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Tianjin cuisine (Tientsin Cuisine) is derived from the native cooking styles of Tianjin Municipality, a metropolis along the coast of northern China. Tianjin cuisine is renowned throughout China, and not only the traditional local snacks, but the cuisines from other regions of China can also be found. Tianjin Food Street is a place where cross-cultural Chinese dishes can be sampled. Popular dishes include Eight Great Bowls, Four Great Stews, Tianjing Goubuli, and Guifaxiang mahua, among others.
Differences between Tianjin and Beijing cuisines
Tianjin cuisine differs from Beijing cuisine in the following ways. One of its most distinctive traits involves the heavy concentration on seafood, particularly river fish and shrimp. This is primarily attributed to Tianjin's proximity to the sea. In the case of the same dish, the taste of Tianjin cuisine is not as heavy as that of Beijing cuisine, and this is often reflected in the lighter salty taste of Tianjin cuisine. This can be explained by the fact that although Beijing and Tianjin cuisines are both mainly salty in taste, the latter requires the addition or use of more sugar, which results to a distinctive flavor. Those new to the cuisine will immediately identify a slightly sweet taste embedded in the savory flavor.
Since ancient times, the cuisine is also known for the liberal use of oil. Historical accounts, for example, during the late imperial period referred to Tianjin as the region where oily-mouthed businessmen were from. While this reference is linked to the capability of slippery-tongued Tianjiners to haggle for the best price, this also alluded to their well-lubricated tongues due to the abundance of oil in the local cuisine.
Tianjin cuisine also uses mutton and lamb more frequently due to the less frequently used pork in comparison to Beijing cuisine, and in the event of traditional holidays, mutton and lamb are nearly always prepared for holiday dishes. A greater proportion of Tianjin cuisine includes rice in comparison to Beijing cuisine. In addition, the ways noodles are served in Tianjin cuisine is different than that of Beijing cuisine in that for Tianjin cuisine, the vegetables and meat are served separately from the noodles; in Beijing cuisine, they are served together with the noodles.
Finally, there are dishes in the cuisine that show influences from other countries such as Russia and Japan. Scholars attribute this to the city's location as a treaty port, making its culture and, by extension, its cuisine more cosmopolitan than other major Chinese cities such as Beijing.
Nanshi Food Street
Nanshi Food Street (南市食品街) is a shopping mall-like complex with more than 100 restaurants covering about 40,000 square metres in area in Tianjin's Heping District. Notable establishments include Zheijiang Restaurant, Da Jin Haiwei, which specializes in seafood,and Erdouyan Fried Cake Shop, a century-old institution known for its rice-powder cakes that are fried in sesame oil.
Notable dishes in Tianjin cuisine
|English||Traditional Chinese||Simplified Chinese||Pinyin||Picture||Notes|
|Chatang||茶湯||茶汤||chátāng||Chatang is Tianjin's traditional snack. It is made of baked millet and glutinous millet flour. The soup is made by pouring boiling water to the mixed flour and then adding sugar or brown sugar. The way chatang is served at stalls is as attractive as the soup itself. The water is boiled in a big copper pot whose spout is usually fashioned into a dragon's head. While making the soup, the skilled chatang maker holds several bowls in one hand and pours the boiling water into them from quite a distance.|
|Ear-hole fried cake||耳朵眼炸糕||耳朵眼炸糕||ěrduō yǎn zhá gāo||A traditional Tianjin local snack. It derived its name from the narrow Ear-Hole Street in Tianjin's Beidaguan, where the shop selling it was located. This dish has a history of more than 80 years. It was introduced by a man named Liu Wanchun (刘万春; 劉萬春), who peddled it on a single-wheel barrow from street to street. When his business prospered, he rented a room and opened Liu's Fried Cake Shop. Because the fried cake he made was of high quality, reasonable in price and had a special flavour, it soon became a popular snack. The cake is made of carefully leavened and kneaded glutinous rice dough. The filling is bean paste made with good-quality red beans. The pastry of the finished cake is golden in colour, crisp and crunchy, while the filling is tender and sweet with a lingering flavour.|
|Goubuli baozi||狗不理包子||狗不理包子||gǒu bù lǐ bāo zǐ||A type of stuffed bun (baozi). "Goubuli" literally means "dog doesn't care". This snack was created in the late Qing dynasty by a man from Wuqing Country whose nickname was "Dog". At the age of 14, Dog left home and came to Tianjin, where he became an apprentice at a restaurant specialising in baozi. A diligent and honest young man, Dog eventually opened a shop of his own. As his baozi tasted better and had a unique flavour, they attracted an increasing number of customers. As time went by, his nickname became known far and wide. Later, people changed his nickname from "Dog" to "Dog doesn't care" because he was often too busy to speak to his customers. His baozi were then named after his nickname. Today, with its main outlet located at Shandong Road, Heping District, the Goubuli Baozi Shop has developed into a corporation with 89 branch restaurants in Tianjin and 24 other Chinese cities. In addition to over 90 varieties of stuffed bun, its restaurants also offer more than 200 dishes.|
|Guobacai||鍋巴菜||锅巴菜||guōbācài||A snack of strong local flavour, guobacai is a sort of pancake made of millet and mung bean flour. The pancake is sliced and cooked in the sauce made of sesame oil, chopped ginger, soy sauce, preserved beancurd and green onions. Guobacai is often served along with fried dough and sesame cakes.|
|Mahua||麻花||麻花||máhuā||Although plain in look, this queue-shaped fried dough is not easy to make. Each bar of dough is made with quality flour and then fried in peanut oil. The bars are usually stuffed with a variety of fillings, most often the waxy tasting sweet bean paste. Mahua can be preserved for several months.|
|Tanghulu||糖葫蘆||糖葫芦||táng húlu||It is customary in Tianjin to eat tanghulu on the eve of the Lunar New Year. The most popular tanghulu is made of hawthorn berry. Hawthorn berries have their seeds removed and are skewered on a thin bamboo stick, then dipped in hot syrup. When they turn cool, the stringed berries wrapped in crystallised sugar look like beautiful stone beans pungently sweet and sour. Sometimes, the hollowed hawthorn berries are filled with red bean paste, walnut and melon seeds. Today, in addition to hawthorn, a wide variety of tanghulu has been developed, including water chestnut, tangerine, apple, pear and crab-apple, etc.|
|Tianjin preserved vegetable||天津冬菜||天津冬菜||Tiānjīn dōng cài||A type of pickled Chinese cabbage similar to the salt pickled vegetable (腌菜) of Guizhou cuisine, but the former takes much longer to prepare than the latter, usually half a year. Another clear distinction between the two is that instead of having two separate steps of salt pickling and then fermentation, the salt pickling and fermentation is combined in a single step that takes longer time. The Chinese cabbage is mixed with salt and garlic together and then fermented, which creates the unique garlic flavour/taste and golden colour. In order to preserve the unique taste, Tianjin preserved vegetable is often used for soups and fish dishes or stir-fried and eaten.|
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