A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from December 11, 2010
“They eat anything with legs except a table and anything with wings except an airplane”

Cantonese cuisine (from the Guangdong Province in southern China) has been joked about by northern Chinese for the Cantonese variety that seemingly includes every living thing. The French writer Simone de Beauvoir—reporting on her tour of China in the summer of 1955—wrote in The Long March (1958): “‘Oh, yes,’ the poet Ai Ts’ing told me one evening at table, ‘we eat everything: everything on four legs except the table; and except for our friends and relations, everything on two.’”

“Anything/Everything on (four) legs except a table/chair” appears to be an early version of the saying. English language citations from the 1960s and 1970s appear to be lacking. An airplane and a submarine were added to the saying by the time this was written by Amanda Bennett in the Wall Street Journal of October 4, 1983: “Cantonese will eat anything in the sky but airplanes, anything in the sea but submarines and anything with four legs but the table.” Some versions replace the “airplane” with a “helicopter.” “Wings” are added to some versions to parallel “legs.” The “two legs” of a ladder are sometimes added to the “four legs” of a table or a chair.

Prince Philip said before a 1986 World Wildlife Fund conference: “If it has got four legs and it is not a chair, if it has two wings and it flies but is not an aeroplane, and if it swims and is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it.” Prince Philip did not coin the saying, however; he had merely repeated a saying that was well-known in China. In the 1980s, Haing Nor (a star of the 1984 film The Killing Fields) wrote that this saying was popular in Cambodia: “Eat anything with two legs except a ladder, anything with four legs except a table, and anything that flies except an airplane.”


Wikipedia: Cantonese cuisine
Cantonese (Yuet) cuisine comes from Guangdong Province in southern China. Of all the regional varieties of Chinese cuisine, Cantonese is renowned both inside and outside China. Its prominence outside China is due to the great numbers of early emigrants from Guangdong. In China, too, it enjoys great prestige among the eight great traditions of Chinese cuisine, and Cantonese chefs are highly sought after throughout the country.
(...)
Characterization from non-Cantonese people
In 1986, Prince Philip commented on Chinese eating habits to the World Wildlife Fund conference saying: “If it has got four legs and it is not a chair, if it has two wings and it flies but is not an aeroplane, and if it swims and is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it.” Despite having the quote presented to a notable organization, it has also appeared in books such as “The Most Stupid Words Ever Spoken” as it is deemed by some Westerners as a prime example of lack of understanding of foreign culinary traditions in the Western world. Although, some sources point out that this is a modern Chinese saying used by the Chinese from other regions in reference to Cantonese culinary habits.

Google Books
The Long March
By Simone de Beauvoir
Cleveland, OH: World Pub. Co.
1958
Pg. 81:
“Oh, yes,” the poet Ai Ts’ing told me one evening at table, “we eat everything: everything on four legs except the table; and except for our friends and relations, everything on two.” Lin Yutang also wrote: “We eat everything on earth that is edible; crabs by way of preference, the bark of trees when we must.”
(WorldCat book summary: “Report by a noted French intellectual on her six weeks tour through China in the summer of 1955”—ed.)

13 March 1983, Chicago (IL) Tribune, “Cantonese cuisine that’s purr-fect: Braised cat and other delicacies” by Jonathan Broder, pg. I16:
NORTHERN CHINESE often poke fun at what they consider the perverse palate of their southern compatriots, joking that a Cantonese “will eat anything in the sky except an airplane and anything on the ground except the dinner table.”

Google Books
China Reconstructs
Volume 32, Issues 7-12
China Welfare Institute
1983 (Google Books date might be incorrect—ed.)
Pg. 69:
Guangdong — Southern Style
Northerners sometimes joke that Guangdong people will eat “anything with legs but a table and anything that flies but a helicopter.”

13 May 1985, Aberdeen (SD) Daily News, “TV Tonight,” pg. 1, col. 1:
Same time (7 p.m.—ed.), SDPTV presents part two of “Heart of the Dragon” called “Eating,” filmed in Canton, of course. Other Chinese say, “The Cantonese eat anything with wings but an airplane and everything with legs but a table.”

21 August 1985, Ottawa (KS) Herald, “On The Road In China: Tourists Will Leave Well-Fed” by Peggy McCormally, pg. 2, col. 6:
It is said the Chinese eat anything that flies except an airplane, anything with four legs except the table.

Google Books
The China Business Handbook
By Arne J. De Keijzer and Christopher H. Phillips
Weston, CT: Asia Business Communications; San Francisco, CA: China Books & Periodicals
1986
Pg. 173:
If eating is a preoccupation in Beijing and Shanghai, it is an obsession in Guangzhou. People from other parts of China say that a Cantonese will eat anything with legs except a table, and anything that flies except an airplane.

Google Books
Born Red:
A Chronicle of the Cultural Revolution

By Yuan Gao
Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press
1987
Pg. 168:
It was said that people here would eat anything with four legs except a table, and anything with two wings except an airplane. Some restaurants had terrariums full of live snakes and jars full of dried mice on display.

Google Books
Survival in the Killing Fields
By Haing Ngor with Roger Warner
New York, NY: Carroll & Graf
2003, ©1987
Pg. 175:
In Cambodia we have a humorous saying about food: “Eat anything with two legs except a ladder, anything with four legs except a table, and anything that flies except an airplane.” The point is that when you live off the land you cannot be particular.

9 February 1989, Richmond (VA) Times, “Chinese cuisine can be nutritious” by Jeanine Sherry, pg. E1:
He explained that the rural Chinese eat everything with wings except an airplane and anything with legs except a table and chairs.

1 September 1991, Newsday (Long Island, NY), “Capitalist Corner in a Marxist State” by Les Payne, pg. 50:
It is said in China that the Cantonese will eat anything that moves except a car and anything with legs except a table.

Google Books
And I Quote:
The definitive collection of quotes, sayings, and jokes for the contemporary speechmaker

By Ashton Applewhite, Tripp Evans and Andrew Frothingham
New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press
1992
Pg. 340:
Cantonese will eat anything in the sky but airplanes, anything in the sea but submarines, and anything with four legs but the table. — Amanda Bennet

Google Books
Everything you need to know about Asian American history
By Lan Cao and Himilce Novas
New York, NY: Plume
1996
Pg. 66:
Do Chinese Americans really eat everything? According to a popular saying, “The Chinese eat everything in the sky except an airplane, everything in the sea except a submarine, and everything with four legs except a table.”

Google Books
The Fearless Diner:
Travel Tips and Wisdom for Eating Around the World

By Richard Sterling
San Francisco, CA: Travelers’ Tales; Sebastopol, CA : Distributed by O’Reilly and Associates
1998
Pg. 16:
Common foods are the staples of rice in the south and noodles in the north, anything that grows in the ground, anything from the sea, and “anything with legs except a table and anything with wings except an airplane,” as many a Chinese cook has said to me.

Google Books
The Quotable Woman:
Words of wisdom from Mother Teresa, Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf, Eleanor Roosevelt, Katharine Hepburn, and more

Author: Carol Turkington
New York, NY: McGraw-Hill
2000
Pg. 57:
Cantonese will eat anything in the sky but airplanes, anything in the sea but submarines and anything with four legs but the table. -—AMANDA BENNETT, Wall Street Journal, October 4, 1983

Google Books
A Traveller’s History of China
By Stephen G. Haw
Brooklyn, NY: Interlink Books
2001
Pg. 280:
The north Chinese have a saying about the Cantonese diet: “They eat everything with legs except a table and everything with wings except an aeroplane.”

The Guardian (UK)
What not to eat
If it flies, if it swims, or if it has four legs - but is not a table or chair - the Chinese eat it. Is that so odd?

Xinran
The Guardian, Friday 12 December 2003
I had a house-warming party this week. When it was all very busy I overheard a conversation about Chinese food:
A (a western woman): Could you tell me what Chinese people don’t eat?
B (a Chinese man): Can I answer that the other way round?
A: Yes, of course. You mean what do Chinese eat?
B: Listen carefully. Everything that flies in the sky which you can see, except airplanes; everything that swims in the river and the sea, except submarines; any four-legged things on the ground, except tables and chairs - that is what we eat.
(...)
The Good Women of China by Xinran is published by Vintage, £6.99

MSNBC.com
Asia’s wildlife hunted for China’s appetite
Beliefs about health and sex drive the destruction

By Denis D. Gray
The Associated Press
updated 4/6/2004 3:35:08 PM ET 2004-04-06T19:35:08
(...)
Conservationists are updating an age-old adage about such omnivorous eating habits: “The Cantonese will eat anything with legs except a table and anything with wings except an airplane.”

The Guardian (UK)
A goat’s testicle to go please, but hold the bug entrails
Jonathan Watts in Beijing
The Guardian, Saturday 26 June 2004 02.16 BST
(...)
China has a longstanding reputation as a nation where—as the writer Xinran has noted—people eat anything in the water except a submarine, anything that flies except a plane and anything with legs except a table and chairs.

Google Books
Chinese Lessons:
Five classmates and the story of the new China

By John Pomfret
New York, NY: Henry Holt
2006
Pg. 277:
There is a joke with a punch line that says Chinese eat everything on four legs except a table, and everything that flies except an airplane. That joke became ever truer with the emergence of high-class restaurants and the continued flow of state money for sumptuous banquets.

Google Books
Frommer’s Beijing
By Jen Lin-Liu and Sherisse Pham
Hoboken, NJ: Wiley
2010
Pg. 215:
The town is almost like a remote outpost of Guangdong, of whose residents other Chinese say, “They eat anything with legs except a table, and anything with wings except an airplane.” Donkey, dog, and scorpion are on menus. 

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • (2) Comments • Saturday, December 11, 2010 • Permalink


I agree with the things that the Cantonese eats.  The Cantonese will eat almost anything on fours, in fact I remember some Chinese said as long as the animal has its back to the sky then it’s edible; I wonder if that includes hunchbacks LOL

Posted by Peter "Chinese restaurants in Glasgow" Liu  on  11/18  at  08:16 PM

Oh! The things they eat! I plan on trying some of them.
Eggs boiled in urine, anyone?
What about grasshopper?

Posted by Nico  on  03/31  at  08:09 AM

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