It's a late Friday morning and the average university student is trembling at the sight of their lacklustre weekend menu. If you asked me—a unit of that bored student body—I would say I've given up looking for places on Zomato to eat at because they prove to be too expensive. For the most part, I would suck up my sadness and eat what was prepared in the dining hall out of sheer laziness.

Except for last week when I popped out to get my hair dyed and decided to snoop around the Tibetan Refugee Colony in Delhi, looking for a decently priced place to eat lunch. Now, I happened to tag along with a friend who had been there before; she had loved the quaint Tibetan cafés there to bits. She too hates every kind of cuisine the college cafeteria serves us so I was naturally suspicious of her over enthusiasm. I was in for a shock.

An Alternative World 

cake, beer
Jyotsna Badrinarayanan

It was as though I had been transported to a memory that I didn't even own; streets cobbled with the footsteps of beggars, monks and shop owners threaded their way through a jumble of box-like cafés and restaurants above and below households with balconies swaying with heavy laundry hung out fresh to dry. The saffron robes of a priest also swished around the ankles of a sunburnt Frenchman with binoculars.

We peered indulgently into a Tibetan bakery which offered apple pies for Rs. 50 a slice; my friend’s face was stuck to the glass display due to the heat and we had a hilarious moment peeling her face off of it. 

We made our way up a rickety staircase which led to a door lined with the colours of the Tibetan flag. Walking in, I could smell clean-sliced knife-cut noodles slowly simmering behind the counter. There didn't seem to be anybody in the restaurant, which was called the Kham Coffee House. After waiting a while, my friend and I got up to leave when a woman emerged from behind the counter to ask us for our orders.

The process of ordering food was confusing; neither were there waiters nor was there a proper placard: there was black font on a laminated page and that was that. I decided to have the vegetable thukpa, which I had heard much about courtesy of my Tibetan school friend, and my friend chose Schezwan noodles out of familiarity of name. On our small budget, the humble restaurant's food seemed affordable; we ordered without looking at prices. As surprising as it was, we were spending a broke weekend eating Tibetan cuisine and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves! 

beer, coffee
Jyotsna Badrinarayanan

Concluding from our strange experience of ordering food that the restaurant didn't function the way most others did, my friend and I sat flipping through magazines, waiting for the food to come.

Jyotsna Badrinarayanan

After quite a while, I was half of the mind that the woman behind the counter didn't actually exist and was part of my imagination.Though It did take an incredibly long time to arrive.when the food came smoking through the door, the aroma that wafted in was completely worth it.

Seeing, Smelling and Tasting Tibetan

vegetable, ramen, soup, noodle
Jyotsna Badrinarayanan

Filled to the brim with stringy, delicate noodles nestled in a dusky soup, garnished with slivers of the most vibrant vegetables I had ever laid eyes on was a deep bowl of black porcelain or stone and the sight alone could satiate my hunger. However, I was put off by the chopsticks stuck in the thukpa. Where was my spoon? Instead, I took it up as a challenge and used chopsticks for the first time ever. My friend snickered at me every few minutes, looking up from her stir-fried noodles which she, had gotten a fork to eat it with. Soon, the flavours of the soup started to develop and I forgot about all else. It was simply sublime.

Being someone with a clear skill to separate in my head the ingredients put into a dish, I began to categorise. Bamboo shoot, with its pungent and woody taste which I have never been a fan of. Red chillies, ground to a paste, coloured the bowl and dusted the bottom of the soup with their hot, flat seeds. Pepper powder floated on top of the soup on a thin sheen of oil that I gathered had been used to sauté the vegetables.

The shredded cabbage seemed to come from a parallel dimension, as the finely cut pieces with their impeccable crunch proved a work of art. Mixed in with the green cabbage was a sunset-coloured handful of carrot shavings with lettuce and spinach drowning in the soup underneath them. I had finished all the garnishing and was left with bland noodles which I finished with difficulty.

The soup was a different terrain as I had to have it after the extremely filling noodles and vegetables. The unpleasant experience of eating plain noodles came from my determination to eat with chopsticks and the cutlery couldn't hold the broth, leaving much of my food bland. However, there was a bomb of aromas in the soup, steeped with the savoury of the vegetables. I had honestly never felt so lost in the taste of food before.

The entire experience was overwhelming and heavy. The bill arrived and it shocked me. The food had cost me a meager Rs. 80. And here was my stomach making promises to never eat again. As I waddled out of the restaurant, my friend laid her hand on my shoulders and we set off, content beyond belief. If eating Tibetan food is something you want in the future, here are things you can try yourself.