Chapter 78 - Opening Day

“Is that Xiaocao ah? I didn’t get the wrong person, right?” Eldest Aunt greeted the two siblings warmly when she saw them with a loving smile on her face.

“Eldest Aunt,” Little Shitou impatiently shouted, “Eldest Aunt, my second sister made some delicious meat and vegetable dishes and we’re going to sell them at the docks. Second Sister’s food is really good. Eldest Aunt, Eldest Cousin, do you want to try some?”

Eldest Aunt shook her head, “You’re going to sell your food, so we won’t try any. However, a dish that contains meat can’t possibly be cheap, right? It might be hard to sell here…” 

“If you guys want to talk, go to the side and talk! All of you standing here will ruin my business!!” Behind them was a place that sold hot noodle soup under a makeshift shelter. Under the awning was a couple of shabby looking tables and chairs. The single woman manning the area, who had crankily interjected, had high cheekbones, thin and sparse eyebrows, and a pair of narrow eyes. 

“Auntie, I’m only selling a couple of side dishes and won’t be competing with your business, could I possibly…” Xiaocao knew that the workers who had the money to buy noodles would definitely not be so stingy that they couldn’t afford a copper coin to try a braised dish. 

“No, no! Leave, you’re hindering my sales right now! Can you afford to pay me back?” The woman with the high cheekbones glared at them in disdain from the corner of her eyes. The expression in them showed that she regarded them as beggars. 

Eldest Aunt pulled Xiaocao, who had wanted to say something, away and softly said, “Let’s go. This woman is infamous for being difficult. You can go to Grandpa Liu’s booth and try there. His family also sells noodles.” 

Just as they were talking, the dockworkers had been let out for a break. A sea of dark-colored heads started rushing this way.

When Eldest Aunt saw the group of men coming over, she hastily said to the two siblings, “Right now is the time to sell food and snacks. You two need to quickly start advertising. Do you guys know how? Do you need me to help you?” 

Xiaocao shook her head in refusal and said, “Eldest Aunt, you should go back to your own work. Before we came here, our father already told us on how to advertise to customers.” 

After Eldest Aunt left, the two siblings went over to the front of a stall with an old man who had kind looking eyes. They politely asked, “Grandfather, can we sell our appetizers next to your booth?”

This old man was the same Grandpa Liu that their Eldest Aunt had spoken about earlier. He was someone who was very easy to talk to. He felt sympathy for the two siblings, who had to sell things at such a young age, and easily agreed to their request.  

The two siblings found a spot next to the stall and smiled at each other. Little Shitou immediately started to shout, “One copper coin for a meat dish, only one copper coin for a meat dish! Excuse me, older uncle who has some food from home, buy a packet of this meat dish and try some. If it’s not tasty, we’ll give your money back!”  

“Oh what? There’s someone selling a dish with meat in it? For only one copper coin a portion?” 

“Are they stupid? Meat is so expensive right now. If they’re selling it for one copper coin, won’t they be losing instead of making money?” 

“A copper coin’s worth of food with meat would probably not be enough to even get stuck in my teeth…forget it, us brothers should go buy some salted, pickled vegetables to eat instead.”

……  

Although Little Shitou’s advertising had stirred the interests of many of the dockworkers, of the people who came over to look, none of them actually bought any.

Little Shitou started to feel anxious and looked at his sister and said, “Older sister, what should we do? This food is so delicious, why won’t they buy any?”

Xiaocao had long predicted that this type of situation might happen. Most people needed some time to pass in order to get used to something new. She thought and then opened the basket and unwrapped one of the oil paper packets containing food. She borrowed Grandpa Liu’s knife that was used to cut noodles and sliced the chicken offal into small bites. She walked up to a man who was eating noodle soup and smiled, “Older uncle, try my meat dish. It’s completely free. If it doesn’t taste good, then you won’t be losing anything right?

