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Best kept dining secret: 快餐店


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These little fast food eateries/kuaican dian/快餐店 may be one of China's best kept dining secrets. I've found them in all parts of the country, but seldom seen them written up.

I just returned from another excellent, filling and well-balanced 10 Yuan lunch at one not far from where I live, here in Kunming.

Over the last three weeks or so, two of these places opened right next door to each other and have been battling it out for market share, to the delight of us small fry consumers. I have been living large for 10 Yuan per meal, sometimes patronizing one and sometimes the other.

Each is trying to win repeat business by serving the freshest and choicest ingredients and the most generous portions. They are on a small street behind a 好友多 (Trust-Mart) department store, around the corner from Friendship Inn/友谊宾馆, and just across from the Pan Long Quarter 盘龙区 fire station on Small Dragon Street/ 小龙路。

The way these places work is that they cook up several vegetable dishes 素菜 and several dishes with meat 荤菜 and you pay for a selection of each. They are usually just open for lunch. I have been splurging my 10 Yuan on a 三素/三荤 combination, which means I get to select three of each.

You can pay less and get less items. You can point to things if you don't know how to say them. All choices are accompanied by a bottomless dish of rice (free refill) and some clear soup 清汤 plus a small dish 碟子 of small 泡菜/pickled vegetables, mainly cabbage.

Today I had 四季豆/green beans, 茄子/egg plant, and stewed 冬瓜 squash as my vegetable items; and 青椒炒肉片/pork slices with spicy green peppers, 竹笋炒肉丝/pork slivers with bamboo shoots, and chicken cubes 宫保鸡丁 as my meat items. It made for quite a nice feast.

I try to arrive early, because there's always a line consisting of workers on their lunch hours and the place only has about eight tables. It's a family operation: Mom serves the food; Dad scoops out rice from a big wooden tub, and two kids of about 10 or 12 clear away dishes the minute people finish their chow.

Today some diners wore yellow construction worker hard hats, some wore uniforms from a bottled water delivery service, three girls were wearing white lab coats from a nearby pharmacy. As I finished, two 保安/security guards squeezed into my spot at the table.

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There are often a couple of local elderly/老人 chowing down on what may well be their main meal of the day, which strikes me as a sensible plan.

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Glad to know that one can have a good meal for so little. I have just returned from a late late lunch (because it is Saturday) at a Japanese restaurant and the meal, with rice, a pork dish, two pieces of tempura sweet potatoes, a corn salad and a drink, cost me about HK$58. (PS - This was my main meal of the day, haha.) The competition is keen as there are three, and the fourth one will soon be open, Japanese restaurants in the mall next to my home.

Things are getting expensive. My brother told me yesterday that he would take a bus to go back to the Western District, where he works, for lunch as he could have a good meal for about HK$30 there. He doesn't mind the bus fare or the time spent on the ride. For lunch on work days, I usually just have a bagel/scone and a cup of coffee at starbucks. That is HK$31.

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Competition seems to help keep prices down and quality up. The going rate here for 快餐 with 三素 and 三荤 is 12 Yuan.

I think small family places like this offer much better value than a meal at KFC or McDonald's, which can easily run 27 Yuan.

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We have lots of this sort of thing down here in Haikou. And It goes for about the same price you described above. However, I've never heard it described as or thought of it as healthy. Perhaps it's not unhealthy, but more often than not it probably uses gutter oil. I will say however that if you can find a clean establishment, it's a great way to spend your hard earned yuan.

At any rate, the large scale version of this is 凯米。 It's a bit more expensive, but you have a wider selection and it's possibly cleaner.

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# 4 -- Yes, you're right. Their oil might not be the best. I can't always tell just by the taste.

Is 凯米 a local 海口 cafeteria chain? Don't think I've run into it here.

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It's always hard to judge the quality/hygene of little places like that, though knock-on-wood I've never had any problems so far! If you're concerned though, most cities have some local chains that are cheaper than McD's or Mr. Li or whatnot, but still cleaner than the stalls on the street.

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#8 --

It's always hard to judge the quality/hygene of little places like that, though knock-on-wood I've never had any problems so far!

I agree that it's difficult to judge hygiene beyond the obvious and I know that these little "Mom and Pop" places usually don't do a great job of dish washing, to put it mildly. But I've got to say that the main ingredients, such as the vegetables and meats, appear to be pretty good. At least they look and taste nice. It probably helps that these two particular places I visit are near a large outdoor wet market.

One thing I've noticed more than once, in China and in other developing countries, is that the food in fancy places, with nice looking dining rooms, is not always carefully handled back in the kitchen, hidden from view. In other words, higher price does not necessarily equate to higher quality.

Another thing worth adding as a footnote to this discussion is that during the summer months it's probably best to eat things that are made fresh just before you consume them. Things that have been sitting out on a steam table a while are more likely to have significant bacterial contamination. (The evil germs have time to multiply.)

I visit these 快餐店 more in the cool months for that reason. But these two places have been so good that I've been going in the summer anyhow, though I do try to get there early, closer to the time when the items are cooked.

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  • 4 months later...

An update:


Just returned to Kunming after being in the US for a month and a half. The price for 三荤菜/三素菜 has gone up from 10 Yuan to 12 Yuan at both the 快餐店 places described above. Quality still seems to be high.

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