Put it in your mouth: Tibet Kitchen serves up hearty Himalayan goodness

Having spent a few months living in a Tibetan monastery inNepal, let me tell you from experience that the most traditionalTibetan food is somewhat akin to boiled sand. Hardly any vegetablesgrow at 15,000 feet, so most traditional Tibetan dishes end upbeing quite bland and consisting mostly of barley flour and meat.Created for weathering the harsh Himalayan winters, Tibetan foodtends to be hearty, rich and packed full of butter.

As Tibetan restaurants have gradually sprouted up in the UnitedStates, I’ve had a chance to eat at a few, and most end up being,well, a bit too authentic. Too often, the food comes off as tooboring for Western palates accustomed to the exotic flavors ofother Asian fare like Thai or Vietnamese.

Tibet Kitchen, however, a modest, family-run restaurant tuckedunder a raised parking lot in Northwest Portland, is one of the fewdiamonds in the rough when it comes to Tibetan-style home cookin’.Adding just enough Northwest trendy cuisine flair and moderninterpretation to traditional dishes, Chef Tashi Bhuti, who workedin restaurants in New York before coming to P-town, manages to keepthings interesting while still capturing the spirit of itsHimalayan heritage.

The restaurant also has a quiet, relaxing atmosphere,encouraging kicking back and enjoying your meal. Owner JigmeTopgyal is often the only server on a typical weekday but he adds afriendly, grandfather-like presence to the room, always taking timeto come chat with diners when things are slow.

To make things even better, Tibet Kitchen is prettycheap. The restaurant has a great fixed-price lunch menu from 11a.m. to 3 p.m. $6.95 gets you a bowl of soup or salad and agenerously portioned entree.

Vegetarians beware: while the menu offers several decentvegetarian entrees, Tibetan food is definitely a meat-orientedcuisine and most of the menu highlights go pretty heavy on thebeef, chicken or even yak (during dinner hours).

A bowl of tsel thang, a spinach and garlic puree soup with alight, simple texture and flavor, makes a great starter, theperfect warm-up for the heartier fare yet to come.

When it comes to entrees, the shogok ngopa, shredded beef withpotatoes saut?ed with spinach, garlic and ginger, has a greatcomplexity of flavor despite the simplicity of ingredients and ishearty and filling.

For those willing to wait 15 minutes, the momos, traditionalTibetan steamed dumplings, are another menu highlight. While atfirst glance they may resemble the old Chinese standby potstickers,the blend of meat, garlic and spices found inside each delectablesha momo is uniquely Tibetan, not to mention super tasty.

If you have a sweet tooth, the chumi ($3.50), sticky riceflavored with brown sugar, raisins and dates, makes for a tastywrap-up to your meal.

For a truly authentic Tibetan dining experience, onemust try the bocha, traditional Tibetan salted butter tea. Bochacan be difficult for the Western palate to appreciate, largelybecause it doesn’t resemble anything that most Americans wouldconsider tea. The flavor and texture is similar to a hearty broth,somewhat like that found in clam chowder, only without thefishiness. Although it takes some getting used to, bocha will warmyou to the core, adding to a relaxing dining experience.

With its simple yet well-made food with complex flavors, TibetKitchen fills a niche for adventurous palates between formulaicChinese and the sometimes over-the-top flare of Portland’sVietnamese bistros. So if you’re looking for something new to putit your mouth, Tibet Kitchen is worth giving a try.

Tibet Kitchen
103 N.W. 21st Ave.
Lunch 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., dinner 5 – 9 p.m.
Tuesday – Sunday