Harbin China – Best Places to Eat and Dishes to Try
Harbin’s food is famous for its diversity with heavy influences from its near neighbours of Russia, Korea and Mongolia. Other culinary tastes from Western Europe and in particular Lithuania and Germany are found in its range of products including sausages.
Dishes That are Unique to Harbin
Harbin’s food usually consists more of stews and is less reliant on spices than other regions and making more use of ground vegetables such as potatoes and cabbage. One of the foods that Harbin is famed for is Guo Bao Rou, it is similar to the sweet and sour pork that you might see in a western Chinese restaurant. It is bite sized pieces of pork fried in a batter made from potato starch. The crispy pork balls are then coated in a local variation of sweet and sour sauce using syrup, sugar, rice vinegar and flavoured with cilantro and ginger.
Harbin-style smoked sausage is similar to the product sold in Germany and Lithuania, they are very mild with similarities to sausages from Europe rather than those of a Chinese style. A Russian merchant began producing these sausages in the city in the year 1900, and his success led to expanding his network to other cities across Manchuria. His first sausage factory in Harbin began in 1909, using only people from Lithuania, since then these sausages have become a specialty unique to Harbin.
Dalieba is Russian style bread produced in the city’s bakeries. It is very much like sourdough bread and has been produced in Harbin for over 100 years. It has a sour, chewy taste marking a stark difference to the traditional soft fluffy style of bread seen in most other Chinese regions.
Other notable local dishes include Demoli Stewed Live Fish, Stewed Chicken and Mushrooms, Braised Pork with Vermicelli and Quick Boiled Pork with Chinese Sauerkraut.
Street Food and Cheap Restaurants in Harbin
Harbin like most Chinese city’s has lots of street food, just that in this city a lot of it is inside or under cover due to the fact that in the winter it is not plausible to remain out in the cold for too long. Harbin’s barbeque or Shaokao features lots of meat on sticks including sausages and unusually in China, lamb. 6 or 7 meat skewers and a bowl of delicious soup will cost you less than CNY10.
Haws are another cheap street food, pieces of this fruit stacked onto a skewer and coated in sweet syrup. Kids love them and they cost CNY2-3 each.
There is a Russian bread shop on Zhongyang (Central) Street that attracts a crowd whenever a fresh batch of bread is sold, there are several around the city but the sight of the crowds at the doorway to this small store trying to get their hands on some bread is a reminder of how food shortages were once a regular occurrence. Now it is just due to its popularity.
If you want some spicy lamb, then there is Uigher street food between the Hong Bo shopping centre and Guogeli Dajie. You can get a tasty snack for just CNY5.
Harbin Spring Rolls are tasty wraps of strips of potato, sausage, cucumber and egg combined in a spicy sauce; they are sold as street food as well as in most markets for CNY2-5.
You can find street food in all areas of the city, but during the winter you should visit the central area as it is decorated with ice sculptures, so walk along the pedestrian Central Street and observe these pieces of art and then visit the smaller streets in that area to find the best street food. The small restaurants can become noisy as Harbin’s restaurants are renowned for their lively and social atmosphere.
Cheap restaurants include the Oriental Dumplings King at 38 Zhongyang Avenue with great tasting dumplings with a dish of 20-30 costing you no more than CNY25. Dongbei (literally translated as East North), or northeast is a term used to describe the food and people of this region and the Old Sandpot House on Zhongyang Avenue specializes in Dongbei snacks such as dumplings and bread.
The Best Mid-range and High Class Restaurants in Harbin
Hans Beer BBQ on Zhongshan Road and close to Walmart serves great draft beer with an all you can drink lunchtime buffet, the food is all Chinese style BBQ with an assortment of skewered meats. You pay a set price of CNY60 per person and the food (and beer) keeps arriving.
The Big Harvest on Yiman Street serves traditional Dongbei cuisine. One of their best products is the tea, it is delicious. Dishes on the menu start from around CNY20.
At 47 Wenchang Jie you will find a great place to get Hot Pot, this restaurant is always packed and has a great atmosphere, always very lively.
