Going out to eat can be filled with decisions. How far do you want to drive? Sit-down or take-out? What kind of cuisine? If that last question stumps you and your dining companion regularly, Tibet Corner in Hopkins on Mainstreet could be the solution.
Its menus (yes, plural) feature both Indian and Tibetan dishes, and as owner Tenzing Norsang will tell you, Tibetan cuisine is really a blend of food from the Asian continent.
“India, Nepal, Tibet and Mongolia—everything is connected,” he says. “There [have] always been travelers back and forth. It’s a business. Somebody brings something from their country and brings home another thing.” That’s how spices in India found their way north, and Tibet formed a cuisine “from all its different neighbors.”
But even though the cuisines blend together, Norsang says in both culture and food, Tibet and India differ markedly. This makes for diverse offerings, from the familiar lamb curry to the lesser-known beef shapta (the Tibetan response to curry).
Norsang says if the restaurant name didn’t contain the word ‘Tibet,’ “you would definitely imagine this as Chinese food or Mongolian food,” with Tibetan style potstickers called momos, and handmade-noodle soup that can be found all over Asia. “And then we have gyathuk, which is string noodles or pasta noodles, which in Vietnamese you would call pho.”
If geography wasn’t your strongest subject and this lesson is starting to get overwhelming, there’s really only one thing you need to know to pass the test: It’s delicious.
Start with the customer favorite: Beef momos. If you like potstickers, these are a familiar place to begin. They’re served Tibetan-style with a chile hot sauce, whose bright-red color indicates it’s not for the heat-averse, but an Indian mint chutney sauce is also available. When you take a bite of the little dumplings, it’s likely some of the broth trapped inside will start dribbling down your chin, and it’s likely you won’t care. The beef is tender and it manages to be both rich and light at the same time. It’s like a bite-sized pocket of beef broth soup, with more beef and less of those pesky vegetables that just get in the way.
If you want to go through India on this adventure, the shahi korma with chicken is a no-fail. The chunks of chicken are tender enough to be cut with your spoon, and the bright yellow curry sauce is a perfect blend of savory and sweet. The warm spices truly make this dish, and the cinnamon cuts through so that even the least adventurous eater can find the familiar in this across-the-world fare. It’s topped with lightly crunchy cashews for texture, and golden raisins, emphasizing the sweet side in this aromatic feast. And if you want it to warm your soul and make you sweat, they ask your heat preference when you order.
If you prefer to take the trail through Tibet, order the Tibetan handmade-noodle soup (beef).
Traditionally called thenthuk (translating to “pulled noodles”), these noodles are made on-site and are silky-smooth. They’re delicate but stand up to the rich beef broth, mingling with the peas, spinach, cilantro and thin strips of beef in the not-too-salty soup. It’s served in an impressive bowl and is like chicken noodle soup’s older, more mature sibling. It’s a perfect rainy-day dish in the summer—it keeps the chill off but also isn’t too rich.
Rainy day or not, you might need a jolt of caffeine. The Indian chai isn’t your flavored-syrup tea latte in a Christmas-colored mug. Loose-leaf black tea is steeped with milk, cardamom, ginger and sugar for a lightly sweet, not-too-heavy treat. It’s warm, flavorful, authentic and with a blink can take you on a trip to the other side of the world.
Editor's Pick: Hopkins’ Very Own Eat Street
Much to our delight, our son moved from way out of town to Hopkins about a year ago. He’s learning to cook, but like many millennials also enjoys affordable eating out and take-away options. Enter: Hopkins’ emerging ethnic food-fest, including several restaurants within blocks of each other on Mainstreet. For excellent sushi, there’s Aji Japanese restaurant at 712 Mainstreet. Our son has been a fan of Samba Taste of Brazil (922 Mainstreet) for months; my book club dined there before a recent Pen Pals event at the Hopkins Art Center and we were delighted with the food (I got the feijoada, a hearty and delicious black bean, sausage and pork stew) and truly excellent service. And for classic Tibetan and Indian dishes there’s Tibet Corner, featured on this page. Thank you, Hopkins, for world-class dining so close to home.
Food from home and an american Dream
Tibet Corner opened in 2015 but was dreamed up years earlier by owner Tenzing Norsang’s father, Lhakpa Dorjee.
“My dad has been a chef and cook his whole life,” Norsang says, adding that his father has cooked twice for the Dalai Lama. When Dorjee escaped Tibet for India in his early teens, he tried going to school but dropped out to start cooking due to finances. “So for that reason he started working and cooking; it was the first thing he did.” He learned Indian cuisine by working in Indian restaurants, and also cooked for Tibetan weddings and parties.
After he started a family, Dorjee became one of the 1,000 refugees who came America in 1992, and when he arrived, the first thing Dorjee did was get a job in a New York kitchen. His family (including Norsang) followed in 1997, and it was around then Dorjee’s dream became clear: “He wanted to open a small family restaurant where the whole family [would] work,” Norsang says. But the kids in the family grew up, got married and went their separate ways. Even Norsang left, went to college and joined the military at 22, and “[my father’s] dream kind of went away.”
But in 2006, Norsang started saving money for a surprise. “I actually got out of full-time military and came home and asked if he wanted to do a restaurant with me,” Norsang says. “First he hesitated, because he wasn’t expecting it. I don’t think he thought I was serious.” But they found the location on Mainstreet and the dream has been alive since—with a learning curve.
Norsang had never worked in a restaurant before, and Dorjee had never worked the front of the house before. “He’s always worked in the back kitchen. His concern was, ‘Who’s going to take care of the front?’ Whereas I come in and I’ve never worked in the back kitchen,” Norsang says. So they had their roles, but quickly Dorjee started teaching his son the ways of the kitchen.
And with Norsang’s mom Pema and wife Chimmy both involved, it truly is the family restaurant Dorjee dreamed of.