Su Tang did not know that someone had noticed her leaving at all. She just dragged Su Nuo away from Fuxing House and began to stroll along East Street.
There was always a lot of foot traffic around the academy so there were many shops on this road. She looked around for a while before she finally made a decision and approached a certain noodle stall.
The owner of the stall was a young couple and while Su Tang was walking over she saw that they looked a little depressed. But when the two saw the siblings walk inside, the young woman quickly stood up and greeted them. “Little girl, do you and your brother want some noodles?”
Su Tang shook her head. “I have some business I want to discuss with you two.”
Su Tang was very young, so the couple thought it was pretty funny when she spoke so seriously with her childish face. They didn’t take her words seriously, instead, they just tried to coax the children who walked in their store, “What do you know about business? If you don’t want to eat noodles, you should go back to your family at home.”
Although there were many poor children in the world it was rare for them to be out and making a living on their own at the age of eight, so the couple thought that Su Tang and her brother should go back to their family.
Su Tang shook her head and said. “Big brother, big sister, don’t you two want to make your business better?”
When they heard those words the young couple seemed a little surprised. “How did you know…”
Before the woman finished speaking, she cut herself off mid-way because she was vigilant of the other nearby stalls. But Su Tang hadn’t spoken loudly and her words hadn’t attracted any attention. After all, she and her brother were just two children, so no one really paid them any attention. Only the couple inside the stall heard her words and they were a bit stunned, because Su Tang seemed to be able to see through their worries with a single glance.
The man firmly told his wife to look after the stall first, and then followed Su Tang into a nearby deserted alley with a serious look on his face. “Little girl, how did you know that our business is doing badly?”
“Isn’t it very easy to see? There are three noodle stalls on this road alone, and the things they’re serving inside the noodle stall right next to yours are exactly the same as the things you are serving. With that being the case, could your business be good?”
Su Tang had just finished walking around and she had clearly seen that the stall next to their stall was obviously about the same. They both made things like shredded chicken noodles, shredded meat noodles, plain noodles, and so on. But the other stall sold their noodles a bit cheaper.
Making noodles did not involve much technical skill, so if the noodles were all made from the same base ingredients, the taste would not be very different, and the customers would naturally go to the slightly cheaper stall. She had also seen the distressed look on the faces of the couple just now, so they were obviously being affected.
The couple who set up the stall were originally from a nearby village called Jiang Jiawa. The man’s name was Jiang He and the woman was his wife, Madam Qian. The couple had come to town to make a living after they separated from their family last year and nowadays they could only rely on their own diligence and perseverance to run their noodle stall to make a meager living.
Their days had been slowly getting better but then Madam Qian’s older brother had seen that they were making money and insisted that the couple bring him to town so he could do business and make money too. Naturally, they didn’t want to do that, so Madam Qian’s older brother brought his wife to town to open a stall of his own right next to their stall.
They were all selling the same thing but Jiang He and Madam Qian were selling their noodles at two copper coins per bowl, while her older brother was selling two bowls for three copper coins. Even if Madam Qian’s older brother wasn’t as skilled as Jiang He when it came to making noodles, their business was steadily being taken away anyway because of the lower prices.
Just now the couple had even been calculating whether they could reduce their price to attract customers, but they found that if they reduced the price, they would lose money on the costs of materials, so they really didn’t know what they could do.
That was why when he heard Su Tang mention the stall next to his, Jiang He’s eyes had turned red. After all, those people had harmed him first, so how could he not want to get them back?
“So, girl*, does that mean you have a way?” He had been calling her ‘little girl’ just now but Jiang He had decided to address her more seriously.
“Yes, I’ve created a new kind of fish ball after studying for some time at home and so I wonder if you would like to add a new product to your stall?” Su Tang bluntly told him her purpose.
She had gone to Fuxing House for convenience. After all, a big restaurant would need a large and steady quantity of good, so it would be convenient for her if she could come and deliver a fixed supply of her goods every day.