Tiantian (Everyday) Fish Village on Gongcheng Jie is an upmarket Chinese seafood restaurant. Here you can mingle with Harbin’s elite crowd while enjoying exotic fish dishes. The entrance is surrounded with giant fish tanks from which you choose which one you would like to eat. Expect to pay in excess of CNY200 per person.
If you thought that place was expensive then look away now, the New Heaven Food City on Hongqi Avenue is extravagance personified. People chose this place to impress clients or to close on important business deals. The food is very good, it needs to be as it will cost around CNY400 per person.
International Food in Harbin
There are possibly more choices of international food in Harbin than in other Chinese cities, here is a selection of some of the best.
Harbin has a sizable Korean community and Qianlima Baihe Liaoli is one of its best Korean restaurants. It has reasonably priced Korean food and most evenings it attracts a mix of families and businessmen to its restaurant on Xianfeng Road.
The Peacock Asian Cuisine on Xuan He Jie Street was the first Indian restaurant in Harbin; it has a superb selection of vegetarian and meat dishes and even sells Indian beer. It opens at 11am and closes at 11pm each day.
There are several Russian restaurants on Zhongyang Street. Katusha is Russian owned and a genuine Russian restaurant. Most of its customers are from Russia, but their menu is also available in English. You will get some of the best Russian food in China here. It closes at 9.30pm and some dishes are not available after 8pm. Tatos claims to have been in existence since 1901 and the old style does back up that claim, the food is not as good as Katusha but they have some great Russian beer.
Western Style Hotel Buffet Food
The buffet available at the 5 star Shangri-la Hotel has a huge selection of western foods under the management of a western head chef. The buffet is available to non guests and will cost CNY150-200 per person. The Holiday Inn has a similar buffet and this one is available at CNY100 each.
Harbin’s Cafes and Coffee Houses
There are several cafes and coffee houses within Harbin. The Café Russia is close to the Flood Control Monument at the northern end of Zhongyang Avenue and close to the Songhua River. The café’s owner has created an atmosphere that would be at home in London or Paris. It has some elegant furnishings, tasteful music and even a working grandfather clock. There is a display commemorating the last White Russians that lived in Harbin, it is a café that possibly resembles a museum.
Hamama’s Kofi House is a small café close to the Harbin Institute of Technology and operated by a guy from Papua New Guinea and his wife from Taiwan. They sell some great western style food including burgers, breakfasts, omelets and milkshakes. Other items include a carrot cake and good tasting coffee.
Bars, Pubs and Drinking Venues
Harbin is unusual in China in that it has a lively night life with several western style bars and drinking venues. Here is a selection of some of the best and weirdest on offer in the city. The Blue’s Club is only worth a visit on a Friday or Saturday night, although there is still some entertainment every night. You will get to see Russian karaoke or folk dancing or military marching or a mix of all three at this club on Diduan Jie.
The Indiana Club has one of the biggest dance floors in Harbin, a large video screen, free pool tables and friendly staff. It is located close to the university so expect to see lots of students. The floor entertainment can be a little weird though, karaoke, more Russian folk dancing to striptease. There are two parts to this club, I prefer the quieter more normal atmosphere of the bar area.
During the winter there is an Ice Bar on the walking street of Zhongyang Street. Everything is made of ice, it is great to visit and have a drink or two. Prices are high though, around CNY30 per drink.
Indu Lu is the bar street in Harbin, there you will find the Mozart Bar, another Russian bar with plenty of vodka and a Russian library. It is a good place to chill out during the winter months.
The Red Lion is a British style pub located at the Wanda Holiday Inn on Jingwei Jie, it has a happy hour offering a two for the price of one from 5-8pm and a Filipino cover band playing five nights a week. It is open from 3pm until 2am every day.
The Babyface club on Youzheng Jie is open daily from 6pm until 2am; it has very expensive drinks and very few people dancing. The Kiss Disco is the largest club in Harbin, with very few foreigners attending here on Dongdazhi Jie. Drinks are expensive, but it’s a lively venue. There can be problems with locals trying to prove who is the toughest.