Tuesday, April 07, 2009


In the past two or three years, barbecued chicken wings have become Beijing's biggest food craze. Dozens of hole-in-the-wall type restaurants have sprung up specialising in this simple dish, and, as often as not, vying with each other for the accolade of offering the capital's most painfully spicy glaze.

One of the best of all of these joints is said to be Hot Bean, set up by a group of young hipsters in a "prime" - if slightly obscure - location in a little siheyuan on one of the hutongs between Jiaodaokou and Nanluoguxiang, near to the Central Academy of Drama (which has long been known as the headquarters of young hipsterishness for the Chinese).

Strangely enough, I have never yet got around to trying it. Perhaps because I am slightly put off by the air of 'trendiness' that attaches to it. Perhaps because it is alleged to be so popular that one often has to queue down the street to get a table. Or perhaps just because I don't have any friends to go out to dinner with any more.

Anyhow, Dapper Dan and I were finally going to give it a spin last week.

And you know what? They greeted us with a cheery "没有鸡翅 (meiyou jichi)" - "We're out of chicken wings."

What was that? You're a wings place, and you're out of wings?? Oh, sure, they do a few other dishes. But they're all about the wings: that must account for 80% or 90% of what they sell. And they're OUT. Only in China!

They weren't even very busy at the time. It was a slow mid-week night. Not even very late: 7.30 or 8pm, maybe; yes, after the main early dinner rush, but you'd think a snacky - trendy - place like that would keep going right through the evening, until fairly late at night, even on a Wednesday. Unless they run out of chicken wings.

Now you might think that a place this popular would keep reserve stocks of some thousands of wings in its fridges or freezers at all times, and would re-order as soon as they even threatened to start to run low. You would think that they'd have one or more reliable local suppliers who would be able to deliver to them at an hour's notice, or less - and at pretty much any time of the day.

I'm sure such things are possible. Just about anything is possible in China (in that good way, of there almost always being someone willing to provide a service that you need). Unfortunately, planning tends not to be a strong point in China. The most successful wings restaurant in Beijing has no idea, apparently, about supply and stock control. Oiveh.

[I did once come upon a McDonald's where, towards the end of the lunchtime rush, all the burger options were 'off' because they had managed to run out of beef patties. That takes some doing! I hope it's now a 'how-not-to' case study at the Hamburger University.]

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