Colonel Sanders’ Chinese Concubine? We Visit China’s KFC Rip-off Noodle Shop “Grandma Ji’s Mala Tang”
Black-framed glasses, black bowtie, white jacket, a soothing smile framed in a well kempt beard: these are the things that usually come to mind when thinking about Kentucky Fried Chicken’s beloved founder and mascot, Colonel Sanders.
That iconic image of the Colonel can now be found illuminating KFC storefronts in over 100 countries around the world and China is no exception. In fact, the Chinese love the Colonel so much that some restaurant owners even
rip offpay homage to him with their own amusing interpretations like Obama Fried Chicken.
We recently came across one such restaurant in Shanghai that turned our beloved Colonel into an elderly Chinese woman—and she doesn’t even sell fried chicken!
The restaurant is called Grandma Ji’s Mala Tang and is located in the Pudong district of Shanghai. Mala tang is a traditional hot and spicy soup dish that is a popular fast food item in China.
Supposedly, even the Chinese were surprised at the audacity of using a gender-swapped Colonel Sanders as a mascot and Grandma Ji has become something of a local legend.
Upon visiting the restaurant, we were startled to see Grandma Ji’s face all over: on the front counter, on posters lining the walls and even on the bowls and spoons! We’re not sure we’ve ever seen anyone unashamedly rip off such a well-known trademark with such confidence and assertion, even in China.
But how about the food? Like at most other mala tang restaurants, customers choose which ingredients they like buffet-style and have them boiled in the spicy soup. The prices of ingredients are ridiculously cheap, with veggies being .5 yuan (US $.07) and fish and meat dishes around 1 yuan (US $.15) a piece.
Your reporter ordered 3 types of veggies 2 fish paste products and, with the soup included, the total was a measly 7 yuan (US $1.10). That’s a hard price to beat, even for mala tang!
To prepare the dish, you put the ingredients in metal baskets and submerge them in the soup to boil for about 10 minutes. Once they’ve cooked, you add green onion, garlic, red pepper, vinegar or any other toppings of your liking and your mala tang is done.
While we found the broth at Grandma Ji’s to be less spicy and easier on the tongue than many other mala tang restaurants, it still maintained a richness that was delicious and satisfying. The ingredients were also cooked through perfectly and the noodles had a chewy texture, similar to pasta cooked al dente, that gave the dish a nice volume.
Incidentally, while Grandma Ji’s Mala Tang supposedly has stores across mainland China, they are said to be pulling out of central Beijing and Shanghai rapidly. Perhaps their blatant copyright infringement has finally caught up with them as they’ve grown in scale?
While we left the store with full stomachs, our curiosities still craved more information about the true identify of Grandma Ji. The locals speculate that she could actually have been Colonel Sander’s Chinese concubine or maybe long-lost sister. Judging from her name, the former seems much more likely than the latter; and we’ve never known of a good Southern man who would pass up the company of a Chinese lady…