Sunday, April 20, 2008
Sinicized Tibetan Cuisine
Tonight my colleague took me to bar street (Xing Ba Lu), near ladies' market (Nuren Jie). It's a maze of alleys leading to many restaurants and bars that never ends.
And we checked out a place called Tibetan Restaurant and Bar.
It's in the midst of renovations, but the owner says if everything goes well they'll be back in business tomorrow night. That seemed amazing since the furniture was in disarray and patches of wall yet to be painted, wiring everywhere and many decorations yet to be hung.
Dong Qian is the owner and she's opened two Tibetan restaurants in four months, sinking 8 million RMB (US$1.14 million) into them.
She admits the menu isn't authentic Tibetan cuisine, serving dishes like tofu and mushroom soup, wood ear mushrooms with chilli peppers, stir-fried Chinese cabbage with dried chillis, and eel cooked Japanese style. The only quasi Tibetan dish was yak meat, thinly sliced but slightly tough, in a sweet and sour sauce with red peppers.
On the whole, Dong says Tibetans eat simple meals, mostly yak and lamb, roasted or air dried, and washed down with yak butter tea.
Her fascination with Tibet began in university in the 1990s when she studied her masters in chemistry in New York and Los Angeles. The interest was more in the decorative designs than the religion or the people.
Afterward studying and working there for eight years she came back and met some Tibetan friends and a living Buddha. That's when she first got the idea of opening up a restaurant.
Her parents, both linked to the military, were shocked that their daughter wasn't going to apply her masters degree and become a restaurateur. She didn't elaborate much further, only to say they are pleased to see she's doing relatively well.
Dong claims she got the money together for the restaurant from working in trading in the US and here. When we met her, she wore a solitaire diamond ring and a necklace with a pave of diamonds.
In the hopes of making Tibetan culture more accepted in Beijing, Dong has kept prices relatively low so that more people will come to the restaurant. Considering she hasn't advertised much and has only opened for a few months, she's pleased with the results so far.
Last year Dong finally made her first trip to Lhasa and was in awe of the religious atmosphere that enveloped the environment and the people. She found herself spending lots of money there, giving it to Tibetans who were not well off. But they in turn took her donations and gave the money to the temples.
What struck her the most was seeing people, mostly women, walking around with prayer wheels.
In the restaurant she has also hired Tibetans from Yunnan, Gansu, Sichuan, and Qinghai provinces to sing and dance. They performed a few numbers for us in colourful costumes and boots that looked like cowboy boots with an Asian flourish. One even wrote a song about the Olympics sung in Tibetan.
Dong said the young staff in their early 20s didn't have strong opinions about the Tibet uprising in mid-March as they felt they were treated well by the Han Chinese in Beijing.
But one couldn't help wondering if these young people are just towing the line to avoid rocking the boat further, or if they have become so removed from their own roots that it's not even an issue for them.