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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 Digital

Exclusive QR Code-Based Service Under Fire: The 3 Major Downsides to Contactless Ordering

Self-service ordering is the norm in many restaurants across China, but its benefits do not always outweigh the downsides.

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QR code-based ordering is the new normal in Chinese restaurants, but contactless ordering also comes with major downsides. In a recent People’s Daily article, consumers’ rights expert Chen Yinjiang argues that contactless ordering can’t be the sole service option offered by businesses.

Along with China’s rapid digitalization, QR code-based ordering has become the norm for many restaurants across the country. Although many see QR code-based self-service – from waiting in line to ordering and paying – as a convenience that also saves the restaurant costs on staff, there are also downsides to these digital developments.

Contactless ordering is not just the new normal in many restaurants, it often also is the only way in which customers can order.

In a recent article published by Chinese state media outlet People’s Daily, the deputy secretary-general of China Consumer Protection Law Society, Chen Yinjiang (陈音江), argues that business owners in China should offer customers the choice, saying: “Consumers have the right to choose whether they want to order by scanning a code or order through a waiter. Businesses can’t just consider the costs without considering the customer experience – especially when they neglect the requirements of elderly consumers.”

Image via http://www.hnntv.cn/

On Chinese social media, the criticism of exclusive QR code-based service in restaurants has become a hot topic of discussion. The hashtag “People’s Daily Discusses QR Code-Based Ordering” (#人民日报谈扫码点餐#) received 280 million views on Weibo on Monday.

Both the People’s Daily article and the online discussions mention the following three major downsides to QR code-based ordering.

 
1. Missing the Communication with the Waiter

One downside to contactless ordering is that customers miss out on the experience of communicating their order directly with the restaurant staff.

One reason why people would prefer to place their order directly with the waiter is that it gives them an opportunity to inquire about the menu, get advice on the best choice to make, and to communicate any special dietary wishes and preferences.

But another reason is simply that talking to restaurant staff is part of the dining out experience, with self-service ordering being a rather bleak substitute for those people who would actually like to have some more human interaction when they go out for food.

“If a restaurant only lets people order through smartphone and don’t offer a menu, the entire sense of ritual [of eating out] is gone,” one person comments, with others agreeing: “Ordering food is part of the dining culture.”

 
2. Leaving the Non-Tech-Savvy Customers Behind

Contactless ordering is also a nuisance to the elderly and non-tech-savvy customers who struggle to scan a QR code and place an order. For them, the process of online ordering is not convenient or fast but actually makes their restaurant experience all the more difficult and complicated.

“We live in an aging society. We really need to have other ways of handling this for the future,” one popular comment on Weibo said.

Other commenters also indicate that even for people who are used to ordering online, the process can be a nuisance. When changing their mind about their order, or accidentally ordering a wrong item, the entire order is gone and the customer needs to start from scratch again. This makes the process far less convenient than ordering with a staff member.

 
3. Privacy and Spam Concerns

There are also those who find that QR-based ordering is an invasion of their privacy. Many restaurants require customers to register or to ‘follow’ them on WeChat or elsewhere before allowing contactless ordering.

This means that customers do not only give away some personal information stored in their app profile, it also means that it is easy for companies to keep on sending promotions and other information to their customers long after they have left their restaurants.

While this might be an efficient marketing strategy for businesses, many people see this as a major disadvantage to QR-based ordering, and this complaint is one of the most-discussed ones on Weibo.

“Contactless ordering is actually a good thing, it is the fact that you need to register or follow the company before you can place an order that’s the problem,” multiple commenters say.

“I just want to order food – why would you need my phone number for that? Why would I need to follow your account for that?”

Many commenters on Weibo indicate that if restaurants only offer QR code-based ordering, they would rather not eat there at all.

Despite the criticism on self-service ordering, it is also praised by many. The general consensus on Weibo seems to be that virtual ordering is great, but should not be the only way to order and that smartphones and tablets should never replace ‘old-fashioned’ menus and waiters.

By Manya Koetse

Featured image via http://dc.wio2o.com/new/diancan.php

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©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

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.

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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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