The exterior of Tatos Restaurant

Tatos: An Armenian Restaurant in Harbin

705
0

By Artsvi Bakhchinyan

Special to Mirror-Spectator

HARBIN, China — The Armenian community in Harbin was the biggest among the Armenian communities in China in the first half of the 20th century. They have their church and school, various organizations, leading active community life. The Armenians began to leave Harbin in the mid-1940s after the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China, and soon the community ceased to exist.

Nowadays there are no traces in China of a prominent one-time Armenian presence. The only exception is Tatos Restaurant (in English – Tadao Si Western Restaurant), the very first Caucasian restaurant in China.

This restaurant is located in the basement at 127 Central Avenue (or Zhongyand Dajie). It was founded in 1901, by an Armenian migrant Tatos (also known as Tadevos, Tevatros) Grigorievich Ter Hakobyan (Terakopov), originally from Georgia. The establishment quickly gained immense popularity among the local public. For many decades this restaurant was suggesting Armenian, Caucasian, and European dishes, mostly unknown to the local population. The Armenian cuisine has become the hallmark of this institution, but now it is considered as a Russian, rather, pseudo-Russian restaurant, as it serves also general European dishes. Even then, Harbin was a multinational city, the most cosmopolite city of Far East, where lots of immigrants from Russia were called Russians. It is the Russian spirit that has been preserved in Tatos to our time.

Ararat Kostanian with the owner’s son

Among the regulars of the restaurant was the cream of Harbin society — foreign diplomats, representatives of artistic circles, prominent public figures, etc. While in Harbin, the famous Russian singer Feodor Chaliapin used to dine in this restaurant.

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

Tatos Ter Hakobyan also founded the first winery in the Far East in the 1920s, also named Tatos. It produced wine from Harbin’s black grape and Shandong’s white grape.

An unusual story is connected with one of the Armenian employees of Tatos Restaurant. In 1916, young Harutyun Mirzakhanyan escaped from his native village (nowadays Verin Karmiraghbyur in Armenia’s Tavush province) to avoid marriage and reached Harbin, where he worked at Tatos Restaurant. After several years, his godfather Daniel Babayan traveled to China, found him and took him back to marry. This information was provided me by my colleague at the Institute of History of National Academy of Sciences of Armenia, Mirzakhanyan’s relative Dr. Artashes Shahnazaryan.

Tatos Ter Hakobyan has run the business with his wife, Valentina Jarzeva; they have a son, Grigor Ter Hakobyan, who was a violinist. After graduating from the Russian Gymnasium of Harbin, he was sent to the United States for a higher education, and then was invited to Italy to perfect his technique for free in one of conservatories.

During World War II, Tatos Restaurant changed its title and owners several times during the Japanese occupation. Tatos Ter Hakobyan later resided in Shanghai, from where he moved to the USSR at the end of the 1960s along with his wife. Ter Hakobyan died at the age of about 100 in Tbilisi in the late 1970s. This information was provided by Susanna Majkalova (Shushanik Majkalyan), a Chinese-born resident of Yerevan, who knew Ter Hakobyan and his family from China.

Nowadays, Tatos is back to operating under the same name (the signboard is in Russian and Chinese), and the building itself is protected by the state. It is being remembered among the Russian and Caucasian restaurants of Harbin – Kavkaz, Iveria, Katusha, Allahverdi, Rogozinsky. The signboard of Tatos Restaurant is seen in the fifth part of the “Russians without Russia” documentary film series, presenting the history of Russian emigration – called “A Far East Result.” The atmosphere of old times is composed by gramophone, manual coffee grinder, typewriter machine, Russian dressers, books of the last century (Russian fairy tales, collections of verses by Tyutchev, Lermontov, pre-Soviet publications of Russian music, newspapers published at the beginning of the twentieth century), as well as the traditional collection of Armenian and Georgian wines.

As Russian journalist Larisa Jebokritskaya wrote in her article titled “The Russian Spirit in Harbin,” “In general, going here, as if you fall into another temporal and spatial dimension. The restaurant hall is spacious and cozy, the design is original, smiling pretty waitresses are dressed in accordance with European tradition. The menu is also designed in a European style: pizza, roast beef and other European meat dishes, soups, fries, potatoes, coffee, ice cream…. Both Russian Harbin residents and tourists, who know about it, are happy to go to this quiet and peaceful place. By the way, a Chinese translator, who is always at your service, also helps to ensure a comfortable stay here…”

Topics: Food, Restaurants

The restaurant’s current owner, Ms. Zhang, successfully maintains also the Armenian atmosphere of Tatos. As Ararat Kostanian (junior researcher of Oriental Studies Institute, National Academy of Science of Armenia) testifies, “I have visited the restaurant several times, due my family business in Harbin. My amusement and astonishment was indescribable after I entered the restaurant. It has full of historical artifacts on the walls about Tatos himself and about Harbin Armenian community. A huge painting of Mount Ararat would make every Armenian proud. On my last visit, I informed the waiter that I am Armenian, and I would like to see the owner if there was any possibility. To my surprise, less than 10 minutes, an elegant Chinese woman approached my table and presented herself as the owner of the Tatos restaurant. While we were enjoying the delicious Armenian food, she was so eager to know about Armenia and Armenians. Her questions were non-stop. Our close relations continues to this day, because I am the first Armenian she met, and to me, she is the first Chinese I met with such great interest about Armenia and Armenians. She promised me to be my guest in Armenia soon…”

Get the Mirror-Spectator Weekly in your inbox: