Zibo city in Shandong province has unexpectedly gone viral on Chinese social media since late February for its local barbecue specialty, and continues to trend as the local government takes the opportunity to spur tourism and spending.
The latest promotion gives visitors free admission to 10 scenic spots in the city with their train ticket as long as their final destination is Zibo, according to the city's culture and tourism bureau.
This move follows another on March 31 under which the Jinan bureau of China Railway added a weekend special round-trip "barbecue tour" train between Jinan, the capital city of Shandong and Zibo.
Passengers who board the train are greeted by a banner reading "Welcome to the Special BBQ Train "at the entrance of the carriage. They also receive items including leaflets about Zibo's culture and tourism draws, as well as small souvenirs and snacks. Many also took videos and posted them on social media, drawing more visitors.
"The high-speed trains are packed with passengers and the air smells of cumin," wrote one netizen.
Barbecue is popular in China, but Zibo's barbecue is different on three counts; it's made on a stove, and is served with flatbread and dressings. The skewers are 70-80 percent cooked before they are brought to the table, where diners can finish cooking them on their own stoves, which lends a sense of participation. Diners are served flatbreads, scallions and other dressings at the table so they are able to assemble their own barbecue parcels, in much the same way Peking duck is eaten.
The barbecue suddenly went viral after a group of college students shot videos of themselves enjoying a meal and posted them on social media in late February.
Since then, many people, mostly young, have flocked to the city from all over the country to try the dish.
According to local media reports on Wednesday, searches for "barbecue" increased by 370 percent in March, and searches for "Zibo barbecue" on the platform as a whole have increased by 770 percent year-on-year.
On several streets, lines can be seen outside barbecue restaurants, which stretch for more than 100 meters on the weekend.
"Zibo barbecue is bringing more and more people to the city, and the local government needs to think about how to promote the city as a whole, its culture and tourism, as well as its living and business environment," said Sun Xiaorong, a member of the expert panel of tourism marketing and promotion that is supervised by the Shandong Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism.
The trend will eventually end if the local government doesn't take proper follow-up measures, he added.