Reporter Disguised as Apprentice Exposes Dirty Secrets

August 14, 2008 1:35 pm Last Updated: August 15, 2008 2:56 am

Recently, a very common street snack called “chili shish kebab” has been gaining popularity in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province. Chili kebabs are being sold on the streets, in night markets, and at open-air food stalls—and business is booming. But poor sanitary conditions were discovered by a reporter who investigated how the kebabs are made.

Heilongjiang Life Daily reported August 2 that a common street snack called “chili shish kebab” is becoming increasingly popular in Harbin, and selling like hotcakes. To find out how the kebabs are made, a Life Daily reporter called the phone number displayed on a food stall and contacted a kebab maker. The reporter worked as an apprentice for half a day, to see for himself how the kebabs are prepared. He discovered that some unsanitary practices and underhanded activities were occurring, and now doesn’t dare eat a chili kebab.

The kebab maker’s stall attracted numerous customers, and he sold 2,000 or more skewers each day. The stall consisted of a movable cart, spicy sauces on a shelf, a tricycle, and a table.

Part of the cubed meat on skewers was prepared ahead, and the kebab maker would prepare more skewers of meat as needed. While explaining how to make kebabs, he used his bare hands to pick up pieces of meat and bean curd and put them on the skewers. The reporter saw some cubed meat on the ground, and flies were buzzing around the meat in the scorching weather. Nevertheless, the meat was used to make kebabs.

According to the Life Daily report, the kebab maker prepared kebabs, washed dishes, and handled money without washing his hands between the activities.

Next to the cart was a small bucket containing a filthy and greasy liquid—the key ingredient for flavoring the kebabs. After he discovered a good recipe for the spiced sauce, said the kebab maker, he had no scarcity of customers. As for the ingredients of the sauce, the maker said, “There should be no leakage of such a celestial secret. If you pay me 1,500 yuan, I will tell you the ingredients.” He emphasized that the sauce was composed of ingredients that people will crave after tasting it just once.

How often was the spiced mixture replaced? As long as it did not spoil, the maker said, there was no need to change it. “Use your judgment to determine when new sauce should be prepared. If it smells bad, you prepare new sauce. If it doesn’t smell, keep using it,” he continued. “But there is no need to frequently replace the sauce. For one thing, it takes a lot of effort to brew the spiced liquid. For another, frequent replacement costs money.”

According to the report, the kebab maker picked up used skewers from the ground and put them in a box. The maker paid four yuan for 100 skewers, that is, each skewer cost 0.6 cents. If he used 2,000 skewers a day, they would cost 80 yuan, or 2,400 yuan per month. By reusing discarded skewers, he saved a lot of money. He also washed and reused the bowls used by customers. The water used for cleaning was extremely nasty, but the kebab maker did not replace it with clean water.

Where was the cubed meat bought? The maker said that the cheaper, the better. “Some meat is less expensive by one or two yuan; so if I buy a large amount of it, I will save a lot.” The kebab maker did not necessarily buy certified meat.

These unsavory practices made the reporter reluctant to ever eat a chili shish kebab sold by a street vendor.

Article in Chinese