Profile: He Zhangwen, preserving old taste of Sichuan street food

Source: Xinhua| 2019-09-30 14:24:20|Editor: ZX
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CHENGDU, Sept. 30 (Xinhua) -- He Zhangwen, 64, is slightly hunchbacked and not particularly fond of smiling. Wearing a grey-striped T-shirt and a brown apron, he is the linchpin of the tiny baked egg pancake shop "The He's" in Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province.

While Sichuan cuisine is known for spicy and pungent flavors, baked egg pancakes are sweet, also a signature flavor of the local food.

Laying out all the ingredients and materials their son bought an hour ago, He Zhangwen and his wife He Yunping begin their typical day by making fillings and flour paste at around 8 a.m.

Their son bought 2 kg of pork, 2 kg of beef, 1 kg of potatoes, some chilies and carrots. "All the fillings and paste are freshly prepared, the taste would change if made in advance and stored overnight," said He.

"Making an egg pancake seems easy but is in fact not that simple," said He. "Any change in the proportion of ingredients makes a big difference. A good egg pancake should be crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. I put all my over 20 years of experiences in it and have the confidence that our pancake is second to none in Chengdu."

The flavors of traditional street food have evolved from traditional Chinese pickles, red bean and cream to over 30 varieties, including eye-catching spicy minced beef, Laoganma chili sauce, durian and Oreo, reflecting the ever-changing taste of picky foodies.

By 10:00 a.m., they have used up all the fillings and two buckets of paste, each weighing 10 kg. Every day they use two to four buckets.

Their store opens each day at 11:00 a.m., and a long queue of gluttonous foodies often welcomes him.

They opened this store seven years ago after doing this business on a small trolley in 1990. In addition to this store, the He's chain business has opened nine franchise stores in Chengdu.

The window of He's store looks the same as their trolley. Three prominent Chinese characters which read "egg pancake" are pasted in red on the window, and the fillings are put in order beside the ovens, the same as 30 years ago.

"I can even make a pancake with my eyes closed," said He.

Soon one of China's longest holiday, the week-long National Day holiday will be coming, and He expects a tourist peak. "We can sell up to 2,000 pancakes a day during holidays," said He. "We only have time to eat after 10 p.m."

Over the past 30 years, He has witnessed great changes in Chengdu. "I can't believe it's been nearly 30 years," He said. "Areas outside the first ring road were all idle fields when we started, but now even the suburban ring road has traffic jams."

The small pancake has given locals a touch of nostalgia amid rapid social change. Four years ago, their son quit his job and returned home. "My parents are getting older and their skills need to be passed on," said their son.

"Many college students said buying our pancakes is the first thing they do when they come back home for holidays. When they leave, many would come to eat some pancakes before heading to the airport," said He.

"More than 90 percent of our buyers are regular customers," said He with pride.