Family bakery preserves century-old Tibetan flavor

By: Xinhua
Updated: Feb. 19, 2021
Feb. 19, 2021 -- Losang Gyaltsen and his parents pose for a family photo at their residence in the city of Shangri-La, southwest China's Yunnan Province. (Xinhua/Zhao Jiasong)
KUNMING, Feb. 19, 2021 -- Losang Gyaltsen and his parents were particularly busy in the days leading up to the Tibetan New Year, baking Tibetan pastries long-awaited by all in the area.
Losang, 30, whose father is Tibetan and mother from the Bai ethnic group, lives in the city of Shangri-La, Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of southwest China's Yunnan Province.
The 90-square-meter family workshop was producing at full capacity and sold about 1,000 sets of pastries before closing the doors for the Tibetan New Year. Also known as Losar, Tibetan New Year is the most important festival on the Tibetan calendar. It fell on Feb. 12 this year, coinciding with the Spring Festival.
Losang's mother, Chen Fuzhi, went to live with her Tibetan aunt in Dechen, a majority Tibetan county in Diqing, when she was 15.
Now 53, Chen recalled that during momentous festivals every family in Dechen would take home local Tibetan pastries with walnuts, yak milk and other ingredients that are commonly used in Tibetan cuisines.
According to oral narratives, the pastry-making craft has existed in Dechen for at least a century or more.

Feb. 19, 2021 -- Chen Fuzhi is taking the pastries out of the oven at a family workshop in the city of Shangri-La, southwest China's Yunnan Province.(Xinhua/Zhao Jiasong)
After Chen turned 18, she began to learn how to bake Tibetan treats from her aunt. She then decided to join the baking business and pass on the technique.
As their pastries gained popularity, locals and residents ordered from them regularly. The pastries made by "Azhi," Chen's nickname, soon spread by word of mouth.
Losang's father went to work in Shangri-La in 2002, so Chen brought the traditional pastry-making technique to the city. Before long, they opened a store named "Azhi Pastry."
Since then, the family bakery has been a household name in Shangri-La, and even in the whole Diqing prefecture.
Chen developed an innovative pastry -- a multi-layer bread with elastic dough and milk dregs in the middle -- which has now become a top seller.
Made with natural ingredients, the pastries are also favored by local Buddhist temples.
In May 2015, when the 11th Panchen Lama Bainqen Erdini Qoigyijabu, a leader of Tibetan Buddhism, conducted rituals in the Sumtsen Ling Monastery, the largest Tibetan-Buddhist temple in Yunnan, and "Azhi pastries" were on the scene, which was of great significance for local Tibetans.
"These pastries are more of a cultural heritage than local commodities," said Losang.
Graduating from a university in Yunnan in 2014 and having worked in a construction company for three years, Losang decided to return to his hometown to help with the family bakery.
Losang is thinking of extending the workshop area, cooperate with e-commerce platforms and open an experience hall that introduces visitors to the pastry-making craft.
He also applied to the prefectural government to approve the pastries as an intangible cultural heritage.
In 2020, the pastries generated some 500,000 yuan (about 77,450 U.S. dollars) for the family.
As orders flooded in, the family asked villagers to come to help fill the orders, and they paid them around 200 yuan a day.
In 2016, a highway linking Dechen and Shangri-La was completed, reducing travel time from over four hours to about 2.5 hours. "We have plenty of buyers from Dechen, and some drive all the way here to collect the pastries and bring them back to their hometowns," said Losang.
Feb. 19, 2021 -- Losang Gyaltsen's father packs up the newly-baked pastries at a family workshop in the city of Shangri-La, southwest China's Yunnan Province. (Xinhua/Zhao Jiasong)
Now their products are regularly ordered by distributers from Lijiang and the provincial capital of Kunming. Every three to five days, a batch of newly-baked pastries are sent to Lijiang by bus.
On the first day of the year, an expressway that connects Shangri-La to Lijiang opened after five years of construction.
The new expressway has provided more convenient travel and cargo transport. "Our pastries will be able to reach tables in farther regions even faster," said Losang.
The infrastructure allows people on the plateau to enjoy delicious pastries and also greatly improves other aspects of their lives.
"Though I'm not Tibetan, I feel it a responsibility to pass on this pastry-making craft," said Chen.
It is believed that the prototype of "Shangri-La," an earthly paradise depicted in the 1934 fictional book "Lost Horizon" written by James Hilton, is Zhongdian County. In 2001, the county was renamed Shangri-La.
In the novel, Shangri-La is an earthly paradise and a utopia. While in the real world it is inhabited by hard-working people, where families like Losang's devoutly preserve their history and traditions.
By: Xinhua writers Zhao Jiasong, Zhang Wen, Yao Yulin