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Rice noodle breakfast gives Hunan diners a taste of hope

China Daily | Updated: 2020-02-27 07:43
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Customers eat rice noodles at a recently reopened restaurant in Changsha, Hunan province, on Friday. Rice noodles in stewed bone soup is a typical local breakfast dish. LUO JUAN/XINHUA

CHANGSHA-After finishing his morning wash, Yang Fan, a local resident in Changsha, capital of central China's Hunan province, darted toward a rice noodle restaurant that's recently reopened, still in his spotted pajamas.

"It's never been so long between bowls of rice noodles in all my 30 years," he says.

Yang, who used to frequent the restaurant, had suppressed his appetite for his favorite snack since Jan 23, when the province launched its top-level response to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, suspending all catering businesses in Changsha.

It was the same day when Wuhan, the epicenter of the epidemic in neighboring Hubei province, locked down all public transport and outbound channels of the city.

For Changsha residents, a typical morning starts with a breakfast of rice noodles, often served in stewed bone soup, with toppings like diced, pickled string beans stir-fried with minced pork and chili. Yet they seldom cook on their own.

As a result over 6,000 rice noodle houses all around the city nurture a unique breakfast culture known as the "Hunan slurp", or the word suofen in the local dialect, which describes the action of eating rice noodles.

Yang missed the distinctive, well-rounded flavor, as well as the smooth, soft texture he yearned for.

However, for Yi Jun, the owner of the 1,500-square-meter restaurant, the monthly outgoings-100,000-yuan ($14,214) for rent and a 350,000-yuan salary bill for his employees-suddenly became a crippling burden.

In normal circumstances, the restaurant can accommodate 400 customers and sell 5,000 bowls of rice noodles a day, Yi says.

He had spent hours driving along empty streets every day since Spring Festival, just looking for any restaurants that were still open.

"If anyone reopened their restaurant, then I would have resumed work too, bringing some vitality to the city," Yi says.

Waiting patiently for the day that the epidemic would be contained, he did not have to wait too long.

As the number of new cases of infection dropped to nearly zero over several consecutive days, the local government provided timely suggestions and requirements for restaurants looking to resume dining-in services, including disinfection, expanding the space between seats and taking the body temperature of customers.

Yi reopened his restaurant on Feb 17, bowing to each customer at the entrance as two of his employees took their body temperatures and registered their names and phone numbers.

The restaurant layout was altered. Big tables were replaced by small ones, separated by at least two meters, reducing capacity of the venue to just 50 people at a time. The opening hours have also been limited to 14 hours a day from the usual round-the-clock operation.

Yang eagerly ordered a bowl of rice noodles with shredded pork and a fried egg-his favorite breakfast combo. The taste was comfortingly familiar.

"I feel refreshed slurping noodles once again after so many days staying at home," Yang says.

Over the first three days since resuming service, the restaurant sold around 5,000 bowls of rice noodles, the equivalent of a single day's business before the outbreak, but Yi remains grateful.

"As long as we open the doors, there is hope," he says. "Things will work out all right."




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