Shaxian eateries earn county's cooks nationwide fame
When people want to grab some food but can't be bothered going to a fancy restaurant they can always find a Shaxian eatery in a corner of their city.
By last year, about 60,000 residents had left their homes in Shaxian county, Fujian province, to seek their fortunes by running eateries. China has about 88,000 Shaxian eateries, some owned by nonlocals attracted by the fame of the cuisine, the county government said.
The most famous Shaxian dishes are steamed dumplings, soups, dried noodles with special sauce and wontons.
Mao Feilong, a 44-year-old Shaxian local, joined the exodus of cooks 23 years ago. He said that besides its affordability and good flavor, the secret of Shaxian food's popularity lies in the ability of people from the county to endure hardships.
"Shaxian people will work like crazy if they spot a profitable business opportunity," Mao said.
He closed his restaurant in Huzhou, Zhejiang province, in August so he could accompany his mother during her hospital treatment for a debilitating disease caused by a lack of hormones, and is now learning more Shaxian cooking skills at a free training school set up by the county government.
Mao previously ran a succession of Shaxian eateries in cities across China, including Fuzhou, Fujian's provincial capital, Jincheng in Shanxi province, Erdos in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region and Jiaxing and Huzhou in Zhejiang.
His customers were mainly workers from nearby construction sites, including forklift drivers, and businessmen from Fujian. Last year he earned about 20,000 yuan ($3,034) a month.
"I felt guilty about my family," Mao said. "Over the past 20 years, I returned home once a year and stayed for just a week. I didn't stay with or comfort my wife during her pregnancy or see my father before he died 10 years ago.
"But what reassures me is that I've used the money earned from the eateries to pay for my mother's medical treatment, buy an apartment in my hometown and support my daughter."
He plans to improve his cooking skills while helping to look after his mother and in due course open an eatery in his hometown.
The Shaxian food industry has promoted employment in the county, where enterprises dispatch ingredients around the country. Last year, the per capita disposable income of the county's rural residents was 20,000 yuan ($3,047), up from 2,800 yuan in 1997, the local government said.