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Burgers gain foothold in China's noodle land
Last Updated: 2016-06-10 23:14 | Xinhua
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Joshua Trout and his Chinese wife Gao Jiemeizi are overjoyed that their restaurant serving authentic American food in Lanzhou City is a success.

The restaurant, which reopened earlier this month after moving from a quieter location, has queues every dinner and lunch time. "Burgers, hot dogs and steaks, we always sell out," said Trout from Colorado, the United States.

Lanzhou in northwest China's Gansu Province is known for local residents' obsession with traditional beef-soup lamian (hand-pulled noddles). But Western-style restaurants and cafes are gaining a foothold.

Trout, who used to an aircraft engineer, met Gao during a business trip to Lanzhou. They opened their diner four years ago.

Trout recalled that in 2012 there were only a handful of Western-style restaurants in Lanzhou and their food was seen as a luxury.

At the beginning, the restaurant did well, but soon patron numbers plummeted, according to Gao. The eatery only survived thanks to advertising on the Chinese Twitter-like Sina Weibo and the instant messaging tool WeChat.

She attributed others' failures to economic backwardness. "At the time, foreign food was alien to most of local people, and there were few foreign customers," she said.

Gansu is among the poorest regions in the country. In the couple's shop, a hot dog cost 25 yuan (3.8 U.S. dollars), a burger 35 yuan and a steak 60 yuan in 2012, when the annual per capita disposable income of Lanzhou's urban residents was about 18,400 yuan (2,800 dollars).

Whereas Lanzhou beef noodles only cost six yuan a bowl.

The hand-pulled noodles are served in a peppery, oily broth with tender beef, is recognized as one of China's three major fast foods by China Cuisine Association.

In Lanzhou, with a population of four million, there are easily over 1,600 eateries serving the noodle dish, which is often eaten for breakfast and lunch.

The tough days for Western food in the city, however, didn't last too long, thanks to growing residents' income and increasingly tolerant taste of diners.

In the past two years, Western-style restaurants have mushroomed, Trout said, adding that the number of foreigners in the town has also grown.

Now, one can find over 100 such restaurants and coffee shops, including international chains, in the city via apps providing group-buying and review services.

In 2014, Starbucks opened its first shop in Lanzhou, and the second in 2015. In December, McDonald's set up its first outlet in the city.

"We're doing well. Our customers are not only in their 20s or 30s, but also 50s and 60s," said a manager with the Starbucks that opened in September.

The couple's restaurant has never raised prices and its food has is now more affordable. In 2015, the per capita disposable income of Lanzhou's urban residents climbed to around 27,000 yuan.

"It's hugely different from Lanzhou food, but I think it's delicious, clean and fast," said Ma Hong, a regular at the restaurant.

Ma said he loves burgers, and is a fan of beef noodles as well. On weekdays, he often has burgers for lunch twice and noodles on the other days.

"In fact, locals don't simply go to KFC or Pizza Hut, they also try Thai and Japanese dishes. It means they are more receptive on diversified food and culture," Gao said.

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