Chinese bbq

Obscurity to Fame: How a Small Chinese City’s Barbecue Put It on the Map

Chinese people are flocking to the small East China city of Zibo for a taste of its unique barbecue

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11:21 AM HKT, Fri April 21, 2023 1 mins read

Recently, Chinese social media platforms have been sizzling with discussions about ‘Zibo barbecue,’ named after its place of origin, Zibo, a small industrial city in East China’s Shandong province.

Mouth-watering images depicting a typical Zibo-style barbecue, which consists of well-seasoned meat skewers and scallions wrapped in a pancake, have dominated Weibo and Xiaohognshu, Chinese platforms similar to Twitter and Instagram, with a related hashtag garnering more than 113 million views at the time of writing.

ZIbo barbecue

A standard Zibo BBQ wrap. Image via Xiaohongshu

Zibo was hardly on anyone’s travel bucket list before its recent virality. But thanks to a group of college students who documented their Zibo barbecue trip on Douyin, China’s version of TikTok, the city’s delicious and affordable barbecue started to generate hype on the internet.

The quiet city that used to be known for its ceramics manufacturing is now seeing a huge influx of tourists, mostly young people looking to experience the area’s succulent-looking edibles for themselves.

The local government has jumped at the opportunity to capitalize on the city’s newfound fame and nurse its tourism potential.

Must-go restaurant maps were drawn up, and barbecue-themed high-speed train services and special bus routes were established to make the small city more accessible to tourists from all over the country.

The city’s other attractions, such as the Haidai building, a beautifully designed bookstore, also gained popularity thanks to visitors who want to make the most of their Zibo trip.

Haidai building

The Haidai building is one of Zibo’s newest landmarks. Image via VCG

There are also reports of a Zibo Barbecue Festival in the works.

The city’s virality comes at the perfect time when many are planning vacations for China’s five-day Labor Day holiday starting April 29. According to data from Meituan, a food delivery and hotel booking app in China, accommodation bookings in Zibo have increased by 800% compared to 2019.

Since the loosening of travel restrictions during the pandemic era, domestic tourism in the country has been on the rise.

Zibo is one of many Chinese cities that have become a tourist hotspot with the help of social media. Earlier this year, the popular C-Drama The Knockout made the humble city of Jiangmen in Southern China’s Guangdong province an internet sensation as it bore a resemblance to the drama’s setting.

The power of social media to boost a city’s tourism potential is not lost on Chinese netizens. Zibo’s sudden rise inspired the hashtag ‘I speak for the specialties of my hometown’ on Weibo, China’s most popular microblogging platform.

Under the hashtag, netizens post about their cities’ unique dishes, hoping their hometown may be the next Zibo.

Cover image via Weibo

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