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China’s Noodle War Has Just Begun

An issue over noodles in the south of China has gotten so out of hand, that the government has to intervene. China’s most famous noodles, Lanzhou Beef Noodles, are at the center of this dispute. The main question: who’s the boss in the world of Chinese Noodles?

Manya Koetse

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An issue over noodles in the south of China has gotten so out of hand that the government has now stepped in. China’s most famous noodles, Lanzhou Beef Noodles, are at the center of this dispute. The main question: who’s the boss in the world of Chinese noodles?

Lanzhou Beef Noodle (州牛肉面) is one of China’s most famous dishes. It originated in Lanzhou, the largest city of China’s northwestern province of Gansu. The dish is also simply called ‘lamian‘, the Chinese word for ‘noodle’ (the Japanese ‘ramen’ is based on this word). In 1999, Lanzhou Noodles were identified as one of China’s three major ‘fast foods’, together with Beijing Quanjude Roast Duck and Tianjin Goubuli steamed buns.

Recently, a feverish debate has erupted over Lanzhou Beef Noodles. Who is entitled to use its name and have a monopoly position within its business? The topic became trending on Sina Weibo under the hashtag of “the factional struggle over Lanzhou Noodles” (#兰州拉面派系之争#), after a big Lanzhou Noodle chain in Shenzhen called ‘Oriental Palace’ was boycotted by locals, who literally blocked customers from entering the restaurant.

 

Breaching the ‘noodle norms’

 

On June 8, Weibo blogger Li Shu Shirin (李舒shirin) posted pictures of a protest outside a newly-opened Oriental Palace Lanzhou Noodle restaurant. The blogger described how several men sat outside the restaurant door, preventing customers from coming in. Others stood near the entrance holding up signs saying things like “this restaurant breaches the noodle norms!”, while some used loudspeakers to tell the shop owners to go away. The pictures quickly attracted the attention of Weibo’s netizens.

whatsonweiboThe Oriental City restaurant, blocked by protesters.

The protesters blocking the store are Qinghai people; a group of noodlemakers that originally is from the northwestern province of Qinghai, bordering on Tibet. The people from Qinghai are famous for setting up Lanzhou Noodle shops all over China, supposedly regarding themselves as the ‘true’ Lanzhou noodlemakers. In their perspective, China’s new big noodle franchise stores, such as Oriental City, take away their customers. More importantly: they breach the long-standing tacit agreement in China’s world of noodles that a new Lanzhou Noodle shop shall not open its doors within 400 meters an existing one. Along with other franchise stores, the Shenzhen Oriental Plaza neglected this ‘norm’, and opened its restaurant near another (Qinghai-owned) Lanzhou Noodle shop, much to the dismay of local noodleshop owners.

Oriental Palace (full name: Oriental Palace China Lanzhou Beef Noodles,东方宫中国兰州牛肉拉面) was first opened in 2010 and has been rapidly expanding ever since. Especially in the southeast, home to many Qinghai ‘Lanzhou Noodle’ shops, Oriental Palace has not received a warm welcome. Ma Jun, CEO of the Oriental Palace Lanzhou Group, told reporters: “Our shops have been boycotted ever since we started, but we are doing nothing wrong – we always operate according to the laws.” He also revealed that the Lanzhou government has now stepped in to resolve the issue, and that it will help to find a solution for Qinghai and Lanzhou noodle companies.

 

Will the real Lanzhou noodlemaker please stand up?

 

So what is this connection between Qinghai and Lanzhou noodles? Since the 1980s, Qinghai peasants were the first to start their own noodle shops businesses in the southeast of China. Throughout the decades, more and more people from Qinghai started to sell beef noodles in different cities all over China. According to research, about 60 to 70 percent of all Lanzhou Noodle Shops across China are now run by people from Qinghai. People from the Qinghai muslim Salar ethnic group approximately have 30,000 beef noodles shops in over 100 Chinese cities. Without the influence of Qinghai’s noodlemakers, Lanzhou Noodles would arguably not have been as famous as they are today – its popularity has also spread to Singapore and Malaysia.

Although the Qinghai- and Lanzhou-made noodles are practically the same, and both call themselves ‘Lanzhou noodles’, there are some subtile differences according to specialists. The main difference lies in how the broth is cooked. Traditionally, the Qinghai broth needs to be cooked three times. The noodles are supposed to be hand-made. And, originally, they use over 30 different ingredients; from yak meat to butter and ox bones.

