The city of Zibo had never seen so many visitors.
As the sun began to set, the aroma of sizzling meat filled the air, drawing in even more hungry customers. The sound of laughter and chatter echoed through the streets as families and friends gathered around tables at barbecue restaurants, eagerly awaiting their meals
The small city in East China's Shandong Province was thronged with people flocking to its numerous barbecue restaurants for a taste of the mouth-watering dishes.
On each street, queues stretched outside restaurants for more than a hundred meters. Some restaurants even ran out of key ingredients as early as 7 pm in the night. All hotels were also operating at full capacity. Even the barbers in Zibo have begun a side trade of roasting skewers for tourists.
The city was barely known by outsiders before it went viral on Chinese social media platforms recently. Most visitors are young people, who share their experience of traveling to Zibo to experience the city's barbecue culture on social platforms, drawing even more visitors.
Barbecue restaurants in Zibo are usually small and crowded, with customers sitting at outdoor tables or standing around the grilling area. The electric atmosphere is punctuated by the sound of sizzling meat and joyful chatter filling the air.
On the small stove, the grilled skewers sizzle in splattering oil, and customers can try pancake-wrapped meats with crispy green Shandong onions, and a healthy drizzle of homemade spicy sauce along with other dipping sauces to enjoy different flavors.
Zibo-style barbecue's classic three-piece set contains roast lamb, green onions, and naan bread, which, combined, make a drool-worthy combo. The fame of Zibo barbecue used to be limited to just Shandong Province. Previously, barbecue in Northeast China or the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in Northwest China were much more popular across the country.
Behind Zibo's sudden fame are the efforts and services of the local government, as well as a good reputation of businesses in the city, with rave reviews from visitors who share their experiences online.
To promote Zibo-style barbecue, Zibo has launched two dozen "special barbecue trains," where local tourism officials would serve tourists themselves. At the city's train station, shuttle buses transport tourists to various barbecue stalls directly. Netizens joke that the high-speed trains are packed with visiting tourists and the air onboard is infused with cumin.