We are Susan and Quintus. Our Street Food & Urban Farming final project is in form of documentary. Our documentary explores the life of typical Muslim couple who moved to Shanghai and prepared to live here for years.
Our project is 28 mins long and consists of 8 parts: 1. Overview of Friday market(Muslim market), 2. Introduction to the couple Mr. Ma and Mrs. Ma, 3. Their preparation for Friday market on Thursday, 4. Their business in Friday market, 5. Their the other identity of being an owner of a halal supermarket, 6. Their religious life about going to the mosque on Saturday and delivery food product to restaurants, 7. Couple Ma’s monologue(ideas & thoughts) 8. Summary
We really did a kind of long-term project because we got in deep touch with the couple Ma and became good friends with each other. It’s our pleasure to have them in our life and know more about their religious life and expectations towards Islam religion’s development in Shanghai. They are really good people being nice and warm-hearted to everyone. We actually feel sorry to bother their life and appreciate them for their patience and kindness.
Below is our documentary on YouTube. Enjoy it. (Please do not use it for business reason :D)
China has a strong street food culture, and the same could be said for one of its most famous cities, Shanghai. But as Shanghai develops more and more, gaining more and more international recognition such as during the Shanghai Expo, the government grows stricter and stricter about policing street food vendors to maintain a certain appearance of the city. This led to the creation of a special department in the local government, the Chengguan (城管), which literally translates to “city management”. They are outside the police system, but claim that they are managing the street to help the regular city management. And ever since their establishment, they quickly became the biggest “enemy” of street vendors, since street vending without a permit and illegally taking up public space, which should be accessible for everyone, is against the law. Street food vendors, though, don’t like being driven away or having their things being confiscated, especially since selling street food is one of the few ways that migrant workers can earn a livelihood and survive in the city. This has led to violent conflicts among street food vendors and chengguan.
Another motivation for the government to control street vending is the health issue connected to it. Almost all street vendors sell streetfood without any certificate of sanitation, which may lead to food poisoning for their customers. Since stability is most important to the Chinese government, cases of food poisoning from these sellers that will causes problems is not something they want to encounter.
However, simply wiping out all the street vendors overnight would not be a solution. To a large extent, street food vendors do provide cheap food to nearby communities, making them some of the most accessible and affordable food sources for people. Whenever Chengguan confiscate the equipment of street vendors, the vendors still go pay a large fee to get the things back and return to selling street food like before. It is all because customers come all the time and there is always a market.
Besides, it is actually not the street vendors’ intention to sell food to evade taxation or about selling food where the government think they shouldn’t . It is due to the fact that they are not able to be legally registered into the system. This has to do with the Hukou system, since most of the street vendors in big cities are migrant workers from less developed provinces. It is really hard for them to get a Hukou, which is the identification system in China, and it’s the basic premise for a person to get a proper job, social security, housing, health care and other benefits, not to mention the eligibility to sell street food legally. But due to the extreme unequal social and economic development in different areas in China, there are thousands of migrant workers flooding in the big cities like Beijing and Shanghai each year. So what option do these migrants have when they’re so limited by their different Hukou? There is always street vending.
So, street vending isn’t a direct problem that can be regulated by the government easily , but a far more nuanced one that need some compromise between the government and the street vendors in order to somehow satisfy the vendors, government and the people at the same time. The most noted way that people have tried to achieve that is by ShuDaoDian (疏导点).
There is no specific definition of what ShuDaoDian (SDD) is online, and it is a highly debated topic among almost all the cities in China, especially those relatively developed cities. And the beginning of SDD also differs among cities, but they all more or less started 10 years ago, due to big events being held in China, such as the Olympic Games.
However, based on our initial research online, we came up with a rough definition of SDD:
ShuDaoDian is an organized space, usually near neighborhoods or by the street, that is specially allocated for street vendors whose stands were moveable, now to be settled in one place. There, they will not be driven away by Chengguan, as long as they are under the order of government. It is not limited to street vendors who sells food but extended to all of the illegal street vendors without any permits and certificate to do business. But all the SDD have the same two basic purposes, one of which is to be“convenient to people” (便民) and the other is “protect the environment”(环境保护), as you could see almost on every sign beside a SDD.
