Episode 18: Delicatessen

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I know a lot of horror stories and legends in Hollywood movies happened in motels in a promote place. Hotels are somewhere we spend nights at in a strange place and interesting things can always happen during a night. Today we are going to tell a story about a special night in a bizarre hotel. This story is from the book HeDongJi河东记, a book complied legends and myths mostly happened between the year 827 to year 835 during the Tang Dynasty 唐 朝.

In Tang Dynasty, in the west of BianZhou汴州, there was a hotel in BanQiao板桥. The owner was called SanNiangZi三娘子, which means the third lady. Nobody knew where she was from. She was in her thirties and had no children or families but owned a lot of estates. She was selling porridge however she was fairly rich and owned a lot of donkeys. How strange! There were a lot of people passing by the hotel everyday and if they couldn’t make it to the destinations they would stay in the hotel. SanNiangZi would give them a discount. People said she was a great manager and the hotel had a great reputation. In the year of Yuanhe元和, there was a guy named Zhao JiheZhao Jihe from XuZhou许州 and headed to the capital LuoYang 洛阳 and stayed in this hotel on the way. Since there were a lot of guests that day, he had to sleep on the bed in the corner next to the wall, on the other side of which was the room of SanNiangZi, the owner. She took care of everybody really well and even drank with the all the guests at night. They drank and laughed and had a great time except Zhao Jihe since he never drank and didn’t really had conversations with anyone.

In the midnight, other guests all got drunk and went to bed. SanNiangZi also went back to her room and blew the candles. Everyone fell asleep except Zhao Jihe. He just couldn’t fall asleep for some reason. Suddenly, he heard noises from the room of SanNiangZi. So he peeped through the cracks on the wall and saw something very interesting. SanNiangZi lit candles and brought a wooden plow, a wooden cattle and a wooden person from a box yes cause they were very small around 6~ 7 cun. Cun is an ancient Chinese unit of length. 6~ 7 cun is around 25 cm around 10 inches. Then she sprayed water on them, guess what they started to move like real things. She got some seeds from the box too. The wooden person planted the seeds and the cattle started to plow the land. After not too long, the seeds grew to sprouts and then it was ready to harvest. She let the person did rest of the work and she got 7 ~ 8 shengwheat, which is around 20 pounds. After the wooden person make the wheat into flour, she put them into the box again. She made some bread herself with the flour. And then sun rose everyone woke up. SanNiangZi served the bread to the guests as breakfast. Since Zhao Jihe watched the whole thing the night and was really scared and confused, he didn’t touch the bread and left the hotel to watch what was going happen. Guess what he saw. The guests who ate the bread all fell on the ground and became donkeys! SanNiangZi moved the donkeys to the barn and stole all the money from the guests. It’s a trap! Zhao Jihe never told anyone else the experiences and was very amazed.


After one month or so, he came back from the capital and stayed at this hotel again. You might be wondering why he came back to this horrible place? He was bringing some bread which looked like the ones SanNiangZi made to the hotel. SanNiangZi was still very friendly and out going. Nobody except him stayed in the hotel that night so SanNiangZi was extremely helpful. Before going to bed, she asked him if he needed any help. He said, “I will check out tomorrow morning and could you prepare me some food?” She said,” no problem.” In the middle of the night, Zhao Jihe peeped again and saw the exact same thing happened like last time. The next morning, she brought the bread and Zhao Jihe secretly exchanged his own bread with the bread on the plate. He ate the bread on the plate and told SanNiangZi to try some of the bread he brought. She didn’t get suspicious and took a bite. Of course, she became a donkey herself.

Zhao Jihe left the hotel with the donkey and the magic box with all the wooden cattle and person stuff. He tried to spay water and stuff they never worked for him. He traveled with the donkey to a lot of places and never got lost or anything. After another 4 years, he was riding the donkey passing the temple HuaYue华岳庙. An old guy started to clap and laugh and said,” SanNiangZi from BanQiao, why did you become a donkey?” He told Zhao Jihe that he knew she was guilty however it was a shame that she was a donkey please let her go. The old guy them split the nose of the donkey, SanNiangZi jumped from the donkey and thanked them and left. Nobody knows where she went.

I don’t know if you think this story sounds familiar cause there are quite a few similar stories from other cultures. One of them is the Circe in Greek mythology who is known for her knowledge of potions and herbs and magic. In Homer’s Odyssey she used potion in a feast for Odysseus’s crew and turned them into swine. In Europe including Italy, German and Romania, there was a popular story that in some hotels the hostess would feed guests with a kind of cheese and turned them into horses and donkeys which would work for her. In ancient Indian around 11th century, there is an almost identical and except people turned into goats instead of donkeys. Some people say based on the times recorded, the Indian version is the earliest. Perhaps this story spreaded from Indian to the east and west.

In ShuiHuZhuan水浒传, one of the most famous classical Chinese novels, there was a story about SunErniang孙二娘, a hostess of a hotel make meat steamed buns by killing the guests. In the west until today we still love this story and we can find it in Sweeney Todd, Mrs. Lovett baked human’s bodies into meat pies and sold them in her restaurant. The title of our episode today is Delicatessen, which is also a name of a French movie from the 90s about a crazy hotel that guests are supposed to be the dish. Definitely very interesting if you enjoy today’s topic I am sure you would enjoy the movie as well. The movies Coraline and Spirited Away seem to have that creepy sense of the story too. What’s the moral? Maybe don’t trust strangers especially when they offer you food and treat you extremely friendly.


河东记 HeDongJi


Homer’s Odyssey


Sweeney Todd



Spirited Away


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