 

Relying on the ‘noodle economy’

 

Qinghai noodlemakers now face fierce competition from China’s upcoming big noodle chains. Major companies such as Jin Ding, Oriental Palace, Malan Noodles or Master Huang have spread over the entire country, with over 20,000 restaurants nationwide. Generally, Qinghai noodle shops are run privately, and do not operate as chain stores. Since about half of Qinghai peasant rely on the “noodle economy” revenue for their income, the rise of China’s big noodle stores is a nightmare for many. The fact that these big chains do not stick to their gentleman’s agreement of not opening new shops nearby existing ones only adds fuel to the fire.

noodleshopsLeft: Oriental City chain, right: a small-scale Qinghai shop.

Many Weibo netizens do not agree with the Qinghai protesters, and speak out in support of Oriental City. Netizen Qinlong Fu Hanjun (秦陇复汉军) says that as long as restaurants operate according to the law, other groups have no say in their business – that would be against the principle of a free market economy. Another user says: “You simply cannot call Qinghai-made noodles ‘Lanzhou Noodles’ – to do so is actually fake.”

But there are also other netizens who think that if there truly is a norm for noodle shops to not open up new stores within 400 meter of another, then companies should adhere to it.

“The Lanzhou government should take responsibility for this issue,” one netizen says on Sohu: “The people from Qinghai have been opening up so many restaurants under the banner of ‘Lanzhou’, but Lanzhou has only started to promote their own noodles over the past few years.”

“Why don’t you just call your own noodles ‘Qinghai noodles’ instead of ‘Lanzhou noodles’?” another Sohu commenter says: “In that way, other Lanzhou Noodle Shops can just open up nearby without any problems. If you don’t like other noodle shops opening up, just stick to your own noodles!”.

The unrest near China’s big noodle chains and the disagreement amongst netizens shows that this noodle war has only just begun. For noodle lovers, it’s nothing but good news; Lanzhou-made and Qinghai-made noodles will soon be on even more corners of China’s cities.

By Manya Koetse

©2015 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Food & Drinks

Viral Video Exposes Wuhan Canteen Kitchen Food Malpractices

Boots in the food bowl, meat from the floor: this Wuhan college canteen is making a food safety mess.

Manya Koetse

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A video that exposes the poor food hygiene inside the kitchen of a Wuhan college canteen has been making its rounds on Chinese social media these days.

The video shows how a kitchen staff member picks up meat from the floor to put back in the tray, and how another kitchen worker uses rain boots to ‘wash’ vegetables in a big bowl on the ground, while another person is smoking.

The video was reportedly shot by someone visiting the canteen of the Wuhan Donghu University (武汉东湖学院) and was posted on social media on November 7.

According to various news sources, including Toutiao News, the school has confirmed that the video was filmed in their canteen, stating that those responsible for the improper food handling practices have now been fired.

The Wuhan Donghu University also posted a statement on their Weibo account on November 8, saying it will strengthen the supervision of its canteen food handling practices.

“The students at this school will probably vomit once they see this footage,” some commenters on Weibo wrote.

Wuhan Donghu University is an undergraduate private higher education institution established in 2000. The school has approximately 16,000 full-time undergraduate students.

“I’m afraid that this is just the tip of the iceberg,” one popular comment said, receiving over 25,000 likes.

Students from other universities also expressed concerns over the food handling practices in their own canteens, while some said they felt nauseous for having had lunch at the Wuhan canteen in question.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Food & Drinks

Famous Goubuli Restaurant Calls Police for Getting Roasted Online, Gets Kicked Out of Franchise Group

Goubuli Wangfujing shows how NOT to address a social media crisis.

Manya Koetse

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The well-known Goubuli Wangfujing restaurant just got a bit more famous this week. The branch, which specializes in steamed buns, is now not just known as one of Beijing’s worst-rated restaurants, but also as a business that shot itself in the foot by handling a social media crisis the wrong way.

The famous Wangfujing main branch of Goubuli Steamed Buns (狗不理包子) is caught up in a social media storm since responding to a blogger’s negative video of their restaurant by contacting the police.

The video, Goubuli’s response to it, and the following consequences have hit the top trending topic lists on Weibo today.

