Vancouver Tibet Kitchen on Fraser and 50th

Updated: 23rd Oct 2014: This restaurant is closed.

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.

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I had been eyeing 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.

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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.

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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. 🙂

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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It was soft and fluffy. Unlike the Chinese version, this is not sweetened.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Vancouver Tibet Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Business Hours: 12pm to 10pm

This Post Has 0 Comments

  1. fmed

    It’s open! Looking forward to trying it out.

  2. LotusRapper

    Ha, I’ve eyed this place since late summer, and in fact was gonna email you about it, Ben. Of course I should know you are already waaaaay ahead of me 🙂

    This could be one of those mini chowdown venues, eh ?

    Somewhat related (only in that they are the far-flung reaches of China), anyone been to Cafe Kathmandu on Commercial Drive btwn 11th and 12th ?

  3. Ming

    I’ve been to Cafe Kathmandu, about a year ago.
    First and only time sampling Nepali cuisine.

    Granted, I’m not being particularly familar with the cuisine, what I tried there seems to be an interesting blend of both Indian and Chinese influences, more toward Indian in the use of spices and seasonings. But I remember sampling the “momo” there as well, which is chinese influence dish.

    The proprietor is a genial Nepalese gentleman who will be more than happy to regale you with stories about Nepal.

    I imagine if I were planning a trip to the country, chatting with him would be a great starting point.

    1. Ben

      Hey Ming and LotusRapper: Even though Tibet and Nepal are neighbors, they are of totally different culture, language, customs and such right? I did ask the waitress how similar is Tibet and Nepal and she just told me that they are different. So … I thought I point this out so that we are not confusing Nepali and Tibetan cuisine. Anyone has anything to add? Ben

  4. elf

    Over the years, I learn that…

    Always leave politics (countries, whatever) out of conversation, it is sensitive and goes no where anywhere. One can always google the answers anyway.

    1. Buddha Girl

      Agree…I hated when people ask me “what side I’m on”…grrr…

  5. souggy

    Thanks for the find!

    I often find that the ones that market themselves as “Tibetan” often serve Chinese-Canadian or dimsum for some reason, only to come back home and do some research to discover they are not “authentic.” I will have to check this one out.

  6. Maggie

    Three cheers for increased restaurant diversity in Vancouver! We’re looking forward to trying it next summer.
    Ben, if you ever travel to St Louis, Missouri, you might want to check out the Everest Cafe (http://www.everestcafeandbar.com/index.html) which serves Nepalese and Korean food. My husband ate there when he was at a convention, and really enjoyed it.

    1. Ben

      Hi Maggie: That is a very interesting combination (Nepalese and Korean) for a restaurant. Very interesting. Ben

  7. Shirl

    There was a Tibetan restaurant that opened near Broadway and Heather about eight or nine years ago but lasted about a month or so. It was in a bad location in that it was upstairs and not fast food service. Never got a chance to try it.

  8. JMH

    When your country is under illegal occupation by another country you tend to be a bit sensitive…

      1. etranger

        Illegal occupation including possible torture of political prisoners. Definitely a touchy subject.

  9. HM

    Thanks Ben for the introduction to Tibetan cuisine. Must give it a try soon. I used to enjoy Nepalese cuisine at Gurkha fairs back home, especially their goat curry. Suanne is right that the Khap Se is very Chinese. I make this with leftover wonton or springroll wrappers, deep fried & sprinkle with powdered sugar, makes a great snack.

  10. DylanLK

    The menu looks okay, eh? I might check it out later in the week.

    Also, interesting to note that political issues crop up immediately with a Tibetan restaurant but are nowhere to be found when talking about a Xinjiang restaurant (like Beijiang, etc.)….

  11. Chris

    Oh wow this place is really close to me! Definitely going to give this place a try sometime.

  12. Chubbypanda

    Hmm… I tried momo at a Nepalese restaurant where they looked like potstickers, but tasted entirely different. I really want to try the Tibetan version now.

    1. Ben

      Chubbypanda back in action, I see. 🙂

      1. Chubbypanda

        My work is a harsh mistress. =( Barely any time for sleep some months.

  13. Spirit of Anu

    I am not sure who wrote the article above but I thought with all the information out there – his question “Do you consider Tibet part of China” extremely insensitive and showed a real lack of cultural awareness and basic knowledge. I am neither Buddist, nor Tibetan but even I would know not to ask such a question. It is like asking Canadians – do you consider Canada part of the USA? I also thought his constant reference to Chinese cooking showed that in his head he could not separate the two cultures at all. Just saying . . . .
    I plan on trying the restaurant for the first time tonight.

    1. etranger

      Ben is the writer of this entire blog, and he said right up front he was eager to learn about Tibet. His lack of knowledge about the Chinese occupation of Tibet doesn’t mean he’s insensitive, just up to this point unaware.