The sign on the sidewalk of one of SDDs in Shandong province. It says, “People-Convenient Service ShuDaoDian.” (Source: 东方圣城网)
Another sign of SDD in Shandong province with the word saying, “It’s everyone’s responsibility to protect the environment.” (Source: 李婕)
A SDD of a cluster of vendors who sells items instead of food in Guangdong province (Source: 文刀)
When we chose to specifically look into SDD in Shanghai, we found a policy that the Shanghai local government had made in 2014 to further regulate the proliferation of stands, which only lead to disorder ( 无序设摊综合治理).
However, when we looked at this article titled “We should never forget what the initial reason of starting SDD is” (Chinese: 管理便民疏导点应勿忘初衷), we found there are actually a lot of existing problems about SDD.
The problems of SDD
First, SDD, in some places, has already became a tool of getting illegal income for the organizations who get the permit from government to organize the SDD. In some places, vendors need to pay a large amount of money in order to get a spot in a SDD, and they also have to pay a monthly rent to the organizations as well. In some SDD, vendors have to pay 4000 or 5000 RMB per month, and in other places, the entrance fee is 10,000 RMB. We first thought this is simply government corruption, but it turned out that some organizations will charge vendors that make profit out of SDD. However, there is the also possibility of a hidden interest of businessmen and the government (edelweiss1970). Otherwise, how could the organizations get the permit to regulate/organize the SDD, which should be only under the charge of government? Why can the government sell this power of supervision and regulation to others? Is there a deal about power existing?
Under such heavy fees, it is very hard for vendors to earn money. Some vendors complain that they could barely reach a balance between the expense and the profit after paying a 1500 RMB rent fee and a 100 RMB cleaning fee. This challenge is another part of SDD, which is giving vendors a proper and legal job to survive in the city (徐一豪).
Also, after conducting more research online, it turns out that SDD actually blocks the way and causes a mess, which is the very opposite to what it was meant to be. The literal meaning of ShuDaoDian is “dredging and guiding spot”, which means dredging the street to make it clean and guiding the people to the right place to do business. According to the report of NanDao WanBao (南岛晚报), a newspaper, one of the SDD in Haikou province disturbs the nearby residents with a crowded street and the nasty smell of the trash. And all of it is due to improper regulation, which is mainly because no one is actually in charge of SDD. In this case, it does not only disturb the residents but also make the city appearanceworse than before (徐一豪).
With all these problems we found about SDD, we started to think about how it’s like in Shanghai. Is it really like what we have heard? We decided to search for news reports or videos of SDD in Shanghai, and we found what is considered as one of the most famous SDD in Shanghai, the SDD in the Changning district, although it sells things instead of food.
This video clip shows that everything is strictly regulated, and it is clean and organized at the same time. Vendors find it is better than the situation they had before, where they are under the threat of Chengguan. Customers are also satisfied with it because of the formality of the SDD and its convenience.
From the video(You can click on the link to check out the whole Chinese version), it seems like Shanghai, as a big city, does not suffer from all the problems of SDD in other cities have in common do not exist here. But we questioned the reliability of the TV interview, especially since our main concern is SDD that sells food, since there are food cleanliness and environment sanitation problems involved. In order to gain a better grasp of the actual situation of SDD in Shanghai, we decided to conduct a series of interviews on different people about SDD. And thus, we come up with our core interview question that we will try to find out the answer of in the end:
Is it really a solution to Shanghai street vending problems?
There are two Jiedao we are specifically looking into. One is Weifang Jiedao near our school. The other is Jinyang Jiedao, near our dorm; the Jiedao is a government institution in charge of the cluster of streets around that area. We wanted to map all SDD in the two Jiedao so we went to talk to the officials in both Jiedao. They were not willing to tell us all of them, but they still told us about 9 SDD and where they are located. So we went there and mapped those SDD.
Here is the link of the map on Fulcrum, please check it out here if you are interested in seeing more.
As for when SDD first started, according to our interview with the vendors in the Weifang district and also through research, it roughly started 10 years ago, but no one really pay attention to when it exactly started since it was a gradual process and the starting time varies from place to place as well. There has always been strict supervision on SDD whenever there is a big event that is going to happen in Shanghai, though.
As mentioned in the mapping video, we chose two SDD to do deeper research on, one from Jinyang and one from Weifang.
