Ancient Silk Road city Tianshui's iconic malatang dish sparks nationwide craze

Following Zibo and Harbin, Tianshui, an ancient Silk Road city in Northwest China's Gansu Province, became the latest place that has caused a nationwide craze thanks to its iconic dish malatang, a local street dish featuring a mix of fresh vegetables and meat boiled in a hot, spicy broth.

As the name malatang suggests - literally meaning "numbing, spicy, and hot" - this local delicacy is renowned for its distinctive, fiery taste. 

In February, a netizen from Tianshui posted a selfie video of local malatang on popular social media platform Douyin. The attractive color of the food soon helped the video receive 1 million likes, sparking cravings among internet users and drawing food enthusiasts to the city to experience this tantalizing dish firsthand. 

The total views of Tianshui malatang-related topics have exceeded 1.8 billion on Douyin, media reported Wednesday.

Citing data from Ctrip, a major Chinese online travel service platform, media reported on Wednesday that, in the past month, there has been a significant increase in content related to tourism in Tianshui. The overall number of travel orders to Tianshui, Gansu, has increased by over 20 percent compared to the same period last year, with hotel orders increasing by over 40 percent and ticket orders increasing by over four times. The search volume for Tianshui has more than doubled compared to the same period last year.

Outside Tianshui, restaurants are also trying every means to satisfy diners who have not the opportunity to go to Tianshui. 

In Beijing, the University of Science and Technology Beijing started to provide authentic malatang cooked with Tianshui-produced chili and peppercorns since Tuesday. According to, the university established a designated assistance relationship with the Qin'an county in Tianshui, purchasing 400-450 kilograms of Qin'an-produced peppercorns every year. 

The university added a new project this year to purchase Qin'an potato flour, and send the canteens' chefs to learn local cooking skills, making every effort to bring every student a better dining experience, said.

Tianshui, which means "water from the heaven," has little rainfall, sufficient sunlight, and large temperature differences, producing seasonings with good taste and high quality. Local-produced ingredients such as Gangu chili, Qin'an peppercorns, and Dingxi potatoes are the secrets to the unique flavor and attractive appearance of Tianshui malatang.

Gangu chili has a bright red color and a spicy fragrance with lingering sweetness. Potatoes produced in Dingxi, known as the "hometown of Chinese potatoes," have a high starch content and stickiness. Hand-pulled noodles made from these potatoes are with a chewy texture. 

There are also many other local agricultural products such as Kangxian mushrooms. It is these authentic ingredients lay out the foundation for Tianshui malatang to stand out.

With the continued popularity of Tianshui malatang, the sales of these raw materials are also increasing. The staff of a business selling chili peppers in Gangu said that their store mainly sells Gangu chili powder, chili segments, and etc. Recently, the sales of Gangu chili peppers have increased significantly, reaching 1-2 times the previous level, The Beijing News reported Tuesday.

With the drive of the "malatang economy," the export orders of Gansu local agriculture products are also increasing, with an accelerating pace to open up foreign markets.

Following Zibo barbecue and Harbin frozen pear, here comes Tianshui malatang. Food has apparently become a new hot spot for Chinese small cities to catch spotlight on social media platforms.

The Tianshui government is also seizing every opportunity to promote Tianshui's development with a small bowl of malatang. On March 16, the Tianshui ancient city square held a foodie festival amid the malatang craze, which will last till March 23. On March 17, all government offices in Tianshui opened their doors to offer free parking for out-of-town visitors. On March 18, the first malatang street opened in Tianshui in Qinzhou district, attracting a large crowd. 

Experts pointed out that with the development of the internet, more and more small cities will rely on food to generate widespread dissemination online, because food has a natural appeal that can trigger people to share and discuss. At the same time, some unique and creative foods are also more likely to attract attention and discussion online. 

However, how to use temporary internet popularity to promote the long-term development of the local economy is the issue that local governments should pay more attention to. 

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