Balitai Brazilian Barbecue, a popular western restaurant in Tianjin

Updated: 03 Aug 2011
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Chinese cuisine; rich varied, flavorsome and usually delicious. Living in the Far East definitely offers great variety for both the cultural and culinary palates. However being an ex-pat I do have to admit that there are times I do crave some foods whose origins are a little closer to home.

This is where food in China takes a somewhat dramatic turn for the worse. It is evident to those who have spent any time in China that the food at their local Chinese restaurant back home is not quite the same as the real thing. Similarly the inverse of this is often, although not always, true – many restaurants in Beijing are excellent, offering a very accurate take on the western menu. Alas in Tianjin this is not always the case.

China is home to some hideous deformations of western dishes. The most common example of this comes with the pizza served bereft of any tomato sauce, but with instead a healthy portion of garden peas and sweetcorn. Add to this a somewhat unhealthy obsession which many restaurants hold for placing copious amounts of cucumber into every sandwich or burger they can find and things get worse.

Balitai Brazilian Barbecue on Tianjin's Weijin Lu is an excellent example of the signification of western food. It is designed to be a Brazilian barbecue restaurant, a function which – in truth – it performs relatively well. The meat is cooked over a giant charcoal pit visible from the main room of the restaurant, it comes served on large skewers. The waiters carry these around and hack large slices onto the plates of diners.

The results of this are good, the meat is generally well-cooked and very tasty. However despite this, there is something distinctly Chinese about the Brazilian Barbecue, which somehow leaves the place wanting. The first thing to strike the sense is the atmosphere, which is laced with tobacco smoke and noisy chatter. Second is the buffet area, possibly the least Brazilian display of food I have ever seen. Next to the fried rice, were the local Tianjin cuisine of Goubuli dumplings. These are followed by local fish dishes and the obligatory badly prepared pizza.

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