Zhen Kitchen: A Chinese family’s restaurant legacy in Doha

Doha, Qatar – About 20 years ago, in a land far away, a young Ma Zhong Yan decided to leave Shenyang, China to make her fortune in the world. He wanted a fresh start for her, her husband Zhang Bin and her daughter Zhang Jia Ni.

So she talked to a friend, whom she still refers to as her “sister”, and together they decided to try their luck in the United States, where they had heard many success stories. The next step was to talk to an agent who processed work visas, so they found a guy who knew a guy who knew an agent and had a chat. Everything was agreed upon, and the agent said that he would get them visas to the United States as soon as possible.

But things rarely go as planned, and the agent was only able to get visas to a place they had never heard of before: Doha, Qatar.

Zhang Bin gets a wok touch as he stir-fries morning glory over a special flame [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Sitting in her restaurant in Doha’s West Bay today, Zhong Yan says she’s still not sure how that happened, a soft smile on her kind face shining in the afternoon sun. But, she says, holding a cup of green tea, she’s glad things turned out the way they did. Even considering the pain of having to leave her husband and daughter behind in order to start a new life for them.

They are both here with her, and Zhong Yan comes to the restaurant less often, taking a bit of time now that Jia Ni has taken over running it while Zhang Bin oversees operations in the kitchen.

She came especially to talk to us and she looks relaxed, sitting next to our friend Grace, who has come to dinner to help translate. Her cozy setup makes us feel like we are visiting her at home rather than at the family’s newest venture, Zhen Street Kitchen. This is their second act after they had to close their first restaurant, a cult favorite among Dohaites in the know: Playstation Cafeteria.

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