Goubuli, sometimes transcribed as Go Believe, is a well-known franchise brand of steamed stuffed buns (baozi) from Tianjin that was founded in 1858. The brand now has more than 80 restaurants in mainland China, 12 of them in Beijing. Since Wangfujing is one of Beijing’s most famous streets, the Wangfujing branch is popular with both foreign and Chinese visitors.

 

Gu Yue’s “Visiting the Worst-Rated Restaurant” Video

 

The social media storm started on September 8, when Weibo blogger Gu Yue (谷岳) posted a video titled “Visiting the Worst-Rated Restaurant” (“探访评分最差餐厅”). Gu Yue is a travel blogger with over 1,7 million fans on Weibo.

Gu Yue in front of Gubouli.

In the video, Gu Yue starts by explaining he chose to visit Gubouli after searching for the restaurant that receives the lowest ratings in the Beijing Wangfujing and Dongdan areas on the super-popular Chinese mobile food app Dianping.

The blogger found that, out of the 1299 listed restaurants in the area, Wangfujing Goubuli Baozi was the worst-rated place. Ironically, the brand’s name Gǒubùlǐ (狗不理) literally means ‘dogs don’t pay attention,’ which makes the name ‘Goubuli Baozi’ sound like a place with stuffed buns that even dogs would not eat.

Complaining about the service, prices, and quality of food, many Dianping users rated the restaurant with just one out of five stars.

Gu Yue then sets out to visit the restaurant himself to see if Gubouli on Wangfujing really is as bad as Dianping users say. He orders some steamed braised pork dumplings, 60 yuan ($8.7) for 8, and regular pork dumplings, 38 yuan ($5.5) for 8.

The blogger concludes that Gubouli’s dumplings are not worth the money: the dumplings are greasy, the dough is too sticky, and they do not have enough filling. Gu Yue’s video also suggests that the restaurant’s hygienic standards are not up to par, with loud coughing coming from the kitchen.

Gu Yue’s video received over 97,000 likes and thousands of responses on Weibo, with many fans praising the idea of the blogger checking out the worst-rated restaurants.

 

Goubuli’s Reaction Starts a Social Media Storm

 

The Wangfujing branch of Goubuli did not appreciate Gu Yue’s video.

In an online statement on September 11, the branch accused the blogger of spreading lies about their restaurant and harming their reputation, and demanded a public apology.

Goubuli Wangfujing called the video “vicious slander” and stated they had contacted the police in relation to the matter.

The hashtag “Wangfujing Goubuli Responds to Netizen’s Negative Video” (#王府井狗不理回应网友差评视频#) immediately went viral on Weibo, attracting some 430 million views.

Many Weibo users were outraged about the way the Goubuli branch handled the situation. “Aren’t we even allowed to say if something is tasty or not?!” many commenters wondered, with others writing: “You are harming your own reputation!”

“Let’s call the police over the quality of your food,” others suggested.

There were also many netizens who commented that some Chinese Time-Honored brands, such as Goubuli, often only survive because of their history and fame rather than actually delivering good quality to their customers.

Following the major online backlash on its statement, the restaurant soon removed their post again. But the social media storm did not end there.

On September 15, the Goubuli Group issued a statement saying that it would directly terminate its franchise cooperation with the Goubuli Wangfujing branch over the incident.

With over 280 million views on its hashtag page (#狗不理解除与王府井店加盟方合作#), news of the franchise termination blew up on Weibo.

According to the latest Weibo reports on September 15, the Wangfujing Goubuli branch was closed for business on Tuesday (#狗不理包子王府井店门店关闭#).

“This is the power of clout,” one person comments: “If it were not for the [Goubuli] restaurant’s flawed marketing department, this would not have led to their closure.”

“The restaurant has brought this on themselves. There’s nothing wrong with posting a bad review.”

Another person comments: “This is the first time I’ve seen a marketing department making something big out of something small, leading to their own closing.”

Meanwhile, blogger Gu Yue says that he was not contacted by Goubuli, nor by the police. The social media controversy has only made him more popular.

“Gue Yue single-handedly crushed this restaurant,” some say, appreciating how social media has increased the power of Chinese consumers to make or break a business.

 
Also read: Overview of the Dolce&Gabbana China Marketing Disaster Through Weibo Hashtags
 

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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