26 January 2020
A chef prepares beef noodles in Lanzhou, the capital city of China's Gansu province. The food is tasty while also being very easy on the wallet. Photo: Xinhua
A chef prepares beef noodles in Lanzhou, the capital city of China's Gansu province. The food is tasty while also being very easy on the wallet. Photo: Xinhua

A delicious but cheap bowl of Lanzhou noodle

I can’t recall the last time I had a bowl of tasty noodle priced less than HK$10, so I can only say it was a real delight when I got a chance to sample such fare during a trip to the mainland last week.

The dish in question was spicy Lanzhou noodle, and the flavor still lingers on my tongue days later.

It was all that I needed to withstand the cold weather in Gansu, where my mentor took me on a five-day trip, journeying through one of the poorest provinces in China.

It was a memorable trip because yours truly, like many Hong Kong residents, was not too aware of the grim poverty situation in that part of China and hence it was something of an eye-opener.

Returning to the food topic, we Hongkongers have become so used to HK$70 meals in fast-food outlets, not to mention restaurant dinners that cost at least HK$700 per head, that we seem to have forgotten the simple joy of having a bowl of noodle.

A signature Lanzhou noodle with a beef soup costs only seven yuan in Gansu. (And 8 yuan extra for a plate of beef.)

The price of Lanzhou noodle tells quite a lot about the Gansu economy. A decade ago, Lanzhou noodle was a subject of controversy when shop owners decided to raise the price by 20 percent to 3 yuan from 2.5 yuan due to the rising food cost.

As a result, the Lanzhou government stepped in and restricted a bowl of noodle to no more than 2.5 yuan at a time when the Shanghai Composite Index was at a record high. It goes without saying that middle-class is missing in Lanzhou.

Gansu seemed to be the laggard in China’s booming economy. Its GDP per capita — roughly 28,000 yuan — placed it at the lowest rung among Chinese provinces in 2017. The figure marks less than one-tenth of Hong Kong’s GDP per capita (HK$354,600) – although both cities had similar 3.8 percent growth rate, trailing the national average of 6.5 percent.

But things are looking brighter. Thanks to President Xi’s Belt and Road initiative, Gansu is expected to serve as a gateway to Southeast Asia and Middle East as firms seek to tap overseas Islamic markets for shipments of food and other things.

Even in Linxia, the poorest county in Gansu, an aspiring food processing company aims to raise money via the third stock board in Shenzhen – and later in Hong Kong – with a business focus on the Halal market.

Well, Linxia is the Mecca of China, with 40 percent of its residents being Muslims who mostly eat only beef and lamb.

Construction work is seen everywhere in Lanzhou, so are the cross-county rail lines that aim to revive the Silk Road magic as investors seek to ride the nation’s going-out strategy and poverty alleviation efforts.

With business activities picking up, the urbanization process of Gansu will gather steam.

But the road to prosperity is still far away. Taking of everyday life, I will never be able to forget a foul-smelling washroom in a historic but modernized hangout place in Linxia.

Perhaps things will improve only when locals are able to sell a Lanzhou bowl of noodle for 20 yuan.

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EJ Insight writer