When I first met Chef Yeshi he was in the process of selling his business, a market stall in Goa where he had sold jewellery and other hand-made Tibetan artefacts. He gave me a lovely ring from his collection, which I still treasure to this day. He had a really good eye for stuff, and had made a great success of his business, but his brother, who was living in New York, had persuaded him to go back to school to improve his English and gain other useful life skills.
Later, of course, we both moved to the UK. It took a couple of years for the idea of Taste Tibet to form, but once it had lodged in Yeshi’s mind this new business came together with staggering speed. A recce was carried out in Camden Market in London one Saturday in May 2014, followed by recipe testing the following weekend, and two weeks on from the trip to Camden Town he was up and running at the Jericho Street Fair in Oxford with our first stall.
We haven’t stopped since.
I subsequently discovered that Tibetans are natural-born business people. Until recent times almost everyone was engaged in some form of commerce. Tibetan men travelled far and wide conducting business deals while their wives managed the shops back home. Herdsmen would trade meat for salt, which they would sell on for grain. The monasteries were also at it, dispatching representatives to China, Mongolia and elsewhere to purchase cloth, incense and silks, which they sold at a profit to fund restoration work and the other needs of the monasteries.
For centuries Tibetan people exported wool, salt, medicinal herbs, ponies, mules, gold and other minerals, importing cotton, tea, silk, silver, coral, precious stones, sugar, tobacco and soap, to name a few.
Yeshi’s instinct for what, how and where to sell continues to surprise me, but I understand now that it’s something that is in his blood. His grandfather, who travelled frequently between Tibet, India, China and Nepal by horse and mule, passed on amazing stories of this life on the road.
Today the trade routes are not what they once were, but inside Tibet Yeshi’s family members continue to barter their fresh fruit and mushrooms for rice, salt, and so on. Money does not change hands.
Our business here would benefit from such exchanges: if only we could trade momos for massage, chai for childcare… Come to think of it Yeshi has swapped food for acupuncture along the way. Anyone open to any other ideas?
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