Outsiders' eatery steams ahead in Tibet
Steamed buns are traditionally cooked in bamboo steamers. JIAN HUA/FOR CHINA DAILY
LHASA－As Shang Wangli tied on an apron and got down to work, much of the city was still fast asleep.
Running a small restaurant called Hangzhou Steamed Buns in Lhasa, capital of the Tibet autonomous region, Shang and her husband have found not only comfort in their home cuisine, but also the promise of a prosperous future.
The couple came to Lhasa about two years ago from Shengzhou in East China's Zhejiang province, bringing the famous Hangzhou snack to people living on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.
The snack, popular on the east coast, remains a niche product in Lhasa, where Tibetan and Sichuan dishes dominate dining tables. The couple view their hometown specialty as a potential business opportunity, albeit thousands of kilometers from Shengzhou.
"In my hometown, steamed buns are just breakfast food," Shang said. "But in Lhasa, they are also eaten for lunch and dinner, and our restaurant can stay open until late at night."
To keep costs under control, the couple do everything themselves, from purchasing ingredients and cooking to serving customers.
"Sometimes we take over shifts when one of us is too tired. It's not an easy task to start a business, and we have to be hardworking," she said.
Steamed buns are traditionally cooked in bamboo steamers, but the lower atmospheric pressure in Lhasa－which sits at an elevation of 3,600 meters－makes this difficult, as water boils at a lower temperature.
Therefore, the couple use a pressure cooker to steam the buns, which gives them a different flavor to those prepared the traditional Zhejiang way.
"Buns made in a pressure cooker have soft and fluffy skins, as well as tender and tasty meat fillings," said a customer from Sichuan province who was visiting Lhasa.
The couple also provide free hot water, Wi-Fi coverage and a neat and tidy dining area, which has gradually attracted many regular customers from the neighborhood.
It took Shang some time to communicate properly with the older local inhabitants who could not understand Mandarin. Nonetheless, she was always patient providing information about the menu, sometimes using pictures or hand gestures.
"To be frank, before we came to Lhasa, we used to have plenty to be anxious and uncertain about," Shang recalled.
However, she has found life in Lhasa as convenient as other places, and added it was not difficult for non-locals to set up a business. "Now there are more people from my hometown coming here to do business," she said.
Tibet has been improving its transportation infrastructure, logistics and business environment in recent years, providing more opportunities for new settlers like Shang in catering, retail and tourism.
"Our business is quite good. We can earn up to 30,000 yuan ($4,560) a month now," Shang said.
"We're not actually dreaming big, our goal is just to put away some money to provide for ourselves and our kid."