Recently, a very novel food popped up all over the capital.
A small cart, a rectangular metal box that was empty in the middle filled with red burning coal, neatly dressed peddlers of various ages, and densely packed meat skewers sitting on top of the metal box. All this made up the appearance of the “come back if good secret recipe meat skewers” storefront.
They were located in the bustling markets or on busy streets. Anywhere a small stand could be placed, a “come back if good secret recipe meat skewers” stand would be present. It was as though they had appeared within the capital overnight.
At first, people weren’t willing to eat these weird things.
But they couldn’t withstand the smell. It was truly fragrant and permeated the entire place. The entire street was filled with the seductive and alluring fragrance. People thus followed the smell over….
The peddler’s attitude was extremely warm and magnanimous. He announced to the crowd that this was their grand opening, and they could try a skewer for free. This would be limited to fifty people, and they needed to line up.
A free sample was something very rarely seen. It goes without saying that there was a long line.
That peddler’s actions were calm and steady. He handed out skewers to those in line while placing more skewers onto the grill.
The meat sizzled over the grill. The peddler sprinkled a handful of yellow powder onto them. A wave of thick smoke rose up and the smell on the street turned even denser.
After the meat was cooked, the color was golden brown with some slightly burnt edges. The smell assailed the nostrils and the taste was profound.
The first few who sampled it took a careful bite before quickly tearing the rest of the meat off the skewer. Their actions were hurried and their manner of eating extremely crude.
It was clear that this thing was truly delicious.
Those who had a free sample wiped their mouths with their sleeves and crowded up, asking loudly how much this thing cost.
The peddler smiled slightly, and took a moment to point out the “sign” hanging from small cart. That sign had eight large black words: “come back if good secret recipe meat skewers”.
Next to it were a row of smaller words: “Verify it’s good and come again. Come again if it’s delicious.” On the very bottom, written horizontally, were a few even smaller words: “Three coins for a skewer, ten for four skewers.”
Three coins was a little expensive. After all, there were only three small pieces of meat on the skewer. Put together, it was only enough to taste the flavor.
However, it couldn’t erase the fact that it was delicious!
Although life in the capital wasn’t easy, the people here had more money than those in other places.
The free samples had all been handed out. Those in line didn’t say anything else, and all purchased a few skewers to try on the side. After trying it, they all exclaimed loudly how delicious it was, and then one wanted twenty coin’s worth and another wanted ten coin’s worth. Thus they all started buying.
The peddler was calm and continued taking care of the customers. As his hands moved, he asked them whether they wanted some spiciness. For those who wanted it, he would sprinkle some red powder. For those who didn’t, they would just get the yellow seasoning.
Those who hadn’t tried these sorts of skewers didn’t understand that one would want to eat more the more one ate. In the modern world, these skewers were sold twenty at a time, and were merely considered snacks. Therefore, there were many customers who got back in line after eating.
Some passersby saw the liveliness and couldn’t help but join in. Some people in line were cut by others and started scolding. They said all the buyers were lining up. Therefore, everyone still reluctantly stood in line, and it wasn’t too chaotic.
Of course, there would be people urging impatiently, but the peddler was very steady, telling the crowd “haste makes waste”.
Some people were impatient and left. Before long, they came back and called to those in line: “this and that alley also has a stand”.
The crowd was puzzled and the peddler nodded and smiled: “Please make sure to recognize our brand. As long as it’s our “come back if good” trademark, it’ll be the most authentic taste.”
“Come back if good secret recipe meat skewers” exploded in popularity.
Customers came continuously, and there was often a long line in front of the stand. One stand was this way, and every stand was this way. Word spread from one person to ten, ten to a hundred.
Those who tried it would remember the flavor and come again. Those who haven’t would hear others describe how delicious it was and come check it out.
The best thing was that the small stands were all over the place. One would often see places spreading a wonderful fragrance that hooked the heart and stole the soul, surrounded by many people gorging themselves on a wooden skewer. The smell and liveliness would attract passersby.
The skewers were best when freshly made, and more delicious when eaten hot.
Seeing others eating with great gusto, people would inevitably hand over some copper to try a couple. After eating, they would be astonished. It was truly delicious.
The Grand Xi Dynasty didn’t really have law enforcement. The five cities military department was the capital’s “law enforcement”.
Not only were they responsible for the city’s law and order, putting out fires, catching thieves and clearing obstructions on the streets, they were also responsible for the city’s “appearance”. It was similar to a combined department of the modern world’s city administration, fire department and so on.
For places like small stores and stands, the city would assign specific areas where they could operate. For example, those selling vegetables wouldn’t be allowed to operate near places where people bought clothes and jewelry. Similarly, if you were selling food, you couldn’t set up shop next to someone selling high quality calligraphy or similar elegant places.
However, “come back if good secret recipe meat skewers” stands never obeyed such regulations. They seemed to have checked in with no one before spreading everywhere in the city. Even in the inner city, where the officials and nobility lived, there would be stands set up at the end of the alleys.
Places with people would have organizations, even more so in places with many important people. Especially in the capital, where minor officials were a dime a dozen. These “come back if good secret recipe meat skewers” peddlers were brazen beyond belief!
Could there be some major influence behind these small stands?
The five cities military department was an office under the imperial court. They had to manage such a large area and a variety of matters. The workers naturally couldn’t all be “officials”. Since they also had to interact with people of all trades, their lowest ranks were a collection of hoodlums, local ruffians and so on. These people were responsible for the “city’s appearance”.
After all, if a proper official had to shoo away a small stand selling fish and vegetables, wouldn’t that be detrimental to his image and lowering his status?
