Tianjin, called Zhigu in ancient times, is situated along the Haihe River near the shores of the Bohai Sea. Ever since ancient times, Tianjin has been a water transportation hub. In 2015, China (Tianjin) Pilot Free Trade Zone was established. Today, Tianjin has witnessed huge progress in its economic and social development. In 2017, Tianjin ranked fifth in the list of the Top 100 Chinese Cities. With convenient geographical conditions and favorable environment, Tianjin attracts tons of tourists and workers.
In 1860, Tianjin was opened up by the Qing government as a trading port, when Britain and France forced it to sign an unfair agreement. And the catering business became prosperous soon afterward. At that time, many restaurants were established which served Western food, and Chinese food from different schools of Chinese cuisine, such as Shandong cuisine, Shanxi cuisine, Shaanxi cuisine, Beijing cuisine, Hebei cuisine, Sichuan cuisine, Jiangsu cuisine and Fujian cuisine.
The development of Tianjin Cuisine had a lot to do with the advantageous geographical condition of Tianjin. Tianjin is situated in the northeast of the North China Plain. It is adjacent to the Bohai Sea and borders the Yan Mountains in the north. There are 19 major rivers running through Tianjin in total. Therefore, there are many kinds of food materials for the cooks to choose from. Between the end of the Ming dynasty and the beginning of the Qing dynasty, the Tianjin cuisine began to take shape. After 200 years of development, the Qing cuisine reached the vertex of its development. During the early years of the Republic of China, cuisines from other parts of China began to enter Tianjin. And the competitions among the restaurants became fiercer and fiercer. Gradually, many local restaurants have absorbed the advantages of their competitors which often belonged to different schools of Cuisine to meet customers’ needs. The combination of the characteristics of Tianjin Cuisine with those of other schools of Chinese cuisine has given birth to many special local dishes of Tianjin.
The special local dishes of Tianjin are mainly prepared with freshwater fish and shrimps, and other seafood. A saying goes like this, “Tianjin is the best place for people to eat fish and shrimps.” The famous local dishes include:
Gold-coin Purple Crabs—金钱紫蟹
The ingredients of the dish include Purple Crab (a unique crab species only found in Tianjin), egg white, lard, meat broth and various kinds of seasonings.
Procedure: Clean the crabs thoroughly; steam the crab; mix the egg white, salt, gourmet powder, with the meat broth, and stir the broth; pour half of the broth into a large soup plate, and steam the broth with high heat for 5 minutes; apply lard to the crabs and place the crabs onto the plate containing the steamed broth; pour the other half of the broth onto the crabs; steam the crabs for three minutes.
Prepared with the purple crabs exclusive to Tianjin as the main ingredient, plus a wide variety of condiments, this dish is crisp, aromatic and delicious. Fried purple crabs are golden yellow in color and in the shape of a gold coin of ancient times, hence the name.
Stewed Sheep’s Trotters—炖羊蹄
Procedure: Take sheep’s trotters as the main ingredients, and beef broth, chicken broth, duck broth, soy sauce and starch as the condiments; boil the sheep’s trotters to get rid of the foul smell; stew them until they are well done. Purple-red in color, the sheep’s trotters are soft, delicious and fragrant.
Fried Shrimp Meat—炒青虾仁
The ingredients of the dish include black shrimps produced in Tianjin (the main ingredient), egg white, salt, starch and cooking wine (seasonings). The complete dish is composed of fried shrimp meat, peas, and diced cucumbers. White and green, this dish has a fainted smell and a delicious taste
File Fish Cake—面鱼托
Filefish is also called noodle fish. It is small and long and has soft bones and no scales. Procedure: mix the filefish with egg white, one-inch-long Chinese chives, salt and MSG; make the mixture into cakes; fry and bake the cakes. The cakes are delicious, aromatic and soft.
