A food tour of Amherst: Flavors from China, Tibet and Vietnam

BY CHRISTINE XIAO ’21

Photo by Christine Xiao ’21   Bowls of Saozi noodles are enjoyed by patrons at Lili’s Restaurant

Photo by Christine Xiao ’21

Bowls of Saozi noodles are enjoyed by patrons at Lili’s Restaurant

Lili’s Restaurant

Address: 197 N Pleasant St. Amherst, MA 01002

Lili’s Restaurant serves traditional food from Xi’an, a province in China. While many other Chinese restaurants in the Pioneer Valley offer Asian fusion, Lili’s specializes in Xi’an food — its menu only has ten dishes. Lili Jia, the manager of the restaurant, wants to keep the operation small. “We don’t want to expand our menu, since all the dishes we serve are handmade and we want to ensure the quality of the food,” she said. Jia added that all the vegetables are from local farms in the Amherst region.

“It is the taste of home,” said Vivian Chen ’21, who is from Xi’an, China. She highly recommends Biang Biang handmade noodles and Saozi noodles. “They taste the same as what I had in Xi’an and sometimes even better,” she said.

Jia feels that good food should never rely on specific recipes with accurate steps and measurements. “Lots of customers come and ask us about the recipes, but we don’t really have one,” she said. “You always have to have [an] emotional connection with the food that you are making. For me, I’m from Xi’an, and I just try my best to make it taste like home.”

Photo by Christine Xiao ’21   Pork Momo, pickled radish and chili paste at Momo Tibetan Restaurant.

Photo by Christine Xiao ’21

Pork Momo, pickled radish and chili paste at Momo Tibetan Restaurant.

Momo Tibetan Restaurant

Address: 23 N Pleasant St. Amherst, MA 01002

Momo Tibetan Restaurant is managed by Dolma Phurbu and her family members, who are from Tibet. It serves traditional Tibetan food, such as Momo, Tibetanstyle dumplings served with homemade spicy chili sauce and pickled radish and Shabhaley, Tibetan fried patties. It also provides homemade beverages, including Tibetan tea and yogurt drinks.

Since some ingredients are specific to Tibet and hard to find in the northeastern U.S., Phurbu has to get them through express delivery. For example, all the fungi in the dishes are imported from Tibet, where they all grow naturally.

“We do worry [that] Americans don’t like the taste of Tibet[an] food,” Phurbu said. “We want to maintain the most original taste, so we didn’t make any adjustment of the food.” The family has found that offering authentic dishes coupled with more familiar and less spicy American-style Chinese food is the sweet spot for business. “People like our food and they think [the dishes] are special,” Phurbu said.

Photo by Christine Xiao ’21   A bowl of No. 25 Miss Saigon Pho, the most popular dish on the menu.

Photo by Christine Xiao ’21

A bowl of No. 25 Miss Saigon Pho, the most popular dish on the menu.

Miss Saigon

Address: 96 N Pleasant St. Amherst, MA 01002

Miss Saigon has been open for 11 years, and it has become a staple of downtown Amherst — on the weekend, even past the peak lunch rush, there is still a line to get in.

Sachie Tran ’19, an international student from Vietnam, thinks the restaurant does a good job of providing a “general taste of Vietnamese food.”

“Since there is a difference between the tastes of food in the northern, middle and southern parts, I think Miss Saigon is more like southern style,” Tran said.

No. 25 Miss Saigon Pho is the most popular dish on the menu, according to the restaurant’s manager Le Nguyen. It is a classic Vietnamese noodle bowl with rice noodles and a combination of meats including beef, flank, brisket, beef meatballs and tripe.

Trying to keep up with such a high demand for this dish and many others is hard work. “I usually work 16- 17 hours a day during the weekend — I try my best to ensure the quality of the food and the speed of the delivery,” said Nguyen. “It requires a lot of time and effort to manage a restaurant. However, seeing so many people like our food, I feel that everything is [worth it].”