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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?

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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

Adapted to the Desert: This Yurt-Style KFC Opened in Inner Mongolia

Special KFC in Inner-Mongolia: “Is home delivery done by camelback?”

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A KFC restaurant that has opened up in Ordos Prefecture, Inner-Mongolia, is attracting online attention in China for its yurt-style building.

The KFC restaurant is located in Xiangshawan, also known as Whistling Dune Bay, a tourist area – China’s first desert-themed tourism resort – in the Kubuqi Desert.

Some web users praise the fast-food giant for “following local customs” (“入乡随俗”). Others jokingly wonder if their home delivery services are also done by camelback.

Although KFC is not China’s first fast-food restaurant, it is one of the most popular ones. Nowhere else outside of the US has KFC expanded so quickly as in China. Since the first KFC opened in Beijing in 1987, the chain had an average of 50% growth per year.

With thousands of locations across the country, KFC often adapts its restaurants’ style to the local environment. On Weibo, web users share various examples of local KFCs.

A KFC sign at a Fuzhou branch, by Weibo user @渭城朝雨玉清宸.

A KFC in Shanxi province, shared by Weibo user @sheep加水饺.

KFC in Suzhou, by Weibo user @是宜不是宣呀.

KFC in Pingyao, by Weibo user @车谦渊

KFC in Orange Isle, Hunan, by Weibo user @DzDanger_

One Weibo user (@阳山花非花) points out that KFC is not the only chain to adapt to the local environment in Ordos. Chinese fast-food chain Dicos (德克士) apparently also has a special restaurant in the area.

Besides adapting its buildings, KFC is also known to be quite localized in its product offerings. KFC China offers products such as Chinese-style porridge, Beijing chicken roll, and youtiao (deep-fried strip of dough commonly eaten for breakfast).

In 2019, KFC also made headlines in China for adding, among other things, hot and spicy skewers (麻辣串串) to its menu.

For now, the KFC yurt-style location is bound to gain more visitors who are coming to check it out. Already, various Weibo users are sharing their own pics of their KFC visit.

 

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By Manya Koetse (@manyapan)

With contributions by Miranda Barnes

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.

©2021 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

“There’s a Cockroach in My Hotpot” – ‘Pengci’ Tries to Scam Haidilao Restaurant

Two hotpot cockroaches in one day, but the real cockroach didn’t get away.

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A man in Shenzhen has been arrested after trying to pull a scam in Haidilao hotpot restaurants twice in one day.

The man, Mr Cai (蔡), visited two different locations of China’s Haidilao chain of hotpot restaurants within twenty-four hours, and both times he managed to ‘discover’ a cockroach in his hotpot.

Cai complained to the staff about the roach in his food. According to Sohu.com, in order to keep the peace, both Haidilao stores compensated their unhappy guest; they gave him a free meal and 1000 yuan ($156) and 800 yuan ($124) respectively.

When the restaurants later inspected their security camera footage, they suspected they had been scammed and reported the incident to the police. Further investigation of the security videos revealed that the man actually held the cockroach in his hand, behind his phone, and dropped it on the table, after which he put it in the hotpot together with the vegetables.

When the man scooped the insect out of the hotpot, he immediately called the waiter to show the cockroach in his food.

After being exposed as a ‘pengci‘ (碰瓷), a scammer focused on pretending to a victim in order to get compensation, Cai was detained by the local police.

A similar incident occurred in 2018, when a man named Guo (郭) dropped a dead rat in the hotpot at a Haidilao restaurant, and then demanded a compensation of 5 million yuan ($780,000). That incident also went viral on Chinese social media at the time.

Guo was later sentenced to three years in prison for his scam, for damaging Haidilao’s reputation, and for filing a false report with regulatory authorities.

Also in 2018, a woman claimed she had found a sanitary pad in her Haidilao hotpot. This incident later also turned out to be a scam – the woman had placed the item there herself.

Haidilao is one of China’s most famous hotpot brands, and its restaurants have been in business for over 25 years. The restaurant is known for its good service, quality, and cleanliness.

On Weibo, the Haidilao ‘cockroach incident’ is attracting a lot of attention today, with one hashtag page regarding the issue receiving over 230 million views (#男子在海底捞自导自演吃出蟑螂#).

Although scams such as these are not uncommon, many people are surprised that someone would still attempt to fraud Haidilao in this way in 2021, when there are cameras set up everywhere in the restaurant.

Haidilao’s surveillance cameras have become a topic of discussion on social media before. The restaurant’s alleged reason for putting up so many cameras is in order to take better care of their customers, to monitor employee service standards, and to rely on their security footage when personal belongings go missing. The cameras also register the entire hotpot dining process; if something comes up in the hotpot that is not supposed to be there, the cameras will have captured how it ended up there.

“In this case, it’s good that there are so many security cameras,” one commenter writes.

Many others scold Cai for trying to scam Haidilao like this: “They should really make him eat cockroaches.”

 

– By Manya Koetse (@manyapan)

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.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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