Tibetan folklore states that drinking tea from a wooden cup will make you handsome, popular and wise. And this is just one of the little idiosyncrasies that make the Tibetan Teahouse in Seaforth such a gem. The gallery and teahouse promise ‘food for body and soul’ shared in an atmosphere of warmth, beauty and serenity, and it more than delivers on this promise.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve driven past the Tibetan Teahouse, perched as it is on a very missable corner just outside Simon’s Town as you enter Seaforth (a barely discernable boundary) and made a more than mental note (at times it has been very verbal) to make a stop there. And when we finally did (stop, that is), after a day’s outing at Boulders beach, sun and sea weary, covered in sticky sand on one of the hottest days possible in Cape Town, the combination of the pretty wide verandah, art gallery, artifacts and crafts, and the little teahouse, more than met my expectations.
Their menu might be dominated by relatively unknown Himalayan words like Sowa Tsampa (oats), Bhakle Chang (a muffin), De Ngopa (fried rice) and Sakarkhanda Ko Tarkari (a Napalese sweet potato and pea curry), to mention but a few items on offer, but the food is all wholesome, vegetarian, vegan and imbued with soul, whilst the idea of eating food with distinctly Budhist undertones is somewhat reassuring and more than vaguely inviting. Even their iced coffee was permeated with a special flavour, though how much of that was to do with the atmosphere or the ingredients wasn’t discernable.
From the moment you ring the doorbell (you are admitted to this teahouse, you don’t just barge your way in) and enter into the calm of the front room, which forms part of the spiritual gallery and houses an enormous budha-type flower receptacle (‘pot’ doesn’t do it justice), a sense of calm and ritual rise to meet you.
One finds oneself adapting to this inner sanctuary almost immediately and we spoke in barely concealed whispers whilst taking in the myriad forms of art, sculpture and form that grace almost every nook and cranny of the old house. Make sure you use their facilities as the bathroom was one of the highlights of the visit (other than using wooden tea cups, that is).
The teahouse is described by many as one of Simon’s Town’s best-kept secrets. I would imagine that it has a following who support it time and again, and you get a sense that the space fulfills far more of a spiritual function than simply meeting the cullinary needs of Capetonians. Off the verandah is a sanctuary – Tibetan singing bowls on the table and invitingly deep and comfy chairs line the walls – and it is here that regular meditations and talks are held. It is no surprise then, that the teahouse is so serene, if periodically there seeps the kind of vibrations associated with meditation, as well as the gentle music played in the house, along its verandah.
But you don’t have to be on a spiritual quest to partake of the teahouse, its gorgeous views over False Bay well worth the stop. Despite not being able to get a cappuccino or an espresso (these have been discontinued as they make up only 10% of all drinks served and an espresso machine constantly switched on is rather energy intensive), there is much else to choose from in the tea and coffee department.
Try a traditional Tibetan salty butter tea, known as Bo-jha Suma, or simply order a perfectly ordinary chai or Ceylon tea, whilst filter coffee, organic coffee and decaf, vegan hot chocolate and iced coffee are also on offer.
All of their food and cakes are made on the premises from the freshest and best ingredients. They use free-range eggs and everything is prepared with purified filtered water. They have also started growing their own since doing a permaculture course. And extras, such as soya milk, rice milk and even vegan ice-cream are all available.
It was too hot for food, but we will return to enjoy dishes such as Himalayan black-eyed bean casserole and their Nepalese sweet potato and pea curry, which is served with brown rice, fresh dhanya, organic yoghurt and chutney. We did sample their home-baked vegan carrot cake, which was filled with nuts and seeds and covered in a wonderful lemon icing. The vegan chocolate cake wasn’t as moist as we would have liked, but the flavour was nonetheless very enjoyable.
The Sophea Gallery changes its exhibitions every three months, choosing a different theme each time, which they serve as a challenge and an inspiration to artists to prepare works specifically for these. At other times, they feature works of an individual artist. The shop is filled with Napalese and Tibetan jewellery, particularly rings, earrings and brooches, whilst Tibetan prayer flags, prayer wheels, singing bowls, prayer beads, cymbals, butter lamps etc. lie side-by-side with a host of turqoise, lapis lazuli, coral and amber stones that dominate the jewellery. It’s a lovely space in which to pick up a gift or artefact for your own home.
And there is something about drinking from a wooden tea cup…