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The old stories of western-style cuisine in GZ

BY :Annie, Pauline

UPDATED :October 13, 2022


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The first group of people to encounter western-style cuisine in Guangzhou were the merchants in the Thirteen Hongs over a century ago, who interacted with foreigners every day. In order to promote business and get more deals, local merchants served western-style food at business banquets. However, few local people outside the Thirteen Hongs knew about western-style cuisine at that time.
Although some local people tried western-style food at business banquets, many of them were not accustomed to the food and didn't think highly of it. But things began to change as time went by. In the Qing Dynasty, the intellectuals were already familiar with western food. Ma Qiguang, one of the famous intellectuals at that time, praised the good taste of western food in his work "Essays in Lingnan". Even though western-style cuisine appeared only on tables of the upper class, more people began to accept and appreciate the food. 
Western-style cuisine and table setting became fashionable among the upper class in Canton, according to reports from Shishi Huabao in the early 19th century.
Xu Laogao opened the nation's first western-style restaurant in Guangzhou. He used to be a cook of Russell & Co. Limited, a then important American trading house, preparing food exclusively for foreign merchants. He learned cooking skills of western food in the firm's kitchen, and became a master of making beef steaks.
However, Xu lost his job in a quarrel with his boss. To make a living, he set up a stall on the street to sell steaks.
There were a great number of stalls selling a variety of food on streets in Canton during the late Qing Dynasty. But few of them could expand business. Xu's stall was a great success because it was the only beef steak stall in the city. Using Chinese seasonings, he created delicious sauce for the beef steaks, which appealed to local taste. Besides, his steak was selling at an affordable price.  
An export painting shows a food stall on a street in Canton.
Xu's stall was sought-after in the city. And many regular customers suggested him to open a restaurant. In 1860, Tai Ping Guan, China's first western-style restaurant, was opened to the public in Taipingsha area of Canton.
The food prices at Tai Ping Guan became pretty high: a roast pigeon cost one silver dollar; a Portuguese chicken cost five silver dollars; baked crab meat in shells cost 60 cents; and oxtail soup cost 40 cents. These four signature dishes cost seven silver dollars in total, while the monthly income of an ordinary family at that time was only a few dozen silver dollars.  
Diners enjoy meals in a restaurant.
After Tai Ping Guan's opening, more and more western-style restaurants emerged in Canton. Some of them were high-end restaurants, some of them were quite affordable for common people. The opening hours of western-style restaurants were pretty long compared with other restaurants, from 7 a.m. to midnight. And they all provided Christmas feast when the holiday arrived, attracting experienced foodies to come and map out a guide to the mouth-watering western-style food.
Source and photos: Guangzhou Daily《读懂广州·解密 |西餐两百年前落户老广州》
Author: Annie
Editor: Pauline