Like any large city in China, you can get food from pretty much every other region. Sichuanese, Yunnanese, Hunanese – you name it. However, Tianjin has its own specialties as well, and what better way to get to know the city than to try its unique culinary delicacies?
Most famous of all Tianjin dishes is the goubuli baozi, or goubuli steamed buns. These are similar to many of the steamed buns you’ll find around China, but are large and plumply stuffed full of ground meat. Like any truly regional dish, they also have their own fable surrounding them: goubuli baozi means “the dog ignores the buns”, which comes from the story of the original creator. His nickname was “Dog”, and the story goes that he became so engrossed in making these delicious buns for visitors Tianjin that he began to ignore everyone else in his life. Try a couple of them at one of the many fancy restaurants around town that feature baozi as their specialty. And if you hear anyone mention “Go Believe” buns, this is what they’re talking about.
Another one of the “three delicacies” of Tianjin is the erduoyan zhagao, or “ear-hole fried cake”. Don’t worry about the odd name – they just originated on Ear-Hole Street, over a century ago. These little fritters are made from red bean paste that’s been wrapped in a rice-based dough, and then deep fried in sesame oil. Sweet and a little bit savory, these cakes are almost like fried jelly donuts – but approximately a bajillion times more delicious.
The final of the “three” is the ma hua, or fried bread twists. These look like simply twisted breads, but are made from high quality flour, are fried, and contain a variety of fillings such as bean paste. They’re best known for their lasting power, as they will stay crispy and edible for months. Take a couple home, so other people can get a chance to taste these yummy twists.
Less famous but also originating from Tianjin is the jianbing guozi, most similar to a crepe or latke pancake. Made from eggs and a variety of vegetables and sauces and then wrapped around crispy dough, these are another great street snack that you’ll find yourself craving long after you leave.
To find all of these, head to one of the big food markets or the Ancient Cultural Street. Here you can find restaurants and street stalls where both tourists and locals find their favorite snack and dig in. Just prepare yourself for all of the smells – once they hit you, you won’t be able to say no.
[photo courtesy of Helga’s Lobster Stew]