Harbin City in the Heilongjiang Province of China probably isn’t the first place you think for street food. It is most well known for the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival – which is INCREDIBLE – but on your way through town I highly recommend the street food. There aren’t any restaurant foods that are must-tries, so luckily you can get the most worthy tastes just by walking along the street. You should be able to find these in a variety of places along the street, but the best option is to go down Central Street (中央大街 Zhōngyāng dàjiē) that runs through the middle of the tourist district. There, you’ll see little food stalls everywhere! You won’t have trouble finding the street food that you want.
These are street foods that you definitely should try in Harbin – especially since you’ll be spending big on accommodations and entrance tickets and will need to save money!
[Recommended Read: Itinerary: Hits and Misses of 2 Winter Days in Harbin, China]
The sausages are a Heilongjiang specialty. You can find stalls cooking them almost anywhere! I recommend getting them from a random street stall rather than one inside a cafe or at one of the Ice and Snow World exhibitions because you’ll get way more bang for your buck, and the sausages will actually be juicy.
Almost anywhere, the sausages cost ¥10. When you get one, the vendor will ask whether you want the spicy herbs or not. I’m not a fan of spice, but maybe you are! You can see the spicy herbs on the left in the picture above. If you don’t like spice, the herbs on the right are amazing! I’m not sure what they are, but combined with the sausage itself it tastes like a little piece of heaven. I’m a little thankful I don’t live close to Harbin because I would probably end up squandering my savings just on these.
The other great thing about these sausages is that they are steaming hot as soon as you buy them. This is ideal because winter temperatures in Harbin can get down to -30°C (-22°F). When I was there, the lowest temperature I encountered was about -20°C (-4°F). Having something nice and hot is actually fantastic!
If you’re a cook, there are many shops specializing in Harbin sausages. You can buy some to bring home to make to share with your friends and family!
[Recommended Read: Harbin Ice and Snow Festival: A Complete Guide]
Harbin Ice Cream
This goes without saying, but ice cream in the winter is generally a bad idea. That said, ice cream in Harbin is a local specialty! Choosing not to try it is like going to New Orleans, Louisiana in the US and not eating some gumbo or beignets. AKA what’s the point of even going if you’re not going to try it?
The most revered (yes, that is the level of respect) flavor is vanilla. Wherever you go, you will see people buying vanilla ice creams. I saw several other flavors (the brown above is coffee, not chocolate!) including coffee and matcha tea, but if you’re going to brave the cold, start with vanilla. These were ¥5 each and I bought mine from the stall above at the corner of Central Street and 9th (maybe 8th? I can’t remember!) right next to the sausage stall.
If you’ve never had ice cream in the dead of winter before, it’s actually not that bad. In Harbin, it’s not like you can really get much colder anyways. What is nice instead is that you never have to worry about your ice cream melting, because the ambient temperature is just so low. If the heat of your mouth melts any part of the ice cream, it literally freezes up again right away! It would be nice if a slow ice cream eater like me could have that in summer, too.
[Recommended Read: Harbin Ice and Snow World: A Guide]
Fruit Skewers (糖葫芦 or Tánghúlu)
Another street food to try are the fruit skewers! Most skewers are made with hawthorn, which are a specialty Chinese fruit. They are almost exclusively used for fruit skewers, which you can find throughout China. They have a tangy, sweet/sour taste, which makes them a perfect candidate for the candied covering vendors give them to make these skewers.
What makes them different in Harbin is that they are frozen – but not because of a freezer! These candied fruits are very cold (which I should have expected but was surprised by). There are also a variety of different skewers with all kinds of fruits. I think hawthorn are a little too sour, so I decided to buy a strawberry-only one.
Since strawberries are relatively expensive in China, this cost ¥20 instead of ¥10, but I was okay with that. The candy adds to the sweetness of the strawberries (which were already sweet) so it made for a nice dessert. The only downside was I had to wait for it to warm up, and the candy will melt if you leave it in the heat for too long.
You can find these tangluhu almost anywhere, as they are convenient for street vendors to move around. I found them at all the Ice and Snow World locations, using fruits such as blueberries, pineapples, and even bananas!
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Harbin’s Street Food Square:
Meat Skewers, Stinky Tofu, Squid, & Sweet Potatoes
The nice thing about the street food square is that it’s centrally located, and has a huge variety. Find it between the two shopping malls at the intersection of Central Street and Youyi Street, right before you reach the Flood Control Monument at the Songhua River’s edge. Since you’ll be shelling out for the Ice and Snow Festival, this is a good place to have a meal or two!
If you have WeChat or Alipay, all street vendors will accept them. During the holidays, Alipay will have hongbao (red packets, typically small amounts of money) available. If you use your Alipay to scan the hongbao, they will give you a small discount (about ¥1).
Lamb, Beef, and Squid Skewers
Anywhere you see the word 串 (chuàn) you’ll know it’s a skewer. The Chinese word resembles two pieces of meat on a stick! You can read the pricing signs this way and have your pick!
You can notice that this vendor has his Alipay and WeChat QR codes on the right. Make sure to use Alipay to scan the red QR code to get a small hongbao from Alipay!
[Recommended Read: Harbin Sun Island Snow Sculpture Art Expo: A Guide]
This is a common offering across China, even though stinky tofu is a Changsha specialty. The stall I saw had both black tofu and regular available, and they tasted slightly different. Unfortunately I didn’t get what the black tofu was made of, but I do like stinky tofu in Taiwan! I thought I’d try it in Harbin. They make it differently, putting a weird red sauce on the tofu. If you’ve never had it before, don’t be put off by the smell! It’s definitely worth trying once.
Yams/sweet potatoes are usually a holiday food in the States, but Chinese people eat them whole as snacks! You’ll be able to smell them before you see them. The street vendor will put all their yams in a large warming pot, and you can buy them steaming hot from them. They typically don’t have any extra seasonings, but the sweetness of the sweet potatoes still tastes great. Like the sausages, this is a wonderful way to warm up without getting a hot drink!
[Recommended Read: Harbin’s Zhaolin Park Ice Lantern Fair: A Guide]
What do you think? Did you try these and other street foods in Harbin? Let me know in the comments below what your experience was!
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