The people of Tianjin, China are very proud of their cuisine; and for good reason. I am an extremely picky eater due to allergies (Pork, Fish, Tomatoes, Soy, Nuts, and more) and I usually have to subsist on Pringles and Microwave meals from the Convenience stores when I stay in Asia. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that Tianjin is actually not as bad for me as some of the other places. Most of the food served in Chinese restaurants there are actually vegetable dishes. I expected tons of rice, but found that you frequently only got a teeny tiny bowl at the end of your meal. Most dishes were pea pods, cashews, leafy greens, mushrooms, peppers (green, red, and yellow), eggplant, and other such organic foods mixed together with varied sauces and meats. While I did find myself eating a lot of pork; my allergy to that isn’t so bad so I was able to bypass the effects there and they served a lot of beef, duck, and lamb dishes. Amazingly, I found that their concept of dessert was fruit: Watermelon, Cantaloupe, and Grapes were served all summer as a refreshing meal end. I actually lost more than 20 lbs this summer between the exercise and healthy foods. To give you a taste, here are some of the great dinners we had!
Nonetheless, while Tianjin cooks serve hundreds of yummy dishes, they are most famous for three different types of food. Ask anyone on the street, and they’ll give you this list. And I have to admit; they were particular favorites of mine!
You may be familiar with the famous Peking duck, but what you probably don’t know is that it is a knock-off of the equally famous Tianjin Duck. We actually found a bunch of places in Beijing/Peking that served Tianjin Duck instead. While I still enjoy Peking Duck, I have to say I think the Tianjin Duck was even better. It was moist and perfectly cooks so that it fell apart in your mouth. So good!
Fried Wheat Twist
Not quite sure how these were actually made, but boy were they delicious! A college friend of mine there said her family loves them so much she takes home 3 plastic bags full to them when she goes home. They tasted kind of like really crunchy cake donuts with flavors to them. You could get them sugar-free, sesame, brown sugar, green tea, spicy, extra spicy, vegetable, etc. Dozens of flavors available for your choice. If I had room, I’d have brought some home myself!
Depends on who you ask as to whether these were steamed buns or steamed dumplings. We were confused a few times because supposedly there is a difference, but I really like the steamed buns that were served in a restaurant on Nankai University campus. For approximately $3 you could get 6 huge hand-sized buns full of a bunch of different flavors (you could mix and match). I prefered the pork buns which had pork, celery, potatoes, and was in a stew-type of sauce (not soup, the gravy-ish stew sauce). But others liked the Red Bean kind, the cabbage kind, and more. The place actually served more than 100 varieties! You could dip them in vinegar (a kind you actually can drink for health–all organic) or soy sauce, and they came with hot spices that you could add to the dipping sauce. I could have eaten these every day! You can get a smaller, more expensive version at the Din Tai Fung restaurant in the US. It originally opened in Tianjin actually, but has since expanded rapidly even as far as the US. I didn’t actually like that version as well as the cheap kind, but the other students preferred them sometimes. They are still really great!
What makes the food even more fun though is the history of the restaurants. Everywhere we went actually had a lot of history, even little side restaurants in the middle of nowhere. The place where we ate the Peking Duck above is famous because Chairman Mao once ate there. We were shown to the room where he ate and got to take photos with his pictures and artifacts. How cool is that!?!