Little Tibet is a small, unassuming Toronto restaurant that used to be in Yorkville and is now on Queen Street West, a few blocks west of Bathurst. Although allegedly very popular in the evening and on weekends, the place is quiet at lunchtime on a weekday.
While Tibetan food is spicy in the sense that it is seasoned with ginger, garlic and spices from India, most of it is not hot. Not well known in North America, the cuisine is based on barley, dairy products, and meats such as lamb and yak. Staples such as rice are borrowed from neighbouring China; few vegetable crops grow at the high altitudes of Tibet.
- Hours: Lunch Tuesday-Saturday 12:00-3:00 pm, Dinner Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday 5:00-10:00 pm, Friday and Saturday 5:00-11:00 pm
- Prices: At lunch, meatless dishes range to about $14; meat dishes go up to around $16
- Location: 712 Queen Street West, Toronto (near Niagara Street)
Tibetan Herbal Tea, Tsampa, and Tenchung
Besides the de rigueur barley tea with yak's milk, there is a Tibetan Herbal Tea with the alluring description: "A blend of handpicked herbs from the Himalayan Mountains. Used by Tibetan healers." One regular patron claimed that the herbal tea is reminiscent of a new-mown field of hay. Along with several homemade sauces, the tea is available in packaged form to take home.
Several soups are available to start the meal. Tenchung is a "red lentil soup with roasted onion, garlic, herbs”—salty but not otherwise spiced. It is fine-grained and delicious. The less interesting Tsampa (named for one of Tibet’s staple dishes) is "roasted barley simmered in chicken broth with thinly sliced radishes and lean minced beef."
Meatless Items at Little Tibet
The Tibetan staff spends the off-moments of the lunch hour preparing a beautiful array of Momo (steamed barley flour dumplings) at the back of the room. One option is Cheese and Spinach Momo, an excellent plate to share; "marinated in roasted onion, ginger and oregano” and served with a green salad, the dumplings also come with a mild tomato relish or salsa for dipping.
Shogo Ngopa is similar to very thinly scalloped potatoes and it has only one fault—it is virtually impossible to eat with chopsticks. Bo Thuk Ngopa is a dish of “pan-fried egg noodles topped with salted mixed seasonal vegetables tossed in a light ginger and garlic sauce.” Tasty, but very mild.
Meats (Beef Sham-Dae), Desserts (Mindha), and Extras (More Momo)
Beef Sham-Dae is “Cinnamon spiced beef curry slow-cooked in ginger, garlic, onion, and seasoned with exotic Indian spices.” For meat-eaters, this is one of the more memorable among the main lunch dishes. It comes with a separate bowl of steamed rice. The beef is very tender and deeply flavoured by the sauce, which is exquisite.
- Momo (also called Tingmo) is like an ultra-pure dumpling: it is unfilled Tibetan steamed bread, which patrons call "spongy" and "interesting.” Indeed, the texture is hard to describe: it manages to be puffy and substantial at the same time.
An unusual caramelized-rice dessert called Mindha goes for $5.50. Described as "really good" and "yummy" by excited eaters, the dessert keeps company on the menu with rasmalai, cassata, and gelato—those last two perhaps a nod to one of the other popular cuisines of the area.
The music at Little Tibet is fabulously authentic but still very varied, from the chanting of Tibetan Buddhist monks to a distinctly pop sound that is not at all out of place on this section of Queen Street. All in all, with the low-key décor and quiet but courteous staff, Little Tibet provides a varied and unusual lunch