Like most small restaurants in this rural part of Wanan county in the eastern province of Jiangxi, the Little Wealth God does not have a menu. Diners go directly to the kitchen to pick vegetables, fish and raw meat, and let the chef know how they would like them cooked.
But due to its spiraling price, China's most popular meat, pork, is nowhere to be seen. Instead, many locals are opting for a traditional dish that had lost appeal until recently.
"Why not choose dog meat if you want some meat?" the waiter recommended, adding high prices meant most diners no longer felt it worthwhile to order pork.
Renewed interest in dog meat is just one of the side-effects that a massive pork shortage, caused by the African swine fever epidemic, has created across China, the world's largest producer and consumer of pork, which accounts for more than half of the meat eaten globally.
As pork prices continue to soar, discontent is growing among the public, especially among the poor. It is also dampening consumer sentiment and belies Beijing's attempts to convince people of the country's bright economic future.
In a supermarket in the county's town center, the price of lean pork was 72 yuan per kilogram ($4.6 per pound) more than double what was being charged a year ago and at least as high as prices in major cities like Shanghai and Beijing.
Given consumers' reluctance to buy pork at that price, the supermarket has a promotion on rabbit. The only pork item less expensive is a leg bone with almost no meat attached.
The sharp rise in the price of pork is especially hard for residents of Wanan, which was officially labeled a "county of poverty" by Beijing in 2018.
The average salary is about 2,500 yuan ($353) a month " a third to a quarter less than salaries in large Chinese cities.
At wet markets outside Wanan's town center, most pork vendors have gone out of business because few rural residents, whose incomes are even lower than the county average, can afford it, according to Liu Gang, a villager in Jian county in Jiangxi.
"It's not only expensive, but it's also hard to purchase pork meat in rural villages," Liu said. "Many pigs died in nearby pig farms due to African swine fever earlier this year."
And there is no sign China's pork crisis will be over any time soon.
China's National Bureau of Statistics said the average price of pork nationwide shot up 69% in September from a year earlier, pushing the consumer price index (a measure of inflation) up to 3%, the limit of Beijing's inflation tolerance for 2019.
Prices are expected to rise further given the continued decline in the country's stock of pigs.
African swine fever has swept through China's pig population, leading to mass culls that are expected to take years to recover from.
The country's live hog population, which accounted for about half of the global total in 2018, had fallen 41.1% at the end of September from a year earlier, according to a survey of 400 counties by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. It is unclear how much further it will fall before it bottoms out.
The Chinese government has instituted emergency measures to boost pig supply, trying desperately to help farmers expand production while scrambling to import pork to boost supply.
China's imports of pork rose 43.6% to 1.46 million tons in the first nine months of this year, according to China's General Administration of Customs.
But China's demand for pork is so large that not even all the pork in the world can fill the gap, forcing residents like those in Wanan to treat the meat as a luxury for a long time to come.
Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.