The man hesitated for a second and was about to take the proffered bite of chicken gizzard when he was stopped by one of his companions next to him who said, “Don’t! Old Hao, who knows whether or not she’s a swindler. If you eat it, she might insinuate that you owe her money and then what will you do?”

When the man heard that, he withdrew his hand. Little Shitou’s eyes opened wide in worry and anxiety.

However, Xiaocao was as cool as a cucumber. A bright smile graced her face as she said, “Older uncle, just look at me and my little brother. We’re tiny and there’s no way we can fight against even your finger. How could we possibly swindle you?”

Old Hao stroked his chin and decided that the little girl was right. If he said that the food didn’t taste good and refused to give them money, then they’d be out of luck. The money was in his own pouch, and there was no way the two children could steal it from him, right?

He took a bamboo skewer from Xiaocao, speared a piece of chicken liver, and carefully chewed it after he popped it in his mouth. The mellow and savory flavor of the chicken liver slowly spread across his mouth, and his eyes started shining in delight at the taste.  “Good, so good! It really is incredibly delicious!! Is it just one copper coin? Give me a portion!” Old Hao fished a copper coin from his pouch without any hesitation. 

His companion shook his head and said, “Is it really that delicious? One copper coin’s worth is not going to get you much. Old Hao, you’ve been had!”

Little Shitou glared fiercely at the other man and said, “My father had told us that it is important to be honest when we’re doing business. This our first time selling something, so we wouldn’t do something as stupid as to ruin the trust of others.“

Xiaocao took out a packet of pre-wrapped food from her basket and said cheerfully, “That’s right, that’s right! In the future, we’ll continue selling one copper coin’s worth of meat dishes, and the types of food we bring will rotate constantly. We definitely want to keep our good reputations. Older Uncle Hao, here’s your braised appetizer dish…”

With the alluring taste of the food still lingering in his mouth. Old Hao ripped into the packet of oiled paper impatiently. He found that inside the packet was not only the dish that he had tried, but that there were also other varieties available. All of the food combined together was enough to fill about half of a small bowl. He took a little taste of everything and discovered that even though the textures were all different, every single bite was tasty and delicious.  

“Is this called braised food? I have never heard of it! Quite good, it’s delicious and a good deal!! Give me another portion, I need to bring some back to give my wife and children a taste!” Old Hao mixed the rest of the braised chicken offal into his bowl of noodle soup. The addition of the meat had made the noodles that had tasted heavily of beans immediately taste better. 

“Okay!” Xiaocao took the copper coin and then took out another pouch of braised chicken offal. She even ladled up a spoonful of braised chicken blood from her jar and placed it into Old Hao’s bowl and said, “This blood tofu is too soft and tender. If I put it in the oiled paper packets, it would have gotten smushed into smithereens. It’s better for me to add some on top of your noodles!” 

“Wow! This is such a great portion size for one copper coin!” Old Hao felt like he was the one taking advantage of them.

The people around them all saw Old Hao praising the food endlessly as he scarfed it down bite by bite. One copper wasn’t a lot of money to them, so they all lined up, one after another, to buy a portion to taste. A couple of them put the food into the flat cakes they had brought from home, while others put it directly into the vegetable soup they bought. A few other people bought some warm steamed rolls and ate it with the braised food…

Many people discovered that the food was tasty and came back for a second helping. Even the cheapest meat sold at the markets was priced at more than ten copper coins a catty. One copper coin could, at most, get you two small slices of meat. The food that the little girl was selling not only tasted better than the food they had at home but also had a decent portion size. It was a good deal!  Without much effort, Xiaocao had sold off forty portions of braised food. The money she had spent on seasonings had been earned back, so Xiaocao was as happy as a clam. Next to her were a few people who had come by late and were afraid that they had missed out.

“It’s so loud over there, what’s going on? If someone’s causing trouble, don’t blame me if I have to expel them from here!” The foreman was at the only shack in the area that sold stir-fried dishes. He had ordered a few of their house specialties and politely poured the steward a cup of wine. 