The first one: Weifang Road Songlin Road, in Yuanzhu Community
What it looks like when all the vendors are working in this SDD (PC:Lingyi)
After 9:30am when all the vendors are supposed to leave according to the policy of SDD at that specific place (PC:Lingyi)
The second one: a spot on Jinyang Road, near Yunshan Road
Inside the wall across the street is where our second SDD locates, it is a 24h SDD, which means there will different groups of vendors selling different type of food here in the morning, at noon and at night respectively. (PC:Lingyi)
The sign on the wall saying this is a SDD and the one next to the blue one is the propaganda of government for making a more hormanized city. (PC:Lingyi)
This is how it looks like inside the wall after the breakfast vendors are gone and with a new group of vendors who are selling food at noon setting up. (PC:Lingyi)
For this two SDD, we first interview the vendors and then the government department who is in charge of SDD in both areas, in the end, we care about what residents living nearby think about those two SDD.
We conducted the interview with three basic questions:
1. Who is in charge of SDD? What are they in charge of? (food security, sanitation, time. etc.)
2. Who can sell food here? (Who is eligible to sell food here?)
3. What do people (vendors and residents) think about SDD? (Do they feel better with SDD?)
We also had some conversations with people that we didn’t film, because we had meant to inquire only, but the conversations turned out to have some information.
First, the Jinyang Jiedao. We went there at night and talked to different vendors, who were not very open to talking.
Ziqi: Can I ask you some questions about ShuDaoDian?
Vender A: What ShuDaoDian? I’m not quite familiar with this (laugh)
Ziqi: Why? Isn’t this a ShuDaoDian?
Vendor A: Of course not, ShuDaoDian is usually in Puxi.
Ziqi: Okay. But do CHENGGUAN come and charge you guys for selling here?
Vendor A: No, we do not pay them, and they do not regulate this place.
Ziqi: Is this a SHUDAODIAN?
Vender B: Go out, and you can see the sign.
Ziqi: Do the Chengguan regularly come and check on you?
Vendor B: No.
Ziqi: Can I ask you some questions?
Vendor C: You can ask the others, why me?
Ziqi: Don’t worry, it’s just some easy questions. My classmates once came and asked you some questions, do you remember?
Vendor C: I don’t know what are you talking about.
Ziqi: Do the Chengguan come and regulate this place?
Vendor C: No, they don’t.
Ziqi: Where do you get, or rent this from?
Vendor C: I’m just a worker, I don’t know any details.
Secondly, we had talked to another vendor in the Yuanzhu community, who was much more forthcoming and answered our questions more readily.
Vendor: You guys are filming here? It’s not very clean here, not like other ShuDaoDian.
Ziqi: Yeah, but your place is actually very clean. So, when does the Chengguan usually come?
Vendor: Around 9:30. Sometimes they’re rude and speak loudly
Ziqi: Really? Do they have the right to regulate this place, though?
Vendor: No, because this is the ShuDaoDian until 9:30. But most of the time they just come by and see if there are other vendors who are not supposed to sell food here.
Ziqi: Really, so who gave you this spot to sell food?
Vendor: JieDao, of course
Ziqi: Do you pay them?
Vendor: No. We have guan xi 关系 with the JieDao because we live in this community, and so we can sell here.
Second, the residents who live around both SDD. Considering the fact that most people are quite not comfortable with having a camera in front of them talking, we used audio recorder instead. And here is the English version of some parts of the interview after we arrange the conversation afterwards.
Lingyi: Do you often buy food/breakfast here in this SDD in your neighborhood?
1, “No, I don’t trust the food here. I often cook by myself.”
2,”I sometimes buy snacks from here, it is okay to have this SDD. “”
3,”Yes, I came here to buy breakfast.”
Lingyi: Do you find it more convenient to you to have this SDD?
1, “It might be easier and more convenient for those ones who don’t have time to cook on their own. I see a lot of people buying food here everyday.”
2, “Yes, I buy breakfast from here every single day, although I don’t live really near the place. But this is the nearest place that I can buy breakfast.”
3, “It is not easy to answer, since I personally don’t buy food here. I will always walk a little bit further to the food store to buy breakfast instead of buying anything from the stand here.”
