Restaurant Review: Potala Restaurant

Located in a basement in Jongno-gu is Potala Restaurant, a Tibetan/Nepali restaurant owned by a Tibetan.

view from outside

You can take a look at the menu in the doorway before you walk downstairs. The restaurant seems to pride itself on being tourist- and halal-friendly.

menu posted outside the staircase down to the restaurant

When I went at 5 pm, I was surprised that there was no one in the restaurant. I quickly ordered my food and ordered decidedly too much of it.

The waiter was Nepali, but could understand my butchered-Tibetan name of dishes, some of which are transliterated very strangely in the menu.

a plate of chowmein noodles with chicken and vegetables

First was the chowmein, which eating was like a punch to the gut. It reminded me of every Tuesday at Sarah College, when we would have chowmein, and the only thing missing was the curry ketchup that we would add to it. My students knew that I loved the chowmein and I’d frequently let them leave class a little early as to be the first in line for lunch.

a plate of shabakleb with dipping sauce

Next up was the “Shabakleb,” fried bread stuffed with beef and vegetables. It was okay. I think I preferred it to the chicken momos that I ordered, which seemed very underwhelming.

a plate of momos and dipping sauce

It was only near the end of my meal that two fellows wandered into the place, ordering in Nepali. I’m guessing the lack of tourists during the pandemic has hit the restaurant pretty hard.

Overall, it was a good intro to Tibetan cuisine if you’ve never had it and I really enjoyed my chowmein. The place was decorated very nicely if a bit over-decorated, but I found the faded post-it notes going down the stairs to the restaurant to be very tacky and off-putting. Stop in to support a Tibetan-owned restaurant! Bhod gyalo!

Address: Supyogyo Building B1, 35-2, Gwancheol-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul

Book Review: “The Handsome Monk and Other Stories,” Tsering Dondrup

This review is thanks to J, who mailed me a copy of this book.

The Handsome Monk and Other Stories is a collection by Tibetan author Tsering Döndrup who is, according to the introduction, “ethnically Mongolian, culturally and linguistically Tibetan.” He stands as a writer writing in a time where writing “that reflects the experiences of modern Tibetans must now reflect a life colored and conditioned by the experience of existing in contemporary China.” Whether he is seen as Tibetan or Mongolian, he is “above all concerned with the hardships faced by ordinary Tibetans in a world that is both rapidly changing and yet somehow immutable.”

Some of the topics he discusses through fiction include “the corruption of both religion and officialdom, the degradation of traditional nomad life and its attendant social issues, the linguistic invasion of the Chinese language, and the threat to Tibet’s environment from industrial modernity.” I quote a lot from the translator Christopher Peacock here, as his introduction was excellently researched and written.

Those who know me know how devoted I am to the Tibetan cause (of which there are, in fact, many “causes” and entrances into), but what you may not know is that I gave away a majority of my books on Tibet before I left to teach English in Korea. I do not know how many books I donated to the DC-based organization Machik, but there were at least four printer-paper boxes full, of autobiographies and biographies, short story collections and fiction. I kept a handful of important books, but let most of it go, hoping that it would be useful to someone else.

I asked for a review copy of The Handsome Monk because I loved Old Demons, New Deities: Twenty-One Short Stories from Tibet. The short story format is close to my heart, and I believe that in such bite-sized pieces of fiction, truth prevails.

“The Disturbance in D-Camp” reads like an old wise tale from Tibet, and is an excellent beginning to the collection. “Ralo” is a must-read for anyone who wants to read Tibetan writing. “A Show to Delight the Masses” features long, poetic verses that are surely that much better in the original Tibetan. In these and other stories, monks find themselves living with prostitutes, people lose everything playing mahjong, and traditionally nomadic people find themselves forcibly removed from their lands and put up in shabby make-shift shelters while their lands are ravaged for “expensive black rock.” (The latter being my favorite story from the collection, entitled “Black Fox Valley”.)

These things–prostitutes, gambling, alcoholism, environmental destruction, and AIDS–are not things that jump to the forefront when discussing Tibet, but as Tsering Döndrup shows us, they are all too familiar in today’s Tibet.