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An Ancient Silk Road City Is Now China’s Latest Hotpot Hub

Known primarily for its rich cultural heritage as a city along the ancient Silk Road, the city of Tianshui, in China’s northwestern Gansu province, is now among the country’s food destinations — for its unique and fiery spicy hot pot.

Driven by social media buzz and local marketing campaigns, tourists have flocked to Tianshui — Gansu’s second-largest city — in recent weeks, with searches for travel to the city reportedly up by 186% in just the last week. Bookings in Tianshui for hotels and attractions were up 40% year-over-year during the past month, Chinese travel giant Trip.com reported on March 12, propelling the city from relative obscurity to national recognition.

Tianshui’s spicy hot pot involves diners selecting their own ingredients — ranging from vegetables and meats to noodles — and then enhancing the mix with a spoonful of locally sourced peppercorns and red pepper oils. The red pepper, a key ingredient, is predominantly cultivated in Gangu County in Gansu, and is famed for its intense color and rich oil content.

Local tourism authorities are capitalizing on the city’s newfound fame to stimulate the local economy, which previously depended mainly on its historical resources, including a rich Buddhist heritage and relics from the Ming dynasty.

Since Monday, the local bus company has launched two special bus services designed to ferry tourists from railway stations directly to spicy hot pot dining locations. And a food festival scheduled to begin on Saturday aims to showcase a variety of Tianshui’s cuisine.

The campaign is aimed at emulating the success of Zibo, an industrial town in the eastern Shandong province that became a hugely popular barbecue destination following a viral social media campaign last year.

Yong Hao, a 24-year-old hardware development engineer from Tianshui, told Sixth Tone that Tianshui’s spicy hot pot differs from its counterparts such as Sichuan hotpot. “Tianshui’s chili oil is notably aromatic and a distinctive local feature. Moreover, the texture of our hand-rolled noodles sets it apart from the machine-made noodles commonly consumed elsewhere,” he said.

According to another local, Yang Jiongli, 29, she now has to wait over two hours for a bowl of the spicy hot pot. “Of late, we locals have been practically unable to enjoy our spicy hot pot due to the influx of tourists, some of whom queue for up to four or five hours without the guarantee of being served,” she said.

Editor: Apurva.

(Header image: Outside a crowded restaurant in Tianshui Siheyuan, Tianshui, Gansu province, March 14, 2024. CNS/VCG)

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