Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Specter of Food Inflation

Inflation in China is a complex subject that's outside the typical range of this blog, however at a 6.5% inflation rate last month, the subject's become difficult to ignore. Inflation is being led by rising food prices, which hurts more in a poor country like China, where food tends to be a larger percentage of people's daily spending.

I'm going to reveal my personal biases in this one, as I don't much shop at grocery stores, mostly I go out to the high-quality restaurants like this corner manapua/baozi shack:

The most commonly consumed (by me) manapua, with plain pork, goes for a whopping 13 US cents, up from a reasonable-ish 9 cents just a few months ago! It's outrageous, obviously, but it's also to be expected. Pork prices have climbed 50% from what they were last year. It's the default meat of China - the sign doesn't actually specify that it's pork, but when they say "meat" it's a given. Most other staples have also gotten more expensive, generally around 25%.

That's a big price jump for manapua, and most shacks opt not to raise prices, and instead have ever-decreasing amounts of meat in the middle. The profit margin on these is incredibly small, so I'm sure the amount of meat used closely follows the daily price of pork.

Anyway this idea of just lessening how much pork is used has had a broad influence on Shanghai dining, at least with the cheap eats. Here's a Tofu and Shepherd's Purse Soup, from a favorite Shanghai-style restaurant. Obviously pork isn't one of the two main ingredients, but on a recent visit the meat was looking a little sparse:

Western restaurants haven't adjusted prices or portions, though - they're already much more expensive than Chinese restaurants, so in the short term that's to be expected- I wouldn't be surprised to see changes coming soon, though.

In the meantime, a lot of local restaurants paste new prices over their old ones, or are constantly updating their signs: check out the bright fresh "5", to go along with the old dull .00 beside it. It's something like how prices are done at the local gas station! At this shop, the price of xiaolongbao has gone from three to four to five kuai, in just the past half year.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As always, very interesting ! Best Thankgiving wishes

David s