Cafe in Lhasa serves books too

The news was updated on June 27, 2019.

An Italian-style cafe in Lhasa not only serves ice cream and coffee to its customers, but also doubles as a library.

Itagelato, which stands for Italian gelato, or ice cream, is located near the Barkor Street of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.

Established in the year 2000, the cafe is popular among both pilgrims as well as tourists in the ancient city.

With a mix of European and Tibetan-style decor, Itagelato, or Yirangdo in Tibetan language, is well-known among the locals who look for their favorite ice cream or coffee here. It also serves Tibetan cuisine, including birthday cakes featuring Tibetan cultural elements.

For Uma, a native of Lhasa and the cafe’s owner, providing books is an extension of her own interest in books. “As I love books, I have provided them to my customers too. I hope they find them interesting.”

Thanks to its prime location and distinctive services, Itagelato has been doing good business throughout the year. Uma, a postgraduate from Peking University, has been making constant efforts to improve the ambience to attract customers to her cafe.

Uma, who is also an English announcer at a local radio station in Lhasa, has neatly stacked books on history, tourism, Tibetology, Buddhism, literature, Tibetan culture, and anthropology at her cafe.

The cafe began to offer reading services for customers in 2015, with more than 1,000 books having been kept for both reading as well as lending. Sometimes, she gets enquiries from customers looking for books on anthropology.

Customers can either read books at the cafe or borrow them. The borrower needs to pay some amount as deposit. “If a borrower does not return the book, the deposit collected will be used to purchase new books,” she said.

Some of the books at the cafe are also available for purchase.

Ensuring food quality is top priority for Uma, who often conducts training for her staff, including how to serve customers. She also sends her staff to China’s other provinces for training. She takes her staff on pilgrimage to different monasteries and gives them extra holidays during festivals.

Pema, a waitress at Itagelato, said she learned how to make coffee, ice creams, and cakes at the cafe. “I feel at home at the cafe. My owner has taught me how to be successful in life,” she said.

“We help each other quite often. We are taken on pilgrimages and picnics every year, it’s the fun part of life here,” she said.

Preparing Italian cuisines requires Uma to buy materials online from other cities. “It takes just three to seven days to receive coffee beans. It’s much more convenient now, and the delivery charges are not high,” she said.

Although Italian cuisine is new to many people in Lhasa, there is fierce competition in food industry in the city. “Many new cafes are coming up,” said Uma. “But the locals prefer to spend more time in cafes than ordering online. My business hasn’t been affected by online players.”

Tashi Phuntsok, a Tibetan customer, said Itagelato is one of his favorite restaurants in Lhasa. “I like the ambience, and I love the music that is played here.”

As it serves Italian cuisine, the cafe gets a lot of overseas customers. For instance, Dmitry Rastopchin, a Russian, visited the cafe for the first time in search of vegetarian food. “We tried Indian food, and we liked it,” he said, adding that the ice cream and cake was good too.

Meanwhile, Uma has also been holding baking classes for children. “I want parents to allow their children to do things on their own. It’s an important part of growing up.”