In Lhasa, Everbody Goes To Dunya

dunya restaurant, lhasa tibet
The terrace at Dunya

The restaurant scene in Lhasa’s old town, such as it is, has taken a decided step upwards with the arrival of Dunya, a sprightly new eatery with an international menu and an international staff to match.

Dining near the Jokhang, the St, Peter’s Basilica of Tibetan Bhuddism, usually means chosing from one of the modest backpackers restaurants that offer a more comforting and brightly lit alternative to the cavern-like Tibetan restaurants. Here a foreigner could find an English menu, a reasonable standard of hygiene and a selection of dishes like pastas and pizzas that whispered “home,” all at modest cost. Dunya kicks the formula up a notch while holding the line on price.

Dunya is an international joint venture, the only business in Lhasa with foreign participation. Fred and Janette from Holland, Kristin from the US, and a Tibetan silent partner have teamed up to create a casual yet stylish restaurant that would not seem out of place in far more cosmopolitan surroundings.

Located on Beijing Dong Lu, right next to the venerable Yak Hotel in a space formerly occupied by the Crazy Yak Saloon, Dunya serves up a sophisticated menu that mixes traditional Tibetan fare like thukpa and momos, with chicken cordon bleu and Nepali dal bhat. The “must-try” selection is the Yak Sizzler that arrives at the table hissing and steaming with great gusto. For the homesick, pizza, pasta, and apple pie are also on offer along with nightly chef’s specials. For those feeling a little woozy from Lhasa’s rarified air, a cup or two of Altitude Relax Tea, a soothing herbal concoction, is in order.

Breakfast is served, too, and this is the best place, perhaps the only place, in Lhasa to come for an “American Breakfast” worthy of the name. Fried eggs are accompanied by tangy local bacon and home fries and thickly cut whole grain bread.

It is possible to spend more than $10 for a meal at Dunya, but you’ll have to extend yourself. Most meals are in the $5 range.

Dunya restaurant, Lhasa TibetThe setting is as pleasing as the prices. The downstairs dining room is a blend of Tibetan and Western motifs in yellow and terracotta, with green accents. Upstairs a comfy bar gives out onto a terrace overlooking Old Lhasa’s main thorofare. Friday’s Happy Hour is the place to come to meet Lhasa’s small ex-pat community, most of them working in non-governmental organizations like Medecins San Frontieres and Save The Children.

It is fitting that the name Dunya means “world” in almost a dozen languages, including Haussa and Nepali. It is a home away from home to the diverse European and Asian tourist population that is discovering Lhasa in ever greater numbers.