Northwest-style ‘numbingly spicy soup’ goes viral on social media
Will Tianshui become next hottest destination?
Published: Mar 17, 2024 10:24 PM
Tianshui spicy hot pot, based in Northwest China's Gansu Province has attracted troves of tourists for this delicious and mouth-watering delicacy. (Photo by Wenjing/Xinhua)

Tianshui spicy hot pot, based in Northwest China's Gansu Province has attracted troves of tourists for this delicious and mouth-watering delicacy. (Photo by Wenjing/Xinhua)

Another Chinese city is stepping into the spotlight now that one of its unique dishes has gone viral on social media. Tianshui in Northwest China's Gansu Province is sweeping social media with its local street dish malatang, literally "numbingly spicy soup," a one-pot noodle soup brimming with hotpot flavor. 

This narrow province stretches diagonally from Northwest China to Central China. Thanks to the ancient Silk Road, spices and the Central Asia food preference for lamb and beef had a major influence on local food, making Gansu cuisine a mixture of East and West. But will the city grasp this chance to become another "Zibo Barbecue" and the hottest tourist destination of 2024? 

According to the China News Agency, one restaurant owner in Tianshui noted that he has been serving at least 400 customers a day, as people from other provinces are driving to the city to get a taste of the local cuisine. 

"There has been a long queue outside my restaurant even on weekdays," said the shop owner.

Currently, many malatang restaurants have even extended their opening hours to cater to the increasing amount of the customers arriving from all over the country.

The growing popularity of this kind of street food can also be reflected in its main ingredient, the Gangu chili pepper, or lamb's horn pepper, grown in Gangu county, a place well-known as the "Hometown of Chili Peppers" in China.

According to the China Business Herald, the sales of the products such as the broth for Tianshui malatang and Gangu chili peppers have surged in the past two weeks. In some places sales of Gangu chili peppers have increased tenfold from two weeks ago. Young customers born in the 1990s have become the main force for its consumption, taking up 40 percent of chili pepper product sales.

This food craze has also boosted tourism in Tianshui. Data from online ticketing platform Tongcheng Travel shows that as of Thursday, related searches for Tianshui travel have increased 186 percent compared with last week. 

At the same time, related hashtags such as "going for malatang in Gansu by high-speed train" have been trending on China's Sina Weibo, while on short video platform Douyin the topic Tianshui has been viewed more than 12 billion times.

As a matter of fact, Tianshui malatang became a hit term on the short video platform after an influencer named Sangesan posted a video of her exploring a local malatang restaurant in Tianshui, winning nearly 700,000 likes for three videos since the beginning of 2024.

Another restaurant owner recalled that since last summer, his restaurant has welcomed more customers than ever before, with people lining up for as long as an hour. 

To cater to the increasing number of visitors from all over the country, the city government recently unveiled a "malatang carnival" during which a total of eight activi-ties were introduced to help visitors learn about the city and its cuisine.

According to Lanzhou News, the culture and tourism bureau of Tianshui has taken the opportunity to build its reputation as a "travel city" by improving the city's infrastructure, providing volunteering services and even opening up direct bus lines to the carnival and local malatang restaurants.

The successful tourism experience earned by the cities of Zibo and Harbin have paved the way for Tianshui, where the culinary dish is becoming a main force for the city to stand out.

"But still, the development of a tourism-oriented city takes more than just a single landmark feature," Han Yuanjun, a deputy researcher at the China Tourism Academy, told the Global Times.

"The city itself should be considered as a product for branding. In addition to the spe-cialty of the city, basic infrastructure such as libraries, museums and even transportation should be improved in order to give visitors a sense of convenience and a feeling of 'home,'" Han noted.

As a stop along the ancient Silk Road, Tianshui was greatly influenced by other cultures. Its grottoes and murals are among the most famous art forms in Gansu. The Maijishan Grottoes, home to 331 statues and more than 1,000 square meters of ancient murals, are known for their exquisite aesthetics.