Three young Tibetan men sit by the front window, clutching tingmo in hand, conversing in Tibetan as they dip the steamed bread into dishes teeming with meat, vegetables, and dried chillies. At the back of the restaurant, under a panoramic poster of Tibet’s capital city, Lhasa, four monks share a massive hot pot with individual bowls of rice, sipping from glass bottles of Mountain Dew between fits of hysterical laughter, wiping tears from their eyes with the edges of their maroon robes. It feels like Lhasa.
Chusum Restaurant’s eight tables are usually occupied by Tibetans feasting family-style on a handful of dishes, reminisce of the back-alley tea houses in Lhasa, where small restaurants are cubby-holed throughout the ancient Barkor district. A curtain hangs over their door, the air is thick with smoke pooling out of the kitchen, and Tibetan pop songs play through tinny speakers, while Tibetans congregate at a few dusty tables with benches to share tea or a steaming bowl of soup.
However, Chusum’s menu is more extensive than the average Lhasa Tea House, with a variety of delectable dishes like stir fried greens and mushrooms, ping (glass noodles) sautéed with green onions and bok choy, shogo khatsa (a signature Tibetan dish of potatoes and spices), mutton stir-fried with vegetables and dried chilies, all accompanied by a bowl of rice or tingmo—steamed Tibetan bread. Likewise, compared to the average Lhasa Tea House altogether devoid of a menu, Chusum’s picture menu offers the comfort of actually knowing what you’re ordering. The only exception is mystery dish #23, which remains nameless on the shiny, laminated menu.
Chusum has one more thing that you won’t find in the average Lhasa Tea House—a large photograph of Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the 14th Dalai Lama, proudly enshrined over the counter. Banned in Tibet, His Holiness’ image is rarely found in Lhasa, and its presence in McLeod Ganj and Dharamsala serves as a reminder of religious freedoms that Tibetans are denied in their homeland.
Chusum Restaurant (Tibetan: ཆོལ་གསུམ་ཟ་ཁང།), located on Jogiwara Rd. (near the main square), McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, HP, India
Prices range from 40-200 Indian Rupees for dishes (USD $1-4)