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A Chinese grandpa meets fried chicken

world Updated: Jun 19, 2009 01:33 IST
Reshma Patil

Sheng Deli, 69, lives a short walk away from a landmark outlet of China’s most popular foreign fast-food chain.

Neither he nor his wife ever set foot inside it.

The fit, wiry man grew up bicycling in a Beijing without buses or cars (today it’s the capital of the world’s largest car market).

By age 21, he was a Communist Party member. He worked 17-hour days, saved every cent, sipped coffee only once and hated it.

Sheng’s generation thinks western fast-food is a suspicious snack and not a meal.

But one stormy Beijing morning this week, the wiry grandfather and his umbrella accompanied this correspondent inside the KFC.

“No, no, I don’t like KFC,’’ he had told his English-speaking, US university-dreaming granddaughter, Jingjing, 22, who urged him to try it.

Despite the distaste of senior citizens, the Chinese recession has almost spared the fried chicken — a mascot of the great wall between young and old China.

The market potential of young Chinese consumers is so vast that Kentucky Fried Chicken or KFC is opening a new mainland outlet almost every day this year — reportedly more than the China outlets opened during any year since KFC entered roast duck country in 1987.

From June 15, KFC continued its localising strategy by serving Chinese shaobing or traditional sesame seed cakes for breakfast, after a marketing spree that left bloggers guessing the size, shape and taste of the shaobing that would cost almost five times the street price.

(Beijing’s Indian restaurateurs are also localising. Try Sichuan masala dosa).

The day Sheng entered KFC, he woke up at 5 am for a traditional breakfast of egg, pancake and soya milk.

At KFC, the shaobing was unavailable, but we offered him a fried chicken wrap served roast duck style in a roll stuffed with vegetables and Chinese sauce.

“No! No!’’ said Sheng, aghast, clutching his stomach in mock horror. He gave up on the soup after some spoonfuls, but savoured the blueberry tart.

His granddaughter explained that Chinese grandparents rue the fast-food culture for reasons besides the food.

The Chinese traditionally dined on an array of dishes at a big family table. To him, our table for four with the untouched chicken was unnaturally small.

“I don’t like,’’ Sheng told his wife as soon as he returned.