Lingyi: Do you feel like the environment here get better after having this SDD?
1, “Yes I do, it is cleaner than before. They just randomly set up their stand everywhere on the street, it was totally a mess.”
2, “It is sort of cleaner, but it still smells a little bit and the trash is left behind from time to time. Whenever it rains at night, this street will be nasty and unable for us to walk here anymore.”
3, “I feel like it still block the way some sort and it is not easy for us to get out if we are riding a bike or in a hurry.”
So, after all the research and interview we conducted, we returned to the question: is SDD a solution to the streetfood problem in Shanghai or not?
Answering the three smaller questions we used in the interview, for question one, which is trying to discern whether SDD is properly regulated instead of being a method of corruption, it’s a no. There is no entry fee or monthly rent being charged, and cleaning fee in the first SDD is also not being collected later on, so that’s not an opportunity for the government to be corrupt. And as long as the vendors are selling food in the place and the time that is assigned to them by them Jiedao, Chengguan will not interfere. Jiedao seems to be the institution who is in charge of SDD, but actually, once all the places are assigned to the vendors, they will not be in charge of SDD anymore. Except for cleaning the street everyday, there is no one regularly monitoring the SDD. Especially after the Expo in Shanghai passed, no one pays much attention to the SDD, and it is just a part of daily life. People have gotten used to it. So overall SDD is under very loose control from the government.
For the second question, we wanted to know whether there is any limitation to vendors getting a permit for a space in a SDD, and whether it can solve the problem of migrant workers who do not have a Shanghai Hukou. And according to what Jiedao and the vendors explained to us, SDD is set up for people with a low income living around the neighborhood (低保). It does not matter whether the vendor does or does not a Shanghai Hukou. The only limitation is they have to live near the neighborhood, even if they have to borrow money from their friends or relatives to buy a house nearby or rent a house nearby. So it actually rules out a lot of vendors who are not capable of doing so anyway since the housing price is so expensive. Those vendors who we interviewed are the ones who have already lived in this city for a couple of years and have a relatively better economic foundation than those who are new immigrants to this city.
Lastly, there’s the question of how convenient SDD is for both vendors and customers, and how good is it for maintaining the environment. It is a morestable job for vendors and it is a more convenient place for residents to buy food. In the interviewing of vendors and residents in both SDD, we found out almost all the vendors are grateful for what the government has given to them and are happy about not having to be afraid of the Chengguan; it’s a safer and more stable way to earn a living, even if that means they earn less than they did before. For residents, they enjoy how it’s much more convenient for them to buy food, especially those with white collar jobs who do not have the time to cook for themselves or sit down for a proper meal. However, while the street is definitely cleaner and far more orderly, people also think the SDD somehow blocked the way, and the infrastructure is not good enough in order to maintain the street. If there is an emergency, such as heavy rain, then SDD will block the street and cause flooding. And another problem, though, is that street vending is still considered unclean. Those in the SDD, while having the certification to sell in it, are not being regulated to maintain cleanliness, and the people we interviewed mentioned their health concerns, saying they preferred to cook their own food. Therefore, it is not necessarily more convenient for all the residents of the area.
But all in all, although there are some problems with SDD in Shanghai, it’s not like what the research online has said. It has proven to be an agreeable situation for all parties involved, a far better alternative than the constant conflict between the government and the street vendors, who, despite being constantly defined as “other,” are one of the most vital parts of Shanghai.
东方圣城网. “济宁高新区积极开展城市清洁工程.” Sin Lang Le Ju. 15 Sep. 2014. Web. 12 May 2016.
李婕. “山东济宁城区设置20处便民摊点 疏导流动商贩.” Xinhua News: Shandong. 03 Mar. 2013. Web. 12 May 2016.
文刀. “大亚湾全区拟设10个疏导点安置流动商户(图).” Jin Ri Hui Zhou Wang. 29 Jul. 2011. Web. 12 May 2016.
上海市人民政府. “上海市人民政府办公厅转发市绿化市容局等七部门关于本市进一步加强城市无序设摊综合治理工作实施意见的通知.” Chinese Government Public Information Online. 6 Aug. 2014. Web. 12 May 2016.
