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Fast Food? IN A PIG'S EAR!

FORGET about Big Macs and chicken that's finger-lickin' good... for the new face of fast food in China has turned eating on its head.

There's no fried rice or chicken chow mein on the menu at the nation's hottest restaurant chain.

But vegetarians beware, for dish of the day is a full pig's head on a plate - snout, ears and all.

The brains behind the Baked Pig Face restaurant is retired government official Shen Qing, the Colonel Sanders of China, who patented the porky platter and set up a string of six franchises.

Unlike the Yanks, Mr Shen doesn't jealously guard his secret recipe. Instead, he's turned it into a marketing ploy and regularly gives cooking tips in newspapers and on TV.

Typically, only the well-off trendy young things of Beijing and Shanghai can afford to get their chopsticks out and tuck into the porcine cuisine at Mr Shen's.

The speciality dish, a whole head of glazed pig, baked for 12 hours in 30 herbs and spices, costs a whopping pounds 7 - that's three days wages for the typical worker in China.

But it's worth every penny, or Yuan, to the hungry Chinese. A sign outside the restaurant boasts that the meat can prolong life, improve health, sharpen the mind, protect against cancer and even improve the skin.

Another reason for the chain's popularity is their service. Gone are the surly waiters usually found in restaurants in China, and in come friendly, smiling girls who help customers wrap pieces of pork in pancakes and gently tick off those who forget to use the plastic gloves provided for handling the food.

The restaurants are so successful, Mr Shen has now patented another dish for the menu - baked pork rinds.

Though we might giggle, the little porkers are leaving Mr Shen laughing all the way to the bank.

The government is now planning to set up an official association to help launch new fast food chains.

Chairman Mao would be pleased. A recent survey revealed that despite the current fondness in China for all things foreign, two-thirds of city customers prefer Chinese-style restaurants to Western fast food joints.

Although the 55 McDonald's and 30 Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets in China are still popular, the Baked Pig Face chain has led the way for a new breed of home-grown fare.

The latest to open is Scorpion King in Beijing, serving deep-fried scorpions with a garnish of ants hot off the wok. Now that's what you call a spicy stir fry.

Creepy-crawlies are favourite food in other parts of the world, too.

In Japan, tins of insects, from baby bees and silkworm pupae to grasshoppers and zazamushi, the larvae of aquatic caddis flies, sit on supermarket shelves. The insects are cooked in soy sauce and sugar before being served cold, straight from the tin, with either beer or hot sake.

In Thailand, stir-fried giant red ants are served as a side dish to plates of spicy vegetables, eggs and sticky rice.

In the north of the country, restaurants deep fry giant water bugs in batter. Thai fish sauce - a popular addition to stir fry dishes and used as a condiment - is often flavoured with the bugs.

In Cambodia, cooked cicadas are often sold at food markets, and roadside stalls sell trayfuls of deep-fried tarantulas.

If you're looking for dragon-flies, head to Bali where the insects are cooked in coconut oil and eaten like sweets.

Meanwhile, south of the border, down Mexico way, you'll find grasshopper tacos on the menu as well as mealworm spaghetti and sting bug pate.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Dewar, Angela
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 25, 1999
Words:594
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