god's gift 14 days

Online influencers shape food scene

Customers sample some of the many flavors at the WIYF ice cream parlor, a wanghong eatery, in November 2016. GAO ERQIANG/CHINA DAILY

Social media has seen a slew of budget eateries take Shanghai's diners by storm

With two wanghong food businesses - an ice cream parlor and a dumpling house - under his belt, 38-year-old restaurateur Lu Xiaoxun says he has no idea what makes either an internet sensation, the literal translation of the term.

Lu also says that having hundreds of people lining up for hours for an ice cream cone or a cup of cheese-foamed tea is not something the food and beverage industry should be happy about.

"It means people have smaller food budgets, and are becoming less patient. None of the wanghong restaurants we have been talking about this year are fine dining," said Lu, who now runs four restaurant brands in Shanghai, including a food chain offering Shanghai snack food that is recommended by Michelin Bib Gourmand.

Gloomy as Lu sounds, his ice cream parlor, which offers such creative flavors as salty egg yolk and Chinese rice wine, brought him upward of 400,000 yuan ($60,820) a month this summer, twice the annual income he used to be paid when working as a lifestyle editor for magazines.

New trend

In a city that boasts the first Michelin Guide in the Chinese mainland and attracts an increasing number of celebrity chefs and fine dining brands, the trend that defines Shanghai's culinary scene in 2017 is indisputably the rise of wanghong restaurants.

There is no clear definition of a wanghong restaurant or food, it can be of any type of cuisine in any style. But some key words and phrases are associated with it - novel, tantalizing, popular and, perhaps most impo[MG_SEO]rtantly, easily shared on social media.

Some enjoy such popularity that the country's supposedly most sophisticated diners will skip work, wait for up to seven hours, or pay scalpers two or three times the price of the food just for a taste. Two of the most notable names are Heytea, which is known for its cheese-foamed tea and Master Bao, which sells bread topped with meat floss.

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