“Sir, I’ll go over there and look!” The foreman always had a few errand runners next to him. The man ran towards the area that was wreathed by people. 

“Steward Liu, the conditions here are too simple and crude. A little further from here is a small market and there are a couple of restaurants there that have decent food, how about…” The foreman looked at the few dishes in front of him and felt they looked quite pitiful. He was afraid that the manager would not be satisfied with the area’s offerings and would not do business with him in the future.

Steward Liu shook his head and said, “The cargo I have right now is urgently needed in the capital. I can eat any time, so it’s more important to get the cargo loaded before we discuss other things.”

“Alright, alright! Don’t worry, Steward Liu, I promise that I can get all of the cargo loaded before one in the afternoon!” The foreman raised his wine cup and toasted Steward Liu. Steward Liu was a steward for a well-known, wealthy merchant in the capital. If he took good care of him, then in the future, the Liu Family’s monthly business would all go to him and not get taken away from his arch-business rival.  

“Sir, there’s no one causing trouble. There’s a little girl selling a copper coin’s worth of braised meat dishes. All of the others said it’s very good, so I also bought a portion back. You and Steward Liu can try some.” The errand runner was perceptive and had dipped into his own pockets to show respect to his boss. If he took good care of his boss, then wouldn’t he get more benefits in the future? 

“What kind of food can one copper coin buy? What kind of meat? Is it edible?” The foreman grumbled as he took a bite. Eh? The taste was really not bad. “Steward Liu, this braised meat dish is quite delicious. It actually tastes better than the food at the restaurants in the markets. Do you want to try some?”

As the chief steward of a large merchant household, Steward Liu had tasted all kinds of dishes. However, when he picked up a piece of chicken gizzard and put it into his mouth to eat, the expression on his face softened immediately. He had travelled extensively as a part of his duties, but he had never eaten something as delicious as this before.  

Steward Liu casually asked, “From what I can tell, this is neither pork nor beef nor lamb. It seems to have the flavor of chicken but I have never encountered food made this way before. Not bad, not bad! The taste is also very palatable!”

When the foreman noticed that Steward Liu ate several bites of the food in a row and seemed to want to continue, he hurriedly directed the errand runner, “Erzi, it’s hard to find something that Steward Liu likes. Go buy two more portions now!” 

Steward Liu didn’t stop them and a satisfied look crossed his face. The foreman smirked inside—It looks like this big customer is finally mine!

“Sir! The one copper coin’s worth of braised meat dish has all been sold out...however, I brought over the little girl who was selling it. Her basket still has some blood tofu left. She wants to know if you want any?” Erzi was unable to buy the braised chicken offal and huffily came back.

“Blood tofu? Is that the dusty brown lumps that’s in here? Didn’t know it was called ‘blood tofu’. It’s more tender than tofu and the taste is much better too!” Steward Liu lightly picked a piece of the braised chicken blood in his chopsticks and placed it in his mouth with avid pleasure.  

Since he could tell Steward Liu liked it, the foreman turned and spoke to Xiaocao, “I want the rest of the blood tofu in your jar. If I give you ten copper coins, is that enough?”

Xiaocao grinned winsomely and shook her head, “Foreman Uncle, it’s not worth that much! I at most have about a bowl’s worth of blood tofu left. Just give me two copper coins and it’s a done deal!”

Steward Liu glanced over and said, “I would have never expected that something so inexpensive could taste so exquisite and delicious. What is this blood tofu actually made of? 

Xiaocao thought a bit and then replied, “Steward Uncle, are you able to accept foods that are not commonly eaten?” 

Steward Liu guffawed and said, “I’m in charge of a lot of business and travel all the time. What haven’t I eaten before? In southern Guangdong, I’ve even eaten mice and vipers! Oftentimes what sounds scary to eat actually tastes just fine. Tell me, little girl, you can’t scare this old man!”

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Translator: Sanguine