Beijing may be the capital of China, but neighboring Tianjin can rightfully be called the region’s street food capital.
Located just an hour outside Beijing, this busy port city has a long history of trade thanks to its coastal location on the Grand Canal, a water route that snakes for 1,000 miles along the eastern coast of China.
With the business and merchants came vendors and their food stalls, creating a vibrant street food culture.
Because of northern China’s arid environment, Tianjin’s street food is heavy on wheat-based carbs, most notably buns and pancakes. Dishes like jianbing, a Chinese breakfast crepe, and steamed pork buns, which are now world-famous, came from this city.
Here are five of our favorite street snacks in Tianjin.
This steamed pork bun made with ground meat and aromatics is one of the city’s most famous snacks, and it started appearing on the streets in the 1850s.
Goubuli literally translates to “the dog doesn’t care.” The exact reason behind the eccentric name is unknown, but some say it’s because the creator’s nickname was “Dog.”
It’s now a trademarked name, and a popular spot for domestic tourists.
Called youtiao 油条 in other parts of the country, guozi 馃子 is essentially a fried dough stick, or an elongated donut.
It’s a popular breakfast item across China, but it’s especially huge in Tianjin, where people dip it in soy milk, sandwich it between bread, or stuff inside a jianbing.
This breakfast crepe, which can now be found all over the world, was originally invented in Tianjin.
A batter made with mung bean flour (and sometimes wheat) is spread across a cast-iron pan and cooked with the precise, circular movements of a spatula.
The cooked crepe is then brushed with a savory bean paste.
After that, vendors will either stuff a fried dough stick or fried dough crisp known as baocui 薄脆 for texture.
Of late, daring entrepreneurs have tried stuffing other things into jianbing, including smashed avocado and Sriracha sauce.
Another dish made with mung bean flour, guobacai is a thick, gravy-like soup that’s often eaten for breakfast.
The soup contains noodles that are made from mung bean flour. It’s topped with a thick drizzle of sesame oil, ginger, and soy sauce. Scallions and cilantro are added for garnish.
Sugar balloon 吹糖
Candy is universal, but sugar artists in Tianjin take it to a whole other level.
Sugar balloons are made by melting sugar in a pot and then scooping it up with a stick. The thick syrup is shaped on the stick, and the sugar artist will then create a straw which the customer can blow air through to inflate the figurine.
Sugar blowing emerged as an art form in Beijing more than six centuries ago and is now popular among children and tourists.