方桂琴. “管理便民疏导点应勿忘初衷(图).” Wang Yi News. 20 Mar. 2015. Web. 12 May 2016.
edelweiss1970. “海口便民疏导点，一场官商勾结的寻租游戏.” Tian Ya Community. 28 Feb. 2013. Web. 12 May 2016.
许鲁南. “疏堵结合 自治管理 上海长宁疏导点堪比市场.” Zhu Hai Wang. 24 Nov. 2014. Web. 12 May 2016.
徐一豪. “变味的疏导点如何回归’便民’?” Nandao Wanbao. 10 Mar. 2014. Web. 12 May 2016.
The interview is about urban development through a vendor’s eye. The interviewee, Mr.Hu, is from Huaian, Jiangsu province. He and his wife sells breakfast in the Yuanzhu Community between 5:30 am-9:00 am. The food they are selling are Huangqiao pancake(黄桥烧饼) and fried dough (油条). They are friendly and their food is popular. Living in Shanghai for more than twenty years, Mr. Hu witnessed many changes in the community, in Pudong, and even in humanity. The regulations of Chenguan(城管) has also changed – the streets food markets in Yuanzhu Community has become a ShuDaoDian(疏导点).
This interview aims to explore Muslim people’s life in Shanghai, a non-religious city. We focused on an area of Muslim market which is held every Friday in front of the Pudong mosque. We interviewed three vendors at the Friday Muslim market, and mainly concentrated on the first woman we interviewed who came to Shanghai from Turpan in 2010 with her whole family. During the process of interview, we witnessed her busy business–she even didn’t have much time to talk to us because she had to sell food to flow of customers. We generally talked about her life after coming to Shanghai and her own opinion about Shanghai and Muslim people’s life in Shanghai.
The is is an interview about the relationship among street food vendors who collaborate with each other basing on shared resources, product diversity and self regulation. The owners of the two stands share one place, one in the morning selling Huangqiao Pancake and the other selling pepper-salt fried sliced pork as well as chicken, crawfish and crab in the afternoon. This stand is in Hongkou District, near a wet market.
As a group we claimed the JinQiao area from the very beginning as we eat street food every night and having the area that encompassed the vendors we interacted with on a daily basis would allow us to gain insightful and accurate information. When the time for the interview came we more or less knew who we wanted to interview, and just had to choose the vendor who had the best story to tell and would be the most willing to help us through the project. Our first choice in vendors was a group of three brothers from Inner Mongolia. However not everything in life works out the way we want, and the person we were planning to interview, the one brother who did speak Mandarin was not there the day we planned on doing the interview, so we went with our second choice – a 高 family selling skewers. (In case you are not very familiar with Chinese street food, you’ll find the following section useful) Everything happens for a reason, and the second choice turned out far better than we ever could have imagined.
Through the process we discovered that there was quite a deep backstory to this family and decided to dig deeper, tracing the story of their business: why they came to Shanghai, specifically Pudong, and when, as well as why they decided to sell chuar, how profitable it is and what their future plans are in the food industry.
Chinese Street Food Skewers/ Chuan/Chuanr (Chinese: 串儿 chuàn ér／ 烧烤 shāokǎo)
Simple snack with many variations, originated as Yangrou chuan/羊肉串 (Lamb Skewer). 串儿 are bite-size bits of meat/vegetables/tofu/fish/anything you can imagine skewered on bamboo/wooden stick, covered in a mixture of grounded spices, such as cumin, chili, salt and grilled over coals. It originated in Xinjiang Province in the northwest of China (a province neighboring Gansu Province, where our vendors are from), and recently spread throughout China as a popular street food. It reflects traditions and preferences of Central Asia and Uighur people. 串儿 is in pretty much any “must try in china” lists, check this one out and find out what else you should try in Shanghai.
Also, if you don’t have a chance to go and get an authentic 串儿, you can make one at home. Here is a recipe for delicious spicy lamb skewers!
The street food 串儿 business we are looking at is operated by a whole family. It consists of a married couple (grandparents) and their two sons. Older son has a wife and small child.
