Cuisine of Tianjin
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Cuisine of Tianjin (Chinese: 津菜 / 天津菜; pinyin: jīn cài / Tiānjīn cài) is derived from the native cooking styles of Tianjin, China. The cuisine of Tianjin is renowned throughout China, and not only the traditional Tianjin snacks, but the cuisines from other regions of China can also be found. Tianjin Cuisine Street is a place where cross-cultural Chinese dishes can be sampled.
Difference from Beijing cuisine
Tianjin cuisine differs from Beijing cuisine in the following ways:
- Tianjin cuisine is much more heavily concentrated on river fish/shrimp and seafood due to its geographical location on the coast.
- For 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.
- Though Beijing cuisine and Tianjin cuisine are both mainly salty in taste, in the cooking of Tianjin cuisine, sugar is required more frequently and resulting in the unique taste of Tianjin cuisine: there is a slight sweet taste in the salty taste.
- Tianjin cuisine utilises mutton and lamb more frequently due to the less frequently utilised 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 consists of rice in comparison to Beijing cuisine.
- 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 bowl of noodle; in Beijing cuisine they are put together with the noodles in the same bowl.
- The most significant characteristic of Tianjin cuisine is perhaps its healthy breakfast diet in comparison to its neighbouring cuisines: although Tianjin is right next to Beijing, the rate of cancers associated with diet is far less in Tianjin than Beijing and researchers discovered the main reason was in the difference of breakfast:
Goubuli (literally “Dog does not care”) stuffed buns are known for their filling, which is succulent but not greasy. This snack was created during the late Qing Dynasty by a native of Wuqing County, who had the nickname "Doggy". At the age of 14, Doggy left home and came to Tianjin, where he was apprenticed to a restaurant specializing in stuffed buns.
A diligent and honest young man, he eventually opened a shop of his own. As his stuffed buns 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 "Doggy" (Gouzi) to "Dog does not care" (Goubuli), which literally means "the Doggy who doesn't talk", because he was often too busy to speak to his customers. Then, eventually, his buns were called by the same name.
Today, with its main outlet located at Shandong Road, Heping District, the Goubuli Bun Shop has developed into a corporation with 89 branch restaurants opened in Tianjin and two dozen other Chinese cities, provinces and regions. In addition to over 90 varieties of stuffed bun, its restaurants also offer more than 200 dishes.
Ear-Hole Fried Cake
The Ear-Hole Fried Cake is another one of the traditional Tianjin snacks. It derived its name from the narrow Ear-Hole Street in Tianjin's Beidaguan, where the shop selling it was located. The Ear-Hole Fried Cake has a history of more than 80 years. lt was introduced by a man named Liu Wanchun, 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-qualified 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.
Fried Dough Twist (Ma hua)
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 beanpaste (Dou sha). Ma hua can be preserved for several months.
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.
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 onion. Guobacai is often served along with fried dough and sesame cakes.
It is a custom in Tianjin to eat tangdui on the eve of the Chinese New Year. The most popular tangdui 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 crystal 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 tangdui has been developed, including water chestnut, tangerine, apple, pear and crab-apple, etc.
Nanshi Cuisine Street
Nanshi Cuisine Street (Shipin Jie) is like a shopping mall, but full of food. There are two levels and about 50 restaurants, all under one roof. Some are dirt cheap street stalls, others are more like sweet shops, some are top of the range restaurants with prices to match. Make sure you check prices before you order - they're rarely displayed. There are plenty of good dumpling restaurants and you can also eat dog, snake and most of the more unusual Chinese dishes.
Tianjin preserved vegetable
Another characteristic of Tianjin cuisine is its utilisation of Tianjin preserved vegetable (天津冬菜), which is similar to the salt pickled vegetable, or yancai (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 a much longer time.
The Chinese cabbage is mixed with salt and garlic together and then fermented, which creates the unique garlic flavour/taste and golden color. In order to preserve the unique taste, Tianjin preserved vegetable is often used for soups, fishes, and stir fried and directly eaten.