Tibetan Recipes on the Net
"A lunar eclipse" was the lead-in for The San Francisco Examiner's
" 'Lhasa Moon a celestial treat in the Marina' by The Picky Eater"
when it appeared in Asian Week on Aug. 13, 2003:
My experience with Tibetan food has involved sitting around a campfire
with nomads at an altitude of 6,000 meters in western Sichuan eating
tsampa (balls of roasted barley flour mixed with yak butter) and
celebrating Buddhist festivals with monks on the hillsides of the Gansu
and Qinghai provinces in China.
In those encounters, I discovered that Tibetan fare isn't so much a
cuisine that is dissected for its flavors and textures; rather, the food
is usually eaten in the outdoors for comfort and survival.
Unlike other types of Asian cuisines, which involve culinary artistry
and mastery, Tibetan dishes are stripped down and the food is cooked so
that it tastes as close to its original and natural state as possible.
I was lucky to have the chance to eat authentic Tibetan food while in
Xiahe, Gansu and western Sichuan. Located in a mountain valley, Xiahe
houses the Labrang Monastery, one of the six major Tibetan monasteries
of the Gelupka (Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism).
Tibetan food doesn't involve a lot of sautéed dishes, fiery hot peppers
or intricately prepared meals. Stews of tuber and root vegetables, dried
yak and mutton meats, yak butter and bread are the staples.
So when my sister told me to try Lhasa Moon in the Marina district, I
didn't exactly know how to react. Somehow, Tibetan food and the Marina
district didn't register "authentic" in my mind. My only experience with
Tibetan food had been bare bones, where the serving bowls were often
communal and the utensils were usually hands, daggers (to cut meat) and
Lhasa Moon's dining room is dark and intimate, and its main colors are
green, brown and orange. Diners eat atop leather tablecloths. Colored
photographs of grasslands, Tibetans and Potala Palace adorn the walls,
while red, blue and white prayer flags are strewn above. In the back of
the restaurant, thangkas, Tibetan Buddhist paintings on fabrics, hang
above doors as well as katas, white scarves symbolizing luck and
friendship. Prayer wheels and Buddhist shrines add subtle yet memorable
details to the restaurant.
We started with Churul ($3.50), a tomato-based soup with minced beef,
onions and cheese. A specialty of Southern Tibet, the soup is usually
made with yak cheese, but bleu cheese was used here for a pungent aroma.
We were excited to try the Mixed Momo Plate ($9.50), a sampler of eight
dumplings with beef, chicken and vegetables served with a soy-cilantro
and ginger and red chili and tomato dipping sauces. Momos resemble
Chinese pot stickers, but are steamed instead of pan-fried. The
vegetable momo was stuffed with a mixture of chives, mint and onions.
We agreed that the beef momo was the best. The beef was minced and, when
cooked, had the texture of a meatball; however, if you were to eat this
in Tibet, the beef would instead be shredded yak meat. Chicken and fish
are not typically or traditionally eaten by Tibetans, because many
follow the Buddhist belief that the smaller the animal, the more of them
it takes to kill in order to feed people.
Next came a steaming bowl of Thenthuk ($9), hand-pulled pasta in a soup
with daikon radish, spinach, tomato and beef. Our server referred to
thenthuk as "being better than medicine," and it was indeed. The look
and the taste of this dish brought back vivid memories of my time in
Gansu and western Sichuan. Probably one of the most popular dishes eaten
by Tibetans, this homemade noodle soup keeps stomachs warm in high
altitudes and below-zero temperatures. Eaten with torn-off pieces of
Bhaley ($1.75), a dry, pan-fried Tibetan flatbread, this was a truly
authentic dish from the "Land of Snows."
We finished with Lhabu Dhikrul ($11), a stew of tender lamb, daikon,
spinach and herbs served with tingmo, a Tibetan steamed roll with
garlic-infused oil. This was my sister's favorite dish. The
pinwheel-shaped tingmo had the consistency of a Chinese man tou, and its
spongy texture allows sauces and stews to absorb into the dough. This is
definitely a hearty dish, ideal for eating before a long trek.
Lhasa Moon's dishes are a bit pricey, but for a meal off the beaten path
I think it's worth a try. Some of the flavors have been adapted to a
more California taste, especially the Bocha ($2), churned Tibetan black
tea with butter, salt and milk. It was watered down since the tea
traditionally has a very pungent and strong taste from yak butter.
Miles away from Shangri-La, Lhasa Moon is not exactly home away from
home. You won't be dining while shivering in the unforgiving high
plateaus with fellow nomadic horse and yak herders, but it's a dining
experience not to be missed.
2420 Lombard St. (between Scott and Divisadero)
San Francisco, CA (415) 674-9898
In Montreal, QC
3439 St-Denis and Pine (under new ownership) See their web site. Tel. 514-842-2242.
Chez Gyatse, Montreal's
first Tibetan restaurant is at 317 Ontario St. east (2 blocks
west of St-Denis,) tel. 514-844-6461.
Gelek (Gerard) Achod 's OM Restaurant
serving Tibetan & North Indian food
4382 St-Laurent (west side, between Mont-Royal & Marie-Anne,
north of Club Balatou) in
Montreal, QC Call 514-287-3553.
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