A Secret Beef Noodle Soup Mafia Is Still Controlling Shanghai's Restaurants

Under the terms of the so-called “Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia Treaty,” no one is allowed to open a beef noodle shop within 400 meters of another beef noodle shop.

by Alex Swerdloff
Jul 28 2016, 9:00pm

Photo via Flickr user Charles Haynes

Lanzhou lamian is a dish of hand-pulled noodles served in a rich beef broth that is popular throughout China. It also happens to be a dish that has its own mafia and is the subject of an unwritten, two-decade-old treaty.

And if you violate the terms of that treaty? You may live to regret it.

That's what a man named Xian recently found out when he opened a restaurant called Alilan Beef Noodles in Shanghai earlier this month. According to Shanghaiist, Xian is a Hui Muslim from Gansu province, and his restaurant serves a halal version of lamian. But now Xian has been forced to revise the sign in front of his store following a nasty month of harassment from rivals.

READ MORE: I Tried to Master the Art of Noodle-Pulling at a Beef Noodle Soup School

Xian has been accused of breaching an unwritten code governing beef noodle shops in the area. Under the terms of the so-called "Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia Treaty," no one is allowed to open a beef noodle shop within 400 meters of another beef noodle shop. Xian broke the rule and found out what happens if one does so—and it ain't pretty.

First, a group of more over 100 people who claimed to represent the Lanzhou lamian restaurants across Shanghai surrounded his shop. Then the crowd reportedly blocked customers from entering Xian's store, smashed tables, and threatened to kill his family. Finally, they told Xian they'd give him 300,000 renminbis if he would close up his restaurant.

Although the unwritten code is unenforceable in a court of law, it is sacrosanct to the "beef noodle gang" who own restaurants in Shanghai. They hassled Xian for the better part of this month, alleging, among other false statements, that he was not Muslim and therefore shouldn't be running a halal restaurant.

READ MORE: China Has a New System for Detecting the Sketchy Additives and Dyes in Its Food

On July 19, the two sides struck an accord after a mediation was held at a local police station. In attendance were representatives of the Ethnic Religious Affairs Committee, officials from Qinghai and Gansu provinces, and several beef noodle restaurant owners.

The end result is this: Xian can keep the business he says he mortgaged his home for, but he most remove the halal logo and the word "beef" from his signage.

A détente with the noodle mafia has been reached. Who knew that beef noodles had their own goons and underground code of behavior?

Now if we could only crack the shrouded cabal behind xinjiang lamb skewers.