Harbin's proximity to Russia gives visitors a wide selection of Western cuisine along with plenty of unique Chinese dishes. You can find several restaurants that serve filling Russian-style soups and meals. Try the Russian dishes at the highly recommended Huamei Restaurant or Café Russia known for its delicious piroshkis (stuffed Russian buns) and cabbage rolls.
If you prefer to stick with Chinese food, there are many different cuisines available. Lanterns hanging outside the Chinese restaurants indicate what kind of foods they serve, a practice unique to Harbin. Red lanterns denote typical Chinese food, while blue lanterns mean pork-free Muslim food. It is also said that the more lanterns a restaurant has, the better quality the food is.
The fare is wonderful and varied. Enjoy cheap BBQ at the loud Mingjie Kaoroudian or the steamed dumplings at Oriental Dumplings King. Some local Harbin dishes you may wish to try: Harbin red sausage (Hā'ěrbīn hóngcháng, 哈尔滨红肠) has a pleasant smoky taste. It is usually eaten with bread and beer. Buy the red-colored sausage at any of the sales stands you see on the streets of Harbin, and you won't regret it. Chicken Stewed with Mushrooms is a famous Dongbei dish. Fresh chicken and mushrooms are stewed with ginger and shallots, creating a well-rounded meal that warms city dwellers during the cold winters.
The harsh climate in Harbin toughens up the physique of every living animal. Dog salmon (dàmǎhā yú, 大马哈鱼) certainly fits that bill. To withstand the freezing cold in winter, the salmon in Harbin grows a layer of fat that makes it extra tasty for dishes such as fish slices, fish ball soup and salted fish. When you visit Harbin, don't forget to sample this prime example of "survivor of the fittest!"
Although Harbin is not a coastal city, it still boasts a good selection of freshwater fish. Aside from dog salmon, sturgeon (xúnhuáng yú, 鲟鳇鱼) is probably the most well-known seafood. The largest of these fish can weigh several pounds. Long known as "the King" of fish, sturgeon is served on very special occasions in Harbin.
Most foreign travelers are unfamiliar with this unusual food. Monkey-head mushroom (hóutóu gū, 猴头菇), is one of China's most famous delicacies. The fungus is renowned for its healing properties, especially for an upset stomach.
Another winter treat: Pickled Chinese Cabbage Stew. Pickled Chinese cabbage is a common condiment for families of northeast China. When it gets too cold for the open-air markets, families preserve their vegetables to last the long, cold season. As winter approaches, local people fill big clay pots with cabbages, adding water and salt, before placing a large stone on the top of the jar. After about a month, the cabbages ferment and grow sour, and can be eaten throughout the winter. These pickled cabbages make for a hearty, delicious meal when stewed with meat.
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