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News Clippings

Sunday 20 June 1999 (Daily Telegraph)

Chinese pig out on their answer to Big Mac
By Damien Mcelroy in Beijing

DISHES of baked pig face and fried scorpions garnished with ants are helping to lead a Chinese fast food fightback against the invasion of the ubiquitous Big Mac and finger-lickin' Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Western fast food outlets have flourished in China over the past decade. Their success has been due partly to the fact that they offered the allure of standard American-style dishes - served with a courtesy not familiar to a people long accustomed to surly restaurant staff and inconsistent quality. But now, Chinese fast food chains serving indigenous fare are springing up across the country and are becoming increasingly popular.

Last month's Nato bombing of Beijing's embassy in Belgrade has given them a boost. A customer at a Baked Pig Face restaurant in Beijing as she prepared to tuck into a fleshy piece of snout, said: "I wanted to go to Kentucky Fried Chicken, but my husband wouldn't let me because it's American."

The restaurant's answer to the Big Mac is a whole head of pig, baked for 12 hours in 30 herbs and spices. The business makes big claims about its food, which has become popular among the better-off who can afford the 7 for a glazed head of specially bred pig.

A sign in a three-storey restaurant, tucked away in a lane behind beijing's hilton hotel says: "Consistent consumption of our pig, or even an occasional feast, can prolong life, improve health, sharpen the mind, protect against cancers and make a lady's skin more beautiful."

The often indifferent attitude of restaurant staff in Beijing is absent in Baked Pig Face. Waitresses patrol the floor, helping patrons to wrap pieces of pig in pancake and ticking off those who fail to use the plastic gloves provided for handling the food.

The founder of the chain, Shen Qing, a retired government official, became something of a national name when he patented his pig-head dish. He has copied a common practice of American companies and has pioneered the use of recipe patents in China to start a food-franchising network. Mr Shen has also patented two other dishes - baked pork rinds and roast ox penis.

There are now three Baked Pig Face restaurants in Beijing and three franchises have opened in other cities. Unlike Colonel Sanders, of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame, who jealously guards his "secret recipe", Mr Shen has no problems in divulging the recipe used in his signature dish. Indeed, he has turned it into a marketing ploy, detailing its composition in newspaper articles and television programmes.

Another growing Chinese chain is Scorpion King, whose eatery in Beijing's Maizidian district attracts big crowds with a menu based on fried scorpions garnished with mounds of ants. It now has branches in many cities.

While the 55 McDonald's and 30 Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets in the Chinese capital continue to do a brisk trade, events in the Balkans have spurred the trend towards the home-grown alternatives. A recent survey indicated that two-thirds of urban consumers preferred Chinese-style eateries.

Official backing for the domestic fast-food industry is strong. An official in the State Internal Trade Bureau said the government planned to establish an official industry association to help emerging chains with marketing advice and guidance on improving efficiency.

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