Prior to 2022, Cai Shuailong, 42, had never set foot in Xizang on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the world’s highest plateau. Little did he expect that the stainless steel pressure cooker manufacturing company, where he serves as general manager, would one day open a factory there to produce locally favored high-altitude cooking utensils.
Now, every month, Cai embarks on a 4,000-km journey across the heartland of China, shuttling between his company’s headquarters in the eastern province of Zhejiang and Lhasa, the capital of the Xizang Autonomous Region in southwest China.
The company’s factory in Lhasa started production in November 2022. So far, it has sold 600,000 high-altitude utensils in Xizang. More than half of the items are pressure cookers that use a new patented technology, more closely catering to the real-life needs of people living on the plateau.
In high-altitude regions, the high elevation, low air pressure and low boiling point of water make conventional cooking a time-consuming and laborious process. For example, in Nagqu, a prefecture-level city in northern Xizang with an average altitude of over 4,500 meters, water boils at around 85 degrees Celsius, according to a local restaurant server.
Pressure cookers address this problem, as they increase internal pressure through continuous heating, which raises the boiling point of water and hence, speeds up the cooking process. The first pressure cooker was invented in the 17th century by French physicist Denis Papin and entered more households in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. China’s first domestic pressure cooker was produced in the northeastern city of Shenyang in 1964.
In the plains, a pressure cooker may just be an option for those looking to improve their cooking. But in Xizang, where the average altitude exceeds 4,000 meters, a functional pressure cooker has become a necessity for almost every household to cook yak meat and mutton as well as dumplings and noodles.
Traditional pressure cookers on the Chinese market have a single pressure release mechanism, and it is not easy to control the timing and heat when cooking noodles. A slight error can easily lead to the noodles “squirting” out. This occurrence was brought to attention in a short video filmed in Lhasa and circulated online. The video captured a man cooking noodles in a pressure cooker, resulting in them splattering all over him.
To solve the problem, Cai’s company designed a new pressure cooker utilizing a “one-button quick release” patented technology. “It can vent quickly in about a minute, and water will not spray out from the release valve,” said Cai.
This pressure cooker also boasts a temperature reminder function, resolving the difficulty of controlling the cooking time and heat when cooking dumplings or noodles. “When the temperature inside the pot reaches 100 degrees Celsius, it will automatically sound an alarm. If cooking freshly wrapped dumplings, they will be cooked in 15 seconds after the alarm. For frozen dumplings, they will be cooked in two minutes after the alarm,” he explained.
In Konglang Village, Namling County, Xigaze City, 50-year-old Dorje Yarphel is much contented with his new pressure cooker. “It heats up quickly and cooks yak meat thoroughly in no time. It’s significantly safer and more convenient than the pots we used to have,” he said. The hospitable Dorje Yarphel and his wife, Sonam, offered Xinhua reporters a taste of the big piece of yak meat cooked in their new pressure cooker.
Given the low population density and relatively small market in high-altitude regions, cookware manufacturers generally don’t actively target these areas for product development. The transition from the old-fashioned single-function pressure cooker to the new one incorporating multiple patented technologies — the “metamorphosis” of pressure cookers on the snowy plateau — is mainly due to the strong commitment of local authorities to tackle problems encountered in the daily lives of the people.
During visits to the residents, regional officials learned about the many inconveniences faced in using traditional pressure cookers at high altitudes. As a result, they instructed relevant departments to expedite the development of high-altitude multifunctional cookware. The initiative gained potent support from industry associations and major enterprises like Suntrue, leading to a significant transformation in cooking utensils, including pressure cookers, in the region.
In addition to pressure cookers, the high-altitude cooking utensil project encompasses the development and production of kettles capable of boiling water to 100 degrees Celsius, as well as high-altitude steamers that can reach temperatures up to 135 degrees Celsius. The highly anticipated “fully automatic buttered tea maker” is also set to hit the market soon.
Wu Qing, deputy director of the China Daily Hardware Technology Development Center, believes that some 60 years after the birth of the first domestic pressure cooker, the development of new pressure cookers and other cookware specifically designed for use in high-altitude regions is a milestone for China’s cookware industry.
The new type of pressure cooker features an engraved logo of the trademark “Xue Lian Hua,” or literally “snow lotus,” a rare herb that grows at high altitudes. Cai specifically pointed it out to Xinhua reporters and explained: “This logo looks like the character for ‘fire’ and also resembles the character for ‘prosperity’ in Chinese, symbolizing that the people’s lives will become increasingly prosperous and thrive.”