Gansu Province on a map of China
This family began their migration to Shanghai in 2001, 14 years ago. Their friends who had successfully made the transition into street food vendors in the city told the family that it was possible to make a living there. Leaving their home province of Gansu behind in hopes of creating a better life for themselves and their family, the Grandparents, as we will refer to them, left their 2 children behind with the great grandparents (their parents) while they created a foothold in Shanghai. They sold everything that was not completely essential to them and created a small fund with which they would start their new lives. With this money they purchased their first cart, a 1,200 RMB combined chuar grill, bicycle and food display table.
Cart with bicycle, grill, and display table that they have now.
They settled in the Jinqiao area, where we met them, about 4 years ago but have been selling chuar in Pudong since they have been in Shanghai.
location on the map: intersection of Zaozhuang Road and Jinyang Road
They knew they wanted to be in Pudong because they could see that this is where the growth in the city was coming from and the market for street food was not as saturated as it was in Puxi. What is more, they told us that one of the other reasons why they chose Pudong is because it has a lot of residential communities, so it wasn’t that difficult for them to find the customers, as long as they put their cart in front of an apartment complex. As the city grew they moved out of the city center to where the residential areas popped up. They sent money home when they could and visited their children during the holidays. After being in the city for about a year they brought their kids into the city to live with them. They were very ambiguous from this time period up until their move to the current location at Jinqiao. During this time period we do know that the eldest son did marry and had a boy who is now 5 years old.
A room they were previously renting
The place that they are renting. Freezers, refrigerators, kitchen behind them, and the small room on the right behind the table that they were initially renting
After 2 years of working at their current location they had saved up enough money (combined with previous savings) to buy the empty space directly adjacent to where they had been selling chuar.
家常菜 东北情 Their newly open two-story restaurant of Northeastern cuisine
They had originally been renting a very small room to store excess food in a freezer as well as long lasting ingredients such as garlic and decided it was time to branch out from the food cart and open up a restaurant.
They continue to rent the freezer space as well as a two story restaurant space and a kitchen. Since the purchase of the restaurant, the youngest son has been working part time, he spends the rest of his time self studying Mandarin and he is now able to fluently read and write, although he continues his studies everyday. He is the only member of his family that is able to read write and speak fluently.
Younger son at his part time work grilling skewers
Restaurant Chef/eldest son at work in the kitchen
Each member of the family has their jobs to do. The grandmother has arguably the most important job of the entire family, she is tasked with waking up at the crack of dawn and heading off to the market to get there by five so that she is able to get the best ingredients each and every morning. Her tireless work is apparent when you look at the food that this family is selling. Where many chuar stands sell limp and average sized vegetables or tendon filled meat, this stand is completely different. By being the first at the market every morning the grandmother is able to pick out the choice ingredients, and because of their industrial refrigerator and freezer and the restaurant they have, the turnover rate for ingredients is extremely high, much higher than that of most chuar stands causing their ingredients to always be fresh.
The grandfather oversees the restaurant during the day and at night assists his youngest son in cooking the chuar. On occasion, when his grandson is at the restaurant you will see him playing with the child or teaching him. The wife of the eldest son runs the restaurant and oversees the ayis that also work at the restaurant.
Elder brother’s wife
The eldest son works in the kitchen, which is detached from the restaurant and situated directly behind the chuar stand.
Grandfather “the money man”. His wife didn’t want her picture taken.
Younger brother “Chuar guy” His real name is 高凯强
While eating at the stand you see a constant stream of plates and bowls going back and forth between the two buildings which are about 15 meters apart. The younger brother runs the chuar stand along with his father (we refer to as grandfather). The grandfather collects the money from the guests and delivers the chuar to guests at the pop up tables they arrange outside of the restaurant. If it is raining exceptionally cold outside they don’t set up the tables and all customers are invited to sit in the restaurant. The grandson acts as the entertainment source for all customers at the restaurant and chuar stand running around and jumping off ledges and tables. The child was shy when we first met this family and would run away to his mother when we attempted to talk to him, but over the months he has come to enjoy seeing us and will run over to us, as he is often surprised with an ice cream cone.
The interior of the restaurant
A’yi taking an order
Freshly made chuar
The market itself is worth mentioning. We asked our family of vendors to show us where they get their ingredients and we had the youngest son take us to the market where his mother buys the ingredients daily.
He showed us how first they walk around between all the vegetable vendors and pick out the biggest and best produce from each vendor to ensure that they are getting the best that is offered each day. This is done every day; however, other ingredients, such as meat and fish, are bought on a slightly less common basis ranging from weekly to bi-monthly.