Goubuli Steamed Stuffed Bun—狗不理包子
Goubuli Steamed Stuffed Bun is a famous Tianjin snack. Invented by a man named Gāo Guìyǒu in 1858, this snack has a history of 150 years. Now the branches of the Goubuli Restaurant are spread all over the country.
The ingredients of the snack include flour, clean pork, ginger, soy sauce, spring onion, sesame oil, MSG. The stuffing is prepared according to a traditional recipe, so only a handful of people can prepare genuine Goubuli Steamed Stuffed Bun.
Erduoyan Fried Rice Cake—耳朵眼炸糕
This snack was created in 1900 by a man named Liú Wànchūn of the Hui nationality. When this snack was just invented, the stand selling the snack was near the Erduoyan Hutong. Therefore, the snack got its famous name. This snack is one of the three most famous specialties of Tianjin.
The ingredients of the snack include: glutinous rice flour, yeast, Erduoyan sweetened bean paste stuffing, cooking oil, and sesame oil.
Procedure: place 200 g quality glutinous rice flour on the plate; add 2 spoons of yeast to the flour; cover the plate with plastic film, and ferment the flour for half an hour; when the flour is fermented, pull the dough into identical small pieces; rub the small pieces into balls; press the small doughs into the shape of round skins; place the stuffing onto the center of the pancakes; pull up the dough surrounding the center; when the dough is in the shape of a ball, press it into the shape that is unique to the Erguoyan fried rice cake; pour enough oil onto the pan; place the cake onto the oil; fry the cakes until there are crusts on both sides of the cake; pour sesame oil onto another pan, and fry the cake again until a tint of golden yellow appears on the surface.
Eighteenth Street Fried Dough Twists—十八街麻花
It is also named after the street where the fried dough twists were invented.
(Fried cake wrapped with an egg-pancake)
(Steamed dumpling with a dough gathered at the top)
Procedure: Prepare thin cakes with mung bean flour and millet flour; slice the pancake; add gravy made of more than ten ingredients. It is a famous snack in Tianjin.
Of all kinds of local snacks of Tianjin, Goubuli Steamed Stuffed Bun, Eighteenth Street Fried Dough Twists, and Erduoyan Fried Cake are the most celebrated.
Officially Braised Sole (Solea solea)—官烧目鱼
Officially Braised Sole is a famous traditional dish of Tianjin. The sole (Solea solea) is a kind of fish which has an oblong laterally flat body in the shape of the tongue and is covered with tiny scales. Why does this dish is called this name? The legend goes that in the 32nd year of the Qianlong reign period of the Qing Dynasty, Emperor Qianlong made an inspection of the river for transporting grain to the capital and the river embankments in Tianjin, and paid a visit to the Haiguang Temple and other places.
One day, Emperor Qianlong stayed temporarily at the Longevity Palace, which was very close to Juqingcheng Restaurant. The chefs of the restaurant and the imperial chefs were responsible for preparing food for the emperor. Of a wide variety of delicacies cooked with ingredients from land and sea, a dish named “Braised Sole (Solea solea)” was praised by the emperor. In high spirits, the emperor called in the chef, named the dish “Official Braised Sole,” and gave a yellow robe to the chef as a reward. After that, this dish became famous in Tianjin. It has been handed down until today.
The Kiessling Restaurant (起士林大饭店), a famous restaurant with a long history, serves Russian, German, British, Italian and British food, totaling over 300 types of dishes. Since the 1990s, many Japanese, Korean, American, Thai, and Vietnamese restaurants have sprung up in Tianjin like mushrooms, each showing its unique characteristics. Today the restaurants in Tianjin serve a wide variety of dishes of different local cuisines, such as Shandong Cuisine, Sichuan Cuisine, Jiangsu Cuisine, Guangdong Cuisine and Northeast China Cuisine, as well as all kinds of foreign food.
In addition, Tianjin is well known for Muslims dishes popular in the Qing Dynasty. Of a large variety of Muslims’ dishes served by the restaurants in Tianjin, the dishes prepared with mutton and all parts of sheep are the most famous.