Saturday, October 27, 2012

Potala: Tibetan Food in Seoul

Located in a rather unexpected location along the Cheonggyecheon after being forced to relocate from Myeongdong last year, Potala is the only Tibetan owned restaurant in Seoul. As you walk in, you’ll first notice the lovely atmosphere. Colorful decorations cover everything, but never feel overdone. If you like any of the decorations, they even have a store where they have items for sale at reasonable prices.  

If the menu has any problems, it would be that there are too many choices. Knowing this ahead of time, I gathered twelve friends to join me so we could get a full sampling of the menu. The menu at Potala is great for sharing, and it was fun with such a big group, we just continued to order one dish after another to sample as much as we could. Tibetan food is not known for it’s richness, like food from some of it’s neighbors like Nepal, India, and China. However, folks who enjoy trying new cuisines will be intrigued by some of the dishes. We made sure to try typical Tibetan fare such as butter tea, tsampa, momos, bread and some of the noodle dishes, first and foremost.

 Vegetable Momos

We first ordered the momos, a Tibetan dumpling. These were a big hit with everyone, but then again, it's hard to go wrong with a dumpling. I've tried various forms of dumplings in many countries, but I don't think I've ever had a bad one. There's something about stuff wrapped in dough and cooked that just always works, no matter the ingredients.

 Butter tea and Tsampa

Before the feast I did a little research as to what is typical Tibetan food and found butter tea, specifically yak butter tea and tsampa to be on the top of the list for standard Tibetan fare. I still have not figured out how you make a tea from butter, but it tastes rather how you might imagine butter tea to taste like; not particularly great. But, I had to try it, if for no other reason than to check it off my bucket list. Tsampa, which often accompanies butter tea in Tibet is barley flour which they may add ingredients, like butter tea, to create small cakes like the ones you see above. The taste is, again, not great, but you can imagine it to be a hardy snack after a day of herding sheep on the Tibetan plateau.

Sha Bhakle

The fried bread Sha Bhakle was a huge hit for us. This was a flaky dough filled with meat and veggies. The menu explains that Sha means meat and Bhakle is a form of bread in Tibet. However, upon searching for this dish on the web it doesn't seem to exist on any English language sites. If anyone can find some more info about this for me, post it in the comments. We all really loved this stuff. 

 Thuk Fry

The Thuk Fry was an interesting dish. Noodles fried to crispiness and covered with vegetables and pork. This wasn't really anyone's favorite dish, however, probably because of the strange consistency of the noodles. 

Gya Thuk
Gya Thuk, and another called KhanChung Khukpa (no photo) were tasty noodle soup options. Again, not spicy, which is a bit of a shock for my system, living in Korea, but nice, hardy soups with lots of veggies and noodles. 

 Tsam Thuk

One friend made an interesting choice of the Tsam Thuk, basically a Tsampa (barley) soup. Basically a barley porrage, no one was clamoring to eat it. The friend who ordered it said "it would probably taste really good after hiking a day in the Himalayas". I thought it might make a nice breakfast, but it seemed an odd choice for dinner at a restaurant.

Chang, Tibetan Rice Beer

One of the biggest hits of the evening was the Chang, or "Tibetan Rice Beer". Actually, it tasted quite like makkoli (Korean rice wine) to us, just a little more expencive. Apparently, they make it right in their kitchen, though, so definitely a worthwhile choice for your evening spirits. And it's served in cool wooden bowls.

While the Tibetan menu is quite large, there are also a number of Indian and Nepalese options as well. We tried a few things off that half of the menu as well: 

 Aloo Gobi

For those who are less adventurous, Aloo Gobi, an Indian curry with potatos and cauliflower is a safe option. 


Another big hit for the evening was the Nepalese Sekuwa. We got the lamb and it was perfectly seasoned and was accompanied by a creamy sauce. 
 Thali Set

The thali set was a nice option and big enough to share with a few people, too. This has various Indian curries and some curried veggies.

 Fried Rice
Last, but not least was the fried rice. Simple but nice with meat and vegetables. A safe bet for the less daring.

Overall, Potala is a really nice restaurant. It's got a nice interior, and the prices are reasonable, most dishes are between 7-12,000 won. If you expect Tibetan food to taste like Indian food, or Chinese food, you'll be sorely disappointed, but if you go in with an open mind to the less spicy food of Tibet, than you should go home happy. Definitely go with friends, because the menu at Potala is best for sharing.

Click here for an article about the owner's fight to keep his Myeongdong location last year: Tibetan activist in Seoul fights eviction order

티베트 포탈라 레스토랑
서울시 종로구 
관철동  35-2 
수표교빌딩 지하1층
Potala Restaurant
 GwanCheol-Dong 35-2
SuPyoKyo Building B1
Jongno-gu, Seoul
Phone: 02-318-0094 (Korean only)

View Potala Restaurant in a larger map

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