      It is clear that there are cultural similarities in at least some of the food being offered by the restaurant. Many cuisines share influences from neighboring countries. It is an honest question from someone there to eat dinner without reading about the political situation.

      To my knowledge, the USA is not planning to occupy nor has it ever occupied Canada, nor has it put Canadians in jail for thought crime. It is a pretty serious situation in Tibet, and does not compare. Even your comparison might be seen as insensitive, so everybody take a deep breath and relax, assuming that nobody meant to offend.

      I can’t go try this place, but I will try to get to the Everest Kitchen around here to learn more about Tibetan cuisine. Isn’t that tea usually yak butter tea? I read that it is always supposed to be topped up in the cup by custom, and drunk one sip at a time. If you don’t like it, you should leave it to the end (so it won’t be refilled) and then drink it all down out of courtesy.

  14. Lumpur

    Maybe growing pains…. The food was incredibly salty, to the extent where we didn’t even wanted to take the considerable leftovers with us.

  15. cokey

    The average Tibetan family doesn’t use chopsticks. Those that do, do so because of recent Chinese influence. Tibetan culture is a nomadic culture(very much like the Mongols- apart from their nomadic culture, the Mongols and Tibetans share many other similarities-example,the Mongol traditional robe is very similar lookng to the tibetan traditional robe. people from both cultures tend to be predominantly Buddhist & also, both cultures share a love of horses, as is evident from the horse riding festivals they host annually. In the context of food, dairy products(due to their nomadic lifestyle) and meat feature heavily in both diets. The Mongols have milk tea(which taste very much like the tibetan butter tea except it’s a little less heavy tasting..if you know what i mean). Tibetan exiles living in neighboring countries like India and Nepal grow up with a different diet than their parent’s who fled persecution in their homeland. The exile community have managed to incorporate a little but of indian and nepalese influences in their diet which makes for a very exciting diet.

  16. Natasha

    The food is amazing and the waitress was incredibly patient and helpful. Definitely a must try for those who enjoy Indian food with an east asian(chinese) twist. The tibetan noodle dish was yummy. Unfortunately, i cannot for the life of me remember the name of the dish. Ya’ll have to go try it out for yourself. I guarantee you will enjoy it.

  17. bhaktapur

    We have been to both Ktm Cafe and Vancouver Tibet Kitchen and love both places…Both of them are unique in their own ways and present different cultural perspective to the table. One simple example, try the momos from Ktm Cafe and from vancouver Tibet Kitchen. Nevertheless, Both are great places to dine and we love them.

    In addition, we have been actively seeking the right location to present authentic nepali cusine restaurant [if you have been to Nepal, then Momo, Sekua,Choila, Bara, Chatamari, Alu/Bodi/Tama Chiura, should sound familiar to you]. Even though, Nepali dishes may not be as global as indian or chinese dishes so far, there are some very healthy/tasty dishes that fall under nepali cusine and are yet to be presented in the vancouver market. Just wanted to get you guys’ opinion, would you guys’ give it a shot if there were a Nepali restaurant with more authentic/traditional dishes!!! and which do you guys think would be the best area, i.e. kerrisdale, broadway, commercial, fraser, main, downtown, davie, denman? Your feedback would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Ben

      Hi Bhaktapur: Oh you are planning on opening a Nepali restaurant. Please let me know when you open it as I am sure a lot of hardcore foodies on chowtimes would love to be the first to try it. I am certainly no expert in saying what the best area for Nepali restaurants are but here is my two cents. Definitely not Richmond. LOL! I find that it is difficult for non east Asian restaurants to compete and most (not all) east Asians are not adventurous when it comes to south Asian cuisine. I guess rent is the biggest consideration. Exotic cuisines (like Nepali), I think would do well on Commercial but I don’t think downtown, Davie and Denman which is becoming more known for its Japanese and Korean food(!). Kerrisdale I felt is too upscale to enjoy Nepali cuisine. Like I said, my two cents and I could be totally wrong. I would like to hear what the others think. Anyone? Ben

    2. Peter E

      I would be very interested in another Nepali restaurant in Vancouver! I’ve been the Cafe Kathmandu and found the Nepali momos, salads, and sauces to be delicious!

      I don’t think competing with the Cafe Kathmandu on Commercial would be a good idea. I live in the Westend and would love to see a Nepali restaurant in the downtown core.

    3. everest

      There is a new one at Davie st. downtown vancouver. 1141 davie st. you will have to climb Himalaya to reach the restaurant. its on second floor. called gurkha himalayan kitchen http://www.gurkha.ca its authentic Nepali restaurant. check it out.

  18. emmy

    Is this place still open and existing?

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