Iconic barbecue mirrors China's post-pandemic vitality

(Xinhua) 13:42, May 08, 2023

ZIBO, Shandong, May 6 (Xinhua) -- Some say it is just a publicity campaign, a fanfare backed by gluttons, influencers and investors. So what? The iconic barbecue in this old industrial city with 4.7 million residents has drawn flocks of foodies, sparking an economic boom as well as much-awaited post-pandemic excitement.

Some 450 km southeast of China's capital Beijing, Zibo is easily accessible by car or by train. A ride on a high-speed train from Beijing takes three hours at most, and costs 230 yuan (33 U.S. dollars).

Tourists enjoy a local barbecue meal in Zibo, east China's Shandong Province, April 29, 2023. (Photo by Zhu Wei/Xinhua)

"It's been a rewarding experience: the food is delicious and affordable," said He Xin, a university student from the neighboring city of Weifang. For less than 100 yuan, even a gluttonous man can eat to his heart's content at any barbecue restaurant in Zibo, satiated with a rich variety of grilled meat and fresh vegetables in a wrap.

"Unlike the majority of Chinese restaurants, the food here is served half raw, and the diners are encouraged to grill it on a stove set on each table," said He.

Behind the tasty food and phenomenal popularity of Zibo are the Chinese people's post-pandemic euphoria, as well as the strong vitality and resilience in a loving society.

The feast, which became popular among university students across China early this year, has propelled Zibo to internet stardom and offered nationwide food lovers another popular destination for the first spring break after the country optimized its COVID-19 response measures.

During the five-day May Day holiday, the city received thousands of tourist visits, and tourism orders, including hotels and major tourist destinations, saw a formidable year-on-year surge of 2,000 percent, according to figures released by the local culture and tourism bureau.

This photo taken on April 11, 2023 shows a Zibo-style barbecue cuisine, which features grilled meat and green onion wrapped in a pancake, in Zibo, east China's Shandong Province. (Photo by Liu Yiming/Xinhua)


Recognizing that downtown hotels were fully booked and anticipating that the influx of tourists would exceed the city's accommodation capacity, the local culture and tourism bureau issued an open letter on April 26th. The letter encouraged holiday planners who were eagerly seeking hotel rooms to consider postponing their trips.

Li Yucheng, a new graduate who secured a job at a new material company in Zibo last year, however, cleaned up an extra bedroom in his apartment and offered it as free lodging to tourists who had not been able to book a hotel room.

Li told Xinhua that he had been motivated by other local residents who had offered a helping hand to tourists.

"I was out for a walk and saw long queues outside every barbecue restaurant, waiting for tables. Someone was there offering them free drinks," he said. "Some private car owners offered free lifts to tourists at night when there were not enough taxis around."

"Practically everyone is working to polish the city's image by doing their own work well and helping the tourists as much as they can," said Zhang Peng, a volunteer.

A new resident in Zibo, Li Yucheng said it is "a city of love". "That's what touched me when I first came here, and I would pass on this love to others."

A native of the northeastern Jilin Province, more than 1,300 km from Zibo, Li said it was a pleasant surprise to find dishes of his hometown at the company's cafeteria. That eased his homesickness and he fell in love with this city.

A volunteer guides the way for tourists driving on their own in Zibo, east China's Shandong Province, April 29, 2023. (Photo by Huangpu Xiaowen/Xinhua)

Zibo has welcomed at least 100,000 new graduates who choose to work and live here in the last three years and plans to recruit another 200,000 in the five years from 2022 to 2027.

These efforts are widely expected to reverse the city's brain drain that began at the turn of the century, when the ancient pottery and glass production base and cradle of China's modern industries faced bottlenecks in growth due to pollution and a scarcity of resources.

These days, the city has welcomed avid barbecue diners with the same hospitality: two hours of free parking at the major train station, opening-up of car parks and bathrooms at 207 local government facilities to May Day tourists for free.

Its efforts have paid off, as tourists heaped praises on Zibo on the web after their visit. "Hospitality and helping hands are the most beautiful landscape a tourist can expect." "The ambiance is more important than the food itself."


Barbecue restaurants have fueled Zibo's economic growth and boosted its vitality. Incomplete statistics show the city has more than 3,000 barbecue restaurants. At least 370 new restaurants opened last month.

The sizzling feast, the huge crowds of diners, as well as subsequent consumption rises and increasing job opportunities are all signs of strong vitality and growth momentum.

The Chinese people made 274 million domestic trips during the five-day break that began on April 29, soaring 70.83 percent from the same holiday period last year, and 19.09 percent more than 2019, before the COVID-19 outbreak, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism said.

Tourism revenue reached about 148.06 billion yuan, surging 128.9 percent from last year, according to the ministry.

The booming travel rush, along with China's promising economic performance, has improved expectations of multiple institutions.

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said that a robust rebound means China is set to account for around one-third of global growth in 2023 -- giving a welcome lift to the world economy.

Meanwhile, World Bank Group President David Malpass announced earlier in April that the lender has raised its global growth forecast for 2023 to 2 percent from 1.7 percent in January due to China's recovery.

Luo Zhiheng, chief economist at Yuekai Securities, estimated that the economy is expected to achieve fast growth in the second quarter, with a GDP growth of more than 7 percent year on year.

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Liang Jun)


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