”. I guess it was once an Indian restaurant before. The old sign that says Purewal Tandoori still looks new.
It was exciting walking into the restaurant. They have traditional Tibetan embroidered coverings on the door and framed Tibetan auspicious symbols lining the wall. Melodious Tibetan prayer songs permeates the entire restaurant.
I like the pleasant and serene setting. The tables are decked with alternating red and white table cloth. At the back of the restaurant is a shrine of sort of the Dalai Lama.
I was eager to learn about the Tibetan culture and so we came very early for dinner. He he he … it was 4PM when we got there. I knew that the restaurant would be slow at that time and as such would be an excellent time to ask questions and all.
That worked out great as the waitress was sweet and extremely helpful. As a matter of fact, she was quite eager to share with us about the Tibetan culture and food. We had a good time. Here is something she told us.
The Vancouver Tibetan Kitchen is the first Tibetan restaurant in Vancouver. I was told that there are only over a hundred Tibetans in Vancouver. Not a lot huh? I guess to sustain this restaurant, the cuisine will have to rely on people learning to enjoy the Tibetan cuisine.
One new thing I learned was the influence of the Mongolian culture in the Tibetan culture. So, some of the food here have the word “Mongolian” on it. During the height of the Mongolian empire, the Mongolians invaded and ruled Tibet until the empire fell.
I made a mistake and asked the waitress if she consider Tibet part of China. She was so sweet until then when she sternly snapped “No!”. Whoa! I was just asking OK? Anyway, she added that Tibet has nothing in common with China — the culture is different, the language is vastly different and all that. I can accept that. :-)
We were served free appetizer. This is called Khap Se, a deep fried ribbon dough. It looked interesting. Suanne said they probably make a slit in the dough and twist it through the hole to make that shape. She said it looked very Chinese … I said “shhh … not so loud”.
I was curious as to what Tibetan cuisine is. In my mind I thought that it would have been influenced by the Chinese and Indian cuisine because of the proximity to the two countries with an established ancient cuisine. I also think that it should also be influenced by Mongolian cuisine but that is a cuisine I am not familiar with.
For drinks, we had the Boa-Cha. This is a traditional Tibetan Tea and it is really cheap. A pot costs only $2.75 and yields four cups.
It does look like hot chocolate isn’t it?
It is made with milk, butter, salt and tea leaves. It is a savory tea. The waitress said that this tea keeps one warm and enjoyed by the people who lives in the cold. Moreover, water often freezes at high altitude.
It is an acquired taste kind of thing. It was OK for Suanne and I but Arkensen and Nanzaro refused to drink it. At least Nanzaro took a sip. Arkensen, well, he only smell it and told me not to force him to drink it.
Momo is a very popular fast food in the region including Nepal. It looked like Xiao Long Bao except that … it does not have soup in it. You can order this in chicken, beef or vegetarian. Too bad no Yak meat version. :-)
We had the Sha-Momo (Beef dumpling). This is $8 which if you compare with XLB, it is cheaper by piece. In the middle is some pickled salad.
Without the hot soup like XLB, this is a lot colder. The skin is thicker and just not as juicy as XLB (sorry for making that incessant comparison but it does look a lot like XLBs).
We were told that this be eaten with hot sauce.
Ghatuk is a Tibetan Noodle Soup which is available with chicken, beef or vegetables. Since we had beef for the Momo already, we decided to get the Jha-Sha Ghatuk which is the chicken version. This is $8.
The chicken broth with minced chicken had good bold salty flavour. I realize how this is considered as hearty. The soup is richer than Chinese soup noodles. Again, I am just thinking the reason is because of the cold climate in Tibet. For an Asian style noodle, one thing that stands out is that they did not give us chopsticks. It’s a little strange eating noodles like this with spoon and fork.
Not a problem … just saying.
This selection is based on the knowledge that Mongolia has a distinct impact on the Tibetan culture and that one of the most commonly eaten meat in Tibet is lamb. So we got the Monglolian Lamb which is $13.
This is like a normal stir fry dish with a slightly spicy sauce along with onions, peas and red bell peppers. We can’t quite pinpoint what the sauce is, neither could the waitress tell us.
This is to be eaten with rice or tingmo (a plain bun).
We asked for an order of rice for two people and it came with a big bowl for more than two people. This bowl here is $1.75 which we thought is much cheaper than elsewhere.
Other than rice, Tibetans eat the dishes with this bun called tingmo.
It immediately reminded us of a kind of Chinese mantou (ten thousand head bun) or more specifically the flower roll.
It was soft and fluffy. Unlike the Chinese version, this is not sweetened.
We also decided to get an Indian dish. The chef, it seems, had worked in India for many years. This restaurant has quite a lot of Indian dishes which is described as “Indian Style Chinese Food” on their menu. I was half wondering if they are peppering the menu with Indian and Chinese dishes to cater to a broader customer base.
Anyway the Butter Paneer is $8. The sauce tasted sourish. I wished that it had been a lot more spicier. Perhaps I should have gotten the Chili Paneer instead.
The paneer is pressed cheese curds. I’ve always considered this as Indian cheese.
The sauce is very good with the tingmo. This makes me think that I’ll go buy some mantou from a Chinese bakery and some really hot curry from an East Indian restaurant one of these days and make myself a meal like this.
The Chicken Paradise ($11) was recommended by the waitress. This is another stir fry dish reminiscent of the earlier Mongolian Lamb dish — with different meat and different sauce. Or at least that is what it seems to us.
This dish is not Tibetan but rather the chef’s own creation. I like the tenderness and softness of the chicken which shows that he had cooked it just right. Often dishes like this will make the chicken meat firmer. But frankly, while this is well done, it does not wow at all.
This is one of several awards that were hung on the wall. Most of it were 15 years ago and it seems like it is all won in India.
The bill came to less than $70 for the whole family of four. We had lots to take home because we ordered too much food. The sharing dishes like Mongolian Lamb, Chicken Paradise and Butter Paneer alone should me more than enough for us.
I think we felt full because of the earlier two items. The Boa Cha (butter milk tea) does make us feel full because of the richness of it. The noodle soup too was thick and rich. These are cold weather food.
They have a sign that says that it is “Cash Only for Today”. I think they meant to accept credit cards but they are not setup for it yet.
Take a look at the two pages above. The one on the left lists the Tibetan dishes. Not a lot isn’t it? I had hoped that there are more.
The page on the right is the Chef’s Special. We ordered the Chicken Paradise off this page. But if you ask me, the items on the Chef’s Special seems like Chinese, or rather Indian-Chinese dishes.
The rest of the menu are dominated by Indian Style Chinese food.
From the name of the chef on the awards (Tsering Norsang), I think he is Tibetan. Tsering is a common Tibetan name. I also think that he had worked most of his career in India specializing in Indian-Chinese cooking.
I gotta to be honest. The food did not quite wow me. It was a good experience and this restaurant helps me know a bit more about Tibet and their culture. I don’t think I was exposed a lot to Tibetan cuisine except for the three items we ordered. Even the butter milk tea, I would think it would have been made using yak milk or something like that in Tibet. I understand the constraints they face making it 100% authentic.
I like the people in the restaurant. They are nice gentle people. The Tibet Kitchen is a good addition to the Vancouver food scene and they are a neighborhood restaurant worth supporting.
Anyway, this restaurant is certainly a must-try in case you feel adventurous and wants to earn a Tibet Cuisine badge on your foodie sash.
Just look out for the fluttering prayer flags along Fraser.
Business Hours: 12pm to 10pm