But because Fuxing House didn’t want to work with her, she could only cooperate with someone else. It had also been very simple for her to choose this stall. After all, the most basic principle of doing business was that in the face of competition you couldn’t be afraid of others copying you, because as long as you have the skills you would be able to continue to develop your business. So even though this noodle stall seemed to be at a disadvantage, they were actually well positioned to make a come back right now.
After all, even those big and famous restaurants which had chefs with signature dishes would still spend considerable time studying new dishes, in order to prolong the life of their restaurants. Because no matter how good your food was, after a period of time, your guests would slowly get bored of it.
In modern times, because of the development of transportation there was a much greater flow of guests so a restaurant could survive for a time even if they only had one superb signature dish. But in these ancient times, transportation was very inconvenient, and that meant that the only group of customers you had were the people who happened to walk by the stalls wanting to eat. With those circumstances, in the absence of new dishes, the only way to compete was the stupidest possible way, that is to say a price war. Which meant, the key to breaking this deadlock was introducing a new, high quality, dish.
But after Su Tang finished talking she saw that Jiang He didn’t look very convinced. Seeing that, Su Tang took her basket off her back and took out the large bowl of ordinary fish balls that she had just taken sneakily out of her space warehouse. Each fish ball was the size of a baby’s fist and smelled very good.
“Why don’t you try one of my fish balls first?” Su Tang offered.
Jiang He looked at the fish balls and saw they had a very uniform size. Even though they were just ordinary fish balls of the kind that even he was able to make, when he saw their even size he could not help exclaiming, “You have good craftsmanship.”
Anyone could make fish balls but it was not easy to make fish balls like this that looked so neat and uniform. Since they were just food at the end of the day few people would even bother.
Su Tang heard his words and smiled. “Have a taste.”
Jiang He nodded, wiped his hands with a handkerchief, and then took a bite of one of the fish balls. His eyes became brighter and brighter as he ate until he had eaten the whole fish ball in a scarce few bites. He was so surprised he couldn’t help exclaiming aloud, “What fine fish balls, what a tender taste, and not a single bone. Girl, you really made this fish ball really well.”
The things produced by the space naturally tasted good, and the most important thing was that anyone who ate this could tell that it was just an ordinary fish ball with no special seasoning at all. But despite being ‘ordinary’ the taste was fresh and tender. It retained the juiciness of the carp and there weren’t any bones inside, so overall it indeed could be said to have a very good taste.
After all, everyone knew that normal grass carp had a lot of small bones which were difficult to pick out.
“Big Brother, do you think that if I provide you with these fish balls on a regular basis, won’t your business get better?”
Su Tang was not surprised that Jiang He was impressed because, after all, it was food produced entirely by her space.
When Jiang He heard Su Tang say this, his eyes lit up. The taste of her fish balls was indeed very good. If he had them to sell, his noodle stall would finally have its own distinct characteristic. But his eyes flickered. The thing was that him and his wife could just make the fish balls themselves, fish balls weren’t hard to make – it would only take a little extra effort each day.
As soon as Su Tang saw the change in Jiang He’s expression, she immediately knew what he was thinking. This was part of the reason why Su Tang did not want to find a small stall to talk about cooperation with at first. The business of these small stalls was not very big, and most of the stall owners were very economically minded. Although her fish balls were delicious, if a small stall like this had to spend money to buy them then they would just think that they might as well make the fish balls themselves. Although it would be a little more troublesome, their costs would go down.
“Big Brother think about it carefully. This fish ball was made from a grass carp I fished up from the Qing River yesterday. After raising it all night, I got up before dawn today to kill it. It took me more than an hour to clean out all the bones and then carefully mince the meat into these fish balls. After all that work I only managed to produce these few average-sized fish balls that you see here. Then I had to rush them into town with them as soon as they were ready because fish balls don’t keep for very long.”
*he calls her gu niang here (姑娘) which is a change from ni’er (妮儿) which is what he was calling her before. The distinction is subtle and hard to bring across in English tbh