Inside the market
The rent for the kitchen restaurant and freezer space is 15,000 RMB per month and after paying this as well as the wages of the workers and the cost of food, they are able to make roughly 2,500-3,000 RMB per day profit from the restaurant. They are currently saving money and looking for additional space where they can open another restaurant in Shanghai. Money is still being sent back home to the great grandparents who still reside in the hometown. The youngest son hopes to save up money of his own and open up a “Big BBQ joint” back in his hometown where he will be able to work and raise his kids in the near future. He has currently saved up about 10,000 kuai for this.
Find a location – Location is ESSENTIAL to starting your own street food cart. ESPECIALLY if you want to avoid trouble. First off, make sure you’re not selling on another vendor’s turf, and that you position your cart on fair, unclaimed property (unless you ask them, of course). But that doesn’t mean you’re free to willy-nilly sell about; if you cause too much of an inconvenience, the chengguan are happy to escort you off the streets! Indeed, chengguan, civil police units in charge of tidying up the streets, have been known to cause street vendors trouble, as street vending is technically illegal. But as long as there is demand, there is supply. Also, make sure your street cart is easily accessible by customers! Which brings me to my next point…
Know your market – Who are you selling to? Are you setting up shop in an urban part of town, where you know people will stroll along or stumble across in the middle of a pub crawl? Or is it a quiet part of the city with not much activity during sundown? Make sure you figure this out before you begin your culinary enterprise. Offer drinks alongside your food? (with a ridiculously high markup, of course).
Buy your resources with initial capital – Ah, yes, you need to spend money to make money. That is indeed the case here. But in reality, initial startup costs for a street food cart aren’t necessarily quite high. A decent cart, as we asked around, costs about 1200 kuai, a small refrigerator/freezer costs about 2000 kuai, and buying the food and sticks in order to sell them… Prepare to spend about 4000 kuai (should you want a fridge) before you will see any revenue. And who knows how long it will take until you figure out how to properly allocate your capital…
Learn to grill skewers – I guess this could fit at any step in the timeline. Also kind of a given. Unless you’re lazy, and are okay with nonchalantly giving your customers generous doses of food poisoning.
Keep an inventory of your stock and prices – Here is where it may be a good idea to buy that 2000 kuai fridge; with it you can store some of the leftover stock/food from the night before, and if stored properly, you can reuse it the next night! This way, not everything you don’t sell is a waste, resulting in a loss of money. Also, a big thing is to adjust your prices accordingly. If your lamb skewer is 5 kuai and that is too expensive, perhaps lowering the price will increase sales of that certain skewer. Instead of letting it sit and rot for the flies to eat. That do not give you money. And if your chicken skewer at 1 kuai is always selling out, perhaps consider raising the price, so that you make more of a profit off of it. The key: ADJUST ACCORDINGLY.
Make money selling chuar! – $ Cha-Ching! $ Use that money and improve your business! Who knows, maybe you’ll follow in the footsteps of the family we interviewed, and start a restaurant, with a daily revenue of around 4000 kuai! They started from the bottom, and now the whole team here!
While the overall profit of 34,200 per month may seem like a large sum of money, one must remember that until recently this was used to support a family of 6 plus their family back home, and the money is earned in a difficult manner This sum must cover rent and food for the family, sent back home to cover the living expenses of the great grandparents, and finally saved so that one day they would be able to buy a restaurant. The vendor is standing outside for the entire night cooking food inhaling smoke, then spending the next day gathering new ingredients and creating the chuar. This is a full time job that is tedious work and drains individuals.
