Viral videos spur college kids to try Zibo's barbecue

By Zhao Ruixue| (China Daily)| Updated : 2023-03-17

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The publicity department of the city of Zibo in Shandong province is thanking its lucky stars after a group of tech-savvy college students were able to achieve something they had been unable to for the past few years — make Zibo's special barbecue go viral.

Zibo has long sought to publicize its unique take on roasted skewers of meat, veggies, seafood and assorted other foodstuffs, hoping that it would become a must-try "brand" of the city. Until late February this year, the publicity of Zibo barbecue had achieved limited success. That is, until some college students attending a job fair in the city went to try the barbecue and took videos of themselves enjoying the food and posted them onto social media.

The passionate youths unknowingly started a trend that has spurred the hashtag: "College students visit Zibo to try barbecue in groups" to go viral on social media.

As of Wednesday, videos related to the hashtag had surpassed 45.15 million views on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok.

As a result of going viral, youths from across the country have started to pour into Zibo to try its now famous barbecue.

What makes barbecue special in Zibo is that the skewers are 70-80 percent cooked before being brought to the table, where diners can finish off the cooking at their own little stove of hot coals. On top of that, diners have pancakes, scallions and other dressings at the table so they are able to assemble their own barbecue-filled package a bit like how traditional Peking duck is prepared.

Xu Jiayue, a student from Shandong Transport Vocational College, came to Zibo from neighboring city Weifang to try the barbecue for herself on Tuesday.

"The stoves allow us to cook the meat, which gives us a feeling of participation, and it allows us to eat the meat at a perfect temperature, which ensures a good taste and flavor," she said.

Zibo, a city with 4.5 million people, has had record numbers of arrivals at its train station since March 4. A total of 27,065 visitors arrived on Saturday, setting a record for daily passengers arriving at the railway station in the past three years.

College students from neighboring cities accounted for a large proportion of the passengers, officials from the train station said.

On Wednesday afternoon, one barbecue restaurant owner said that there were long lines outside the restaurant every day for the past two weeks.

Several restaurants said they were selling more than 10,000 skewers of meat, chicken wings or vegetables a day during the past week, especially on the weekend.

Once the hungry diners have had their fill of barbecue, many of them have been setting out to see Zibo's other attractions while they're in the area.

"Zibo barbecue going viral is not accidental," Yin Qidi, head of the city's commerce bureau, said at a news conference held to address the barbecue craze on Friday.

The once traditional industrial city has been putting a lot of effort into developing the city into a young people friendly one, Yin said, adding that the city offers rooms with extra discounts in designated hotels to outside visitors between the ages of 18 and 35.

Local statistics showed several hotels offering such services for young people were fully booked on Wednesday.

To capitalize on its recent fame, the city plans to hold a barbecue festival around the May Day holiday, said Yin.

Authorities including the market supervision and public security have joined in to ensure food safety and reasonable pricing in the "barbecue sector", and the city's public transportation company has opened 21 bus lines especially for transporting people to barbecue restaurants.