AN increasing number of people can now afford to eat outside, thanks to the economic reforms and smashing of the so-called 'iron rice bowl''. With hard work now turning into fatter bonuses, people have extra money in their pockets and, having already bought all their needs in the way of color TV, refrigerators and electric household appliances, many are turning to eating in cafes and restaurants. And they are doing so not for the ordinary reason of three meals a day in order to survive. Nowadays, people have higher demands and more sophisticated cultural taste, and are eating out in places that cook good food nicely served in pleasant surroundings. Many restaurants realize this and have undergone redecoration, and this is why business is prospering in the popular garden-like architectural complex of the Panxi Restaurant in Guangzhou.
The Panxi Restaurant, established in 1947, is surrounded by five small streams, including one called Panxi. The restaurant, built with bamboo and pine bark, is simple in appearance with surrounding countryside sights. The restaurant underwent reconstruction in 1959. Two years later, Panxi Garden, a blend of water village scenery and classic Chinese gardens, and Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) decorative art, was completed. In the courtyard are old banyan trees, weeping willows, chirping birds, fragrant flowers, colored screen doors, painted ridgepoles, carved beams, two ponds, four gardens, five bridges and six corridors. After further expansion in the 1970s and 1980s, the Panxi Restaurant now covers an area of over 12,000 square meters consisting of more than 40 halls that can accommodate 3,000 diners, with more than 1,000 staff working in shifts from 6 am to midnight.
Upon entering the restaurant, visitors are greeted by winding corridors and many doors, and several scenes which show the special styles and wisdom of the Chinese nationality. For instance, the large man-made rockery was created by famous expert of the Bu family in Guangdong Province according to the description from the famous Visiting Red Cliff written by Su Shi (1037-1101), a man of letters in the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). The rocks are piled up in marvelous arrangements, complemented by a winding bridge with water flowing under the rocks.
On the rockery is the Guest Welcoming Tower where unique upturned eaves and colored patterned windows decorate the four walls. Some etched window patterns show various ancient dagger-axes, arrowheads, cutters, chisels, two-piece jades, ear pendants, waist ornaments, jade, tutens and rulers, as well as explanatory inscriptions in seal character, official script, cursive hand and regular script over the past dynasties which archaeologists believed proved the evolution of coins of past dynasties. In the hall are numerous purple sandal wood furniture, the four treasures of study (the writing brush, ink stick, ink slab and paper) calligraphy and paintings by famous personages, condensing the cream of China's history, culture and nationality arts and crafts.
The unique architectural style and garden art of Panxi Restaurant wins endless praise from diners every day. Russian visitors call it a 'complete architectural art symphony''.
The restaurant offers authentic Cantonese dishes (one of the four main famous culinary types in China) and delicacies. Former US Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger who made contributions to the establishment of Sino-US foreign relations was an old customer. As early as the beginning of the 1970s, while en route to Beijing, he was entertained at the airport with dishes and delicacies prepared by the Panxi Restaurant which impressed him. When Panxi chefs made a demonstration tour of the United States in 1980, Kissinger booked the whole Dahongyun (Good Luck) Restaurant in New York and highly praised the Chinese assorted hors d'oeuvres, mixed delicacies in whole wax gourd and other famous dishes.
In the autumn of 1987, when he visited Guangzhou as a scholar, he politely avoided attending the evening banquet arranged by the host and proposed to take his meals at the Panxi Restaurant again. The hors d'oeuvres which Kissinger repeatedly tasted are actually made with roast meat, chicken meat, quail eggs, prawns, pot-stewed pig tripe, beef rolls, three-color eggs, preserved eggs and sliced bamboo shoots carved and arranged into various patterns. Owing to fine cutting, they look lively and colorful.
In a similar way, the rabbit-shaped dumplings made by bread chef Luo Kun have become famous. Luo Kun makes shrimp dumplings shaped like a rabbit according to traditional famous Cantonese shrimp dumpling theory, using ham for the eyes, and green corriander or tender yellow egg strips to form little white rabbits bouncing on the grass. Once, when the wife of a foreign head attended a dinner at the Panxi Restaurant after winding up her visit to China, she appreciated the 'little bunnies'' but didn't have the heart to touch them with chopsticks and asked Chef Luo if she could take them home. Luo happily promised to make rabbit-shaped dumplings and another four delicacies for her.
Over the recent years, when giving demonstrations, these delicious foods have accompanied the Panxi Restaurant Chef Delegation to the United States, Singapore and Japan and were well reported by the local press, journals, radio and TV stations. They won such praise as 'Panxi precious flavor famous in the world'', 'Guangzhou food is the best in the world'' and 'Panxi delicacies are the best''.