The leaning towers of Pizza Hut

Michael Hanlon

Last updated at 3:12 PM on 10th January 2012

Students today claim to be poor which is something I don’t understand. The ones I see in London (there is a large hall of residence near where I live) all seem to be well dressed, equipped with the latest Pads and i-Thingies and are gearing up for their gap-yahs in Cambodia or wherever it is this year. When I were a lad we had to queue for the payphone in the lobby, froze to death in unheated digs and most of us bought second-hand clothes.

It was a bit like prison in other words, except the food was worse (this was Scotland).

In these circumstances the wondrous development of the all-you-can-cram-in salad bowl came to the rescue. I thought of this when reading about Shen Hongrui, a Chinese engineer, who has worked out how to maximise the amount of salad he can cram into his salad bowl while dining (if that is the word) at a branch of Pizza Hut in Beijing (see below).

Banned: Pizza Huts in China have put a stop to the craze by removing all the salad bars in restaurants

Banned: Pizza Huts in China have put a stop to the craze by removing all the salad bars in restaurants

Similar rules applied in my day – you could put as much as you wanted in the bowl but only one visit to the salad bar was allowed. Our attempts were made in a now defunct rival to Pizza Hut (can anyone remember its name? Green logo, were everywhere, then went out of business in about 1991)

Shen Hongrui’s solution is a complex series of cucumber and carrot stick walls. The (appropriately) pagoda-like design is extremely elegant, I admit that, but it has significant failings. Cucumber slices have poor structural strength, both in tension and compression. Indeed, as an engineering material it is hard to think of anything worse than cucumber.

I can imagine that most attempts to build a Shen tower and then carry it back to your table result in embarrassing and messy failure. And even if it works, how are you supposed to eat it? The logical way would be to munch the walls, layer by layer, but that would involve consumption of large quantities of cucumber, which is not only a poor construction material but pretty useless as a human foodstuff (people have been cultivating cucumbers for 3000 years; the question is, why?). No, we found a better way.

The answer is of course the celery stick. Celery is the carbon fibre of salad-bowl all-you-can-eat cheatery. It is light, strong and elastic, with a ribbed construction that wouldn’t look out of place on a racing yacht.

A cylindrical outer-wall of upright celery sticks in the bowl can be constructed quite easily, anchored in a substantive layer of potato salad, used as a foundation material.

Back in the 1980s potato ‘salad’ was made with a material that was almost entirely unlike the mayonnaises that we see today, a thick yellow sub-salad-cream that doubled as a damping compound in dodgy Soviet nuclear reactors. It tasted vile, as did most things in a British restaurant before 1990, but it made an excellent glue.

How to construct your salad tower

How to construct your salad tower

If you are clever (we were) you can tie fronds of vegetation, if available, around your celery shell to make it even stronger. You can even – and this is even cleverer – use their curved cross-section to link them together like chainmail.

Inside, pack in all the stuff you can manage (anything with salad cream or, better still bacon bits will up the protein/fat count, necessary for a student who may have consumed little else than beer for days). If you cut (i.e. bite) the celery to a uniform length, you can build a double-decker creation.

It’s not stable, I grant you, and there were some unfortunate incidents, but I reckon for a pound or so you could get a couple of thousand calories back to the table. Sometimes we were even allowed to eat it before being thrown out.




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