304 - Some butter with your tea?

By Lauren Gosnell

For Toronto’s 4,000 Tibetans, the place to shop for ingredients from home is Shangri-La Produce in Parkdale – a neighbourhood with a growing number of Toronto’s Tibetan restaurants and craft shops.

Owner Samten Tsering imports most of his supplies from exiled Tibetans living in Nepal. On his shelves, you can find mung bean thread noodles called phing. The thin clear noodles have a soft but firm non-mushy texture. They form the body of the dish phing-sha - sautéed chicken or beef with black fungus mushrooms.

Shangrila phingPerhaps the most recognized Tibetan item is yak butter tea or bho-jha. Strong black tea, traditionally from a tea brick, is boiled for hours. The tea is poured into a special churn called a dongmo along with some salt and yak butter. The churned concoction is usually kept in a kettle to be served all day long.

Though bho-jha takes some getting used to, there are sound reasons for Tibetans to drink it upwards of 40times a day.

The calorie-rich butter provides essential heat and energy for the body in the harsh cold high-altitude climate of Tibet.

Perhaps as a concession to time-pressed modern life, the Shangri-La stocks instant butter tea which only needs boiling water.

Another staple on Samten’s shelves is tsampa or barley roasted and ground into flour by a local Tibetan family.

Tsampa is often eaten as an energizing breakfast porridge when diluted with a lot of butter tea. Or it can be rolled into a dough balls called pak and eaten while hiking or travelling.

Samten was inspired to open Shangri-La Produce after years of working at the Ontario Food Terminal where very few products came in from Tibet or Nepal. He believes that the produce grown in the high mountains are healthier because the air is clean. From this humble start, Samten plans to expand his offerings to better serve his community.

Shangri La Produce
1528 Queen St. W
Toronto ON