Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on November 2007
As we entered the resoundingly minimal interior of Tibet Tibet, we couldn’t help but feel that the huge black Buddha in the back of the room was beckoning us to stop thinking about crowded trains and other stresses of city life. Situated on a small side street set apart from Shimokitazawa’s funky secondhand shops, this restaurant is the perfect spot for an eye-opening dinner.
We chose a seat on the soft white mats instead of the sofas, sauntered up to the low glass tables and, after glancing at our options, summoned the staff by ringing the worn metal bell (an electronic one would have seemed alarmingly out of place). Fruit-infused shochu arrived first: delicious concoctions of fresh fruit soaking in alcohol in glass jars prominently displayed as faux-art pieces on the wall behind the bar (¥500- ¥700). We recommend the blueberry, pomegranate and raspberry varieties on the rocks.
Every time we visit Tibet Tibet, we gain new appreciation for its inventive Southeast Asian dishes. A shining example is the harumaki spring roll loaded with shrimp, avocado, tomato, tobiko, yellowtail, green onion and carrot drizzled with a gingery ranch dressing (¥880). The presentation in thin rice paper is understated, yet the flavor is somehow both rich and light—and tremendously addictive.
While nibbling on potato-pork croquettes with wasabi mayonnaise (¥680) and an excellent, lightly fried corn and shrimp tempura with sprinkles of shiso (¥700), we got ready for the night’s feature presentation: the Himalayan Coconut Curry (¥900). Arriving in a big wooden bowl, the moat of thick curry hounded the plateau of sweet purple rice in the middle, which was like an eroding desert island guarded by stalks of fresh cilantro and warm avocado wedges. While we generally shy away from curries that aren’t loaded with chili, we can’t help but dish out spoonfuls of hyperbole when contemplating this dish’s brilliance, which lies far more in the balance and ratio of the fresh ingredients than any attempt at taste-bud mutilation.
On nights when the turntables in the corner are silent, Tibet Tibet plays an eclectic mix of Latin, African, Indian and Indonesian music, which leaves us questioning exactly why the restaurant is named after a country that’s barely represented on the menu. This mix of ethnicity was demonstrated yet again with a large urn full of tom yum kun, a mildly spicy, steaming and almost Vietnamese version of the popular Thai noodle dish, replete with green vegetables and crowded with soft tofu (¥880).
Tibet Tibet has found its identity by serving an unpretentious mélange of Southeast Asian cooking. The beautiful irony is that, in doing so, it has succeeded in creating a distinctive character while straddling the culinary borders that so often pigeonhole restaurants into serving popular but mediocre dishes. So take a moment. Forget what you think you know about fusion, and just savor, savor.