The distinct solid yellow look on the exterior of the Makye Ame (a name based on a poem by the sixth Dalai Lama) restaurant makes it quickly apparent when approaching as it is surrounded by white-washed buildings in the old town Lhasa. Opening in 1997, it has gained a big name in less than two decades. Not only is it considered the best Tibetan restaurant in Tibet, it is also considered the best of its kind worldwide. So why does it have such long lines, and why do so many book in advance?
The current owner of the restaurant is Tsering Wangchen. He had been to Lhasa at the time to worship and in the process came across the building. Wangchen is highly fluent in Chinese and is approaching and fun to talk with and he is influential. He grew up in the nomadic Hongyuan County in Sichuan Province and was in a totally different field initially serving as a television presenter. For him too, it was actually the color of the building that attracted his attention as the color yellow is usually used for rooms or facilities in which monks and serious students of Buddhism work or reside.
When he entered he found that the restaurant was being managed and run by three American women from the U.S. He quickly became friends with them and during this visit he spent a lot of time there at the restaurant. One of the women could speak fluent Tibetan and explained that the building had a history more than a few centuries, significant figures throughout history frequented there as its functioned changed from one thing to another. He ended up buying it from them and went on to run it. The legendary history behind the building is surely a building block to its success but there is one other aspect, the food!
As for the food, the menu offers various regional Tibetan dishes mixed in with modern influences in different degrees, and a few menu highlights are: Spinach Paneer, Grassland Mushrooms, Boiled yak and Mutton soup with Radishes. Both international visitors and local visitors feel convinced by the homemade flavor and the rich ingredients used. You won’t regret a visit there, even just to see what it looks like.
The owner wants to elevate Tibetan culture above the plateaus on which it already reigns. All the branch restaurants serve food that has been sent from Tibet. The decor in the restaurant is extensive, and adds to the legendary multi-generational facilities from which the restaurant empire was originally built.
If you are not able to make it to Lhasa, Makye Ame has branch restaurants in Beijing, Chengdu, and Yunnan. Keep your eyes peeled too, as it may have a branch in the U.S. and Nepal in the not so distant future too.