For times like this, those people with special statuses would be put to use.
They were split up into groups and assigned different “roles”. Some were responsible for overseeing things. Others were responsible for protection. Of course they weren’t doing volunteer work. These people collected money, which was commonly referred to as “protection fees”.
This was “tacitly approved by the officials”, and these people didn’t charge too much. Furthermore, they would send someone to manage things when people tried to dine-and-dash or refused to pay up. Therefore, everyone abided by this “convention”.
Of course, the money they received didn’t all go to these people. They could only keep a tiny portion, and the rest had to be “handed upwards”.
With this, the five cities military department could save a bit of trouble while also raising a bunch of society’s misfits. Those above would even get some profits, so everyone was happy.
Therefore, when the “come back if good” stands appeared ferociously in places they shouldn’t be appearing, without having checked-in with anyone, everyone was shocked.
It was like a wild card had appeared out of nowhere. First they were astonished, and then they were suspicious, and finally their imaginations started running wild.
Was this the work of some country bumpkin that just entered the city, or did they have some major influence behind them?
Those hoodlums who weren’t officially employed by the five cities military department but would help them with odd jobs all more or less realized something fishy was going on.
First of all, “come back if good” seemed to have popped up overnight. Their “stands” were all identical, and were definitely part of the same operation. Secondly, these people were extremely brazen. Not only did they appear in many restricted places in the outer city, they even appeared in similar restricted places in the inner city.
Such abnormal behavior made these people speechless for several days. After getting together and discussing things, they truly didn’t dare make any rash moves, and could only report it to the higher ups.
The next level consisted of a few unranked bailiffs from the five cities military department. When the bailiffs heard about the situation, they were also shocked.
Their thoughts were the same. Could they really have someone major behind them?
After dawdling for a few days, a bailiff dressed in bailiff attire appeared in front of a “come back if good” stand, his attitude calm.
Business was booming at this stand, and it was surrounded by people.
The scene was bustling with activity and everyone had oil stains around their mouths from eating.
Why did everyone want to be an official? Whether a major or minor official, they all had a certain amount of power. The bailiff attire was an indicator of this.
That bailiff didn’t even stand in line, and directly walked to the front.
The peddler was sweating from the hard work. Seeing the bailiff, he smiled and asked: “How many skewers does this working lord want?”
The bailiff froze. He glanced around at the people who were eating on the spot after buying. “Just give me a few to try out the flavor.”
“Alright. Please wait.”
Soon, the meat skewers were handed over to the minor official.
“That’ll be ten coins.”
The bailiff froze again before handing some coins over to the peddler.
After walking away, he finally reacted….
He paid? He actually paid?!!
Normally, even the restaurants under his jurisdiction didn’t dare ask him for money when he ate, let alone those small stands and stores. Sometimes they even stuffed him extras as he was leaving!
Could that peddler not have recognized the attire of the five cities military department’s bailiff?
Around a corner nearby, a few robust and unusual looking people dressed in commoner clothing were watching.
They watched furtively as they whispered to each other.
“Hey, how unusual. Big bro Feng normally never pays. Is the sun rising from the west today?”
“That’s right, I also saw him handing the money over!”
“Could it be they really can’t be provoked?”
There were too many in the capital that these people couldn’t provoke. Although many stores and businesses showed them some amount of respect, they weren’t even worthy of carrying the shoes of people they couldn’t provoke. This was especially the case within the capital. Otherwise they wouldn’t have been so doubtful of the “come back if good” stands.
The slender bailiff’s thoughts were running wild.
The skewer in his hands made his mouth water from the smell.
His thoughts were heavy as he took a bite. He still appeared stunned, but the speed at which he ate increased quite a bit.
One skewer, two skewers, all four skewers were eaten.
As he was sighing about the delicious taste, he also made up his mind.
This won’t do. He couldn’t just let this matter go. He knew that old sixth Zhao and his group were secretly watching. He couldn’t let his image go down the drain.
Therefore, he went over again.
This time, he didn’t stand in front of the box of coal as before. He walked up next to the peddler instead.
“Hey, do you know who I am?”
His voice was very low.
The customer in front of the line seemed to have heard. He glanced at the bailiff curiously and left after paying.
The peddler wiped off some sweat and said: “Of course I know. You’re a working lord from the five cities military department.”
The bailiff straightened his waist and nodded.
“Then do you know who I am?”
Seeing the peddler’s calm and easy-going attitude, the bailiff couldn’t help but ask: “Who are you?”
That peddler handed a bunch of skewers to a customer and received the money into his front pocket. On then did he wave the bailiff in closer before replying in an equally low voice: “I have someone above me. If you don’t know, then ask your superior. If he also doesn’t know, have him ask his superior.”
After saying something that sounded like a tongue-twister, the peddler busied himself and no longer bothered with the frozen bailiff.
Someone above him?
That bailiff looked up at the sky.
There clearly wasn’t anyone!
The last two lines are just joking around. Of course the bailiff understood his meaning. Even if he was confused, he would understand soon enough.
Really want to eat lamb skewers. There used to be a place in the area this author used to live in. Business was super good. They open around four and are sold out by eight. They sell several thousand skewers a day, and have been there for several years. They sell very authentic lamb skewers. It used to be a dollar per skewer in the past, but now the price has gone up to two dollars. It’s just a small stand and the peddler isn’t dressed that well either, looking greasy all over. They make a hundred to two hundred thousand a month. How lucrative….
This author always gets twenty skewers, as well as lamb kidney and tendon. It’s all very tasty….
I can’t, my saliva is flowing. Going to go eat some later.