After analyzing all of the costs that are associated with running a chuar stand, it is interesting that so little is spent on bread and vegetables. Everyone knows that meat is far more expensive than either of these two products but the vendors also sell exponentially more bread and vegetables than they do meat, yet they spend 300% more on meat per month. The skewers are also slightly more expensive than we had imagined going in. We initially estimated the skewers at roughly 1 fen each (.1 mao = .01 kuai), however we later learned they they actually cost about 4 fen each, leading to a total cost of about 6% of their total expenses. The storage costs for this family are slightly higher than that of other street food vendors in that they rent physical space to store their industrial freezers and fridges right next to where they set up their cart. After interviewing other vendors we learned that they almost exclusively use freezers in their home and bring frozen chuar in boxes to the location, having to anticipate exactly how much they will sell that night. This leads to lower costs, but also causes many vendors to sell out of food. This family does not have any issues with this as they have ease of access to their storage facility. The family said that the cost of the storage space did not initially pay for itself financially until the purchase of the restaurant, but it did ease their lives and they said that this was worth it for them. Aside from the initial cost of about 2,000 RMB (average of many street food vendors) for a freezer, most vendors do not have the same storage costs that are associated with this family, leading to higher margins and profit, but is something that makes this family unique, and unbeknownst to them may have partially led to their success. Their use of only the freshest ingredients and always having what customers wanted, never running out may have brought customers back time and time again. This paired with their kindness and willingness to engage in conversation brought us back to them.
As represented here in this price/earnings comparison graph, where the blue line resembles the maximum profit line (a selling price of 5 giving a profit of 5) shows the profitability of each select skewer. The proximity to the blue line of each dot represents how profitable it is: the closer it is to the line, the more profitable. It turns out, from the graph, that the veggies, while generally cheaper in price to buy and to sell, generate a higher profit, as the chuar workers are able to charge a high markup for the amount of food they can stick on a skewer. For example, if a huge bundle of green beans sold for 6 kuai, they could make probably around 30 skewers from that, and in turn, about 30 kuai (price of 1 green bean skewer is 1 kuai, as are almost all veggies). Green beans were in fact the most profitable veggie (aside from the bread bun skewer). Veggies are incredibly cheap to buy, giving these chuar vendors their main source of income. But do they make more from the veggies or the meats?
As for the meats, it appears that the meats tend to be more regulated in price, and the chuar vendors charge less of a markup for each skewer and in turn receive less profit from each one. The outlier of this graph, at a price of 15 and profit of 8.6 kuai, is the fish skewer, which literally is a whole grilled fish that you can eat for 15 kuai. They generate a lot of money per skewer from it, but the fish is also quite expensive, and so they do not make as much of a profit from it as the most profitable meat, the lamb (the dot located at a price of 3 and profit of 2.13 kuai). Through comparison, it appears that the chuar vendors get a high markup profit from the veggies, and less so from the meats, but combined with the expense charts from before, it is discovered that the bulk of their income actually comes from the sale of their meats. Because the vendors buy so much meat itself, it makes sense that this occurs.
The street food cart was very successful for this family, and by saving the money they made from it, they were able to open up an even more profitable restaurant. This restaurant combined with the chuar cart have created a very successful family business which continues to grow. The family now lives very comfortably and continues to grow their business. The family has told us that they are currently looking for more areas to open new restaurants. This is a great example of how small scale entrepreneurship was able to lift a family from poverty.
The concept of growing a garden within the four walls of your abode are romantic, to be sure. To feed yourself and the people around you with produce you raised yourself. No risk of rogue pesticides or bacteria outbreaks. The dream sounds especially good to those who have lived an entirely urban life, to see your food grow and know exactly where it came from. However, if this is the future of urban life and sustainability, I believe first and foremost the city folk need to be trained.
I, by no means, am farm-raised but I did grow up in an agricultural community and both sides of my family have only recently stopped farming so I didn’t feel uncomfortable getting intimate with the process of planting and caring for plants. Besides that I have a personal interest in sprouting plants/an affinity for the cuteness of a fresh sprout. Although it might seem like this would make me a suitable leader for the class, my personality is not necessarily suited to the task of guiding greenhorn students.
A whole lot of people with good intentions isn’t necessarily the best solution either. If the future needs our generation to stick our hands in the dirt, there’s got to be a system that keeps us from playing in the mud too. Common sense can only take you so far in deciding when to water your plants but it can’t replace the knowledge that a sprout should remain short for a while so that it doesn’t waste energy stretching.
What I mean to say by all this is that urban farming takes a level of pre-emptive planning that city dwellers aren’t necessarily used to. You can’t grow a yam in a couple inches of soil. I think if this is a valid plan for our future, we need to be tempered for the long-term thought that goes into growing food. Perhaps beginning with the children of today who would need these skills in the future.