In our last visit to Tianjin, we looked at some of the city's most interesting non-Chinese options. This time, we are back with a few local flavors to tempt your palate.
Car ParkView In Map
First of all, we should establish that 'Car Park' is not actually the name of this well-known shwar hangout. It is merely known as such by expats in Tianjin as it is located in the car park of the Home Inn on Weijin Lu, close to the Tianjin TV Tower. The motel is situated in a small courtyard just off the main road, with the restaurant taking up residence outside. Describing 'Car Park' as a venue is something of a tricky task. Many of the normal adjectives we might use in a restaurant review – ‘lavish’, ‘well-decorated’, ‘welcoming’ - all dramatically miss the point. Even slightly more scaled-down choices such as ‘comfortable’ or ‘hygienic’ may even be too much. Instead, I find terms like 'rustic', 'rough and ready' and 'colorful', springing to mind.
Essentially, Car Park amounts to little more than a collection of battered tables and cheap plastic stools on the edge of the courtyard. I realize this may not sound particularly inviting, but Car Park is not famous for its design, atmosphere or ambiance. Instead, it is popular for two things: its food and the opportunity to drink insanely cheap cold draft beer in the open air – 4 RMB a go! There are a variety of dishes on the menu at Car Park, including some intriguing soups and vegetable numbers. However, these are best overlooked in favor of the house favorites; the mutton and chicken shwar. Both are hot, greasy and utterly delicious, especially when doused in traditional spices.
Home Inn Courtyard, Weijin Lu, 50m north of Tianjin TV Tower
Sha Guo Li 砂锅李View In Map
Despite moving locations, this traditional Tianjin favorite cannot seem to shake its crowded, almost claustrophobic, ambience. The reason for this is simple. The sweet pork ribs on offer are just so good that the demand ensures the tables are almost always full for the duration of the evening. On busy nights, reservations are required and, at times, diners have been asked to share tables in order to squeeze everyone in. The swathes of adoring Tianjinren and laowai - I have a Canadian friend who scarcely eats anywhere else – who frequent Sha Guo Li act as a fitting endorsement. The menu is not particularly varied. One or two vegetable side dishes support three or four varieties of pork. However, there is little need for diversification when the staples are so good. The pork ribs are served in formless lumps, yet they are so tender that they can be pulled apart with the slightest flick of the chopstick.
Add: 46 Jiujiang Road, Hexi District, Tianjin
Tel: 022 2326 0075
Gou Bouli 狗不理View In Map
Having lived in Tianjin for over three years, it is with a sense of obligation, rather than genuine adoration, that I include Gou Bouli in the list. This is as much out of tradition as it is from any culinary motivation. If you were to ask any Tianjinren to define their local cuisine, they are certain to respond almost instantaneously with the words 'jiaozi' or 'baozi' - dumplings. It is rumored that Tianjin's famous gou bouli baozi - slightly bigger than the standard jiaozi enjoyed across China at Spring Festival - were actually prepared and served at the same location as the Gou Bouli restaurant, although the original building has long since been replaced. The jiaozi and baozi on offer are, according to my Chinese friends, top quality. For non-Tianjin natives, discerning between high-quality pork dumplings and otherwise may not be quite so easy. However, they certainly are tasty and presented in lavish style in delicate wooden boxes. The rest of the menu is also quite impressive, with the seasoned rabbit a surprisingly tasty option. The other big plus point about Gou Bouli is the location. The decor and staff uniforms are steeped in traditional color making for an excellent 'dining experience', as well as a great meal.
Add: 16 Jinlong Apartment, Shuisang Beilu, close to Tianjin Water Park, Nankai District, Tianjin
Tel: 022 2337 1999
Seven Pattra Leaves 七贝叶View In Map
In a city that is home to an almost bafflingly large array of pork dumplings and immensely popular giant lumps of sweetened pork, vegetarian cuisine tends to find itself marginalized as something of a niche market. In fact, tell your average Tianjinren that you are going for a vegetarian meal and they are likely to look at you with an expression that blends confusion, mistrust and downright revulsion. However, despite the local mindset, vegetarian food is beginning to grow in popularity, albeit slowly. At the forefront of this growth is Seven Pattra Leaves. Housed in the skeleton of a defunct Japanese restaurant, Seven Pattra provides a wide menu full of meat free treats. Many of its signature dishes involve the use of tofu and other meat alternatives in replicating traditional Chinese dishes. Some of these aren't bad. For example, the 'Iron Plate Beef Steak', which is made from soy protein, is filling and tasty. But, others, particularly the Beijing 'Duck', feel a little contrived and provide diners with little more than a slightly less tasty version of the original dish. Instead, Seven Pattras excels with some of its purer vegetarian offerings, which seem to have a little more identity and individual flavor. Chief amongst these are a fantastically flavorful nut and pepper combo and the Fruit and Norway Fish, which blends several different exotic fruit.
Add: 202, 1 Huanhua Dao, close to Weijin Nanlu, Hebei District, Tianjin
Tel: 022 2337 1479
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