The North Star Project, Summer Report Number Three, Tianjin, China, Tianjin Update 2: Oreos and ‘ao-li-ao’; Food in Tianjin


The North Star Project, Summer Report Number Three, Tianjin, China, Tianjin Update 2: Oreos and ‘ao-li-ao’; Food in Tianjin

Walking down the aisle in the local grocery store, Vanguard, is one of the most comforting things to do. I can’t read most of the product names around me, or fully comprehend what the cashier is saying, but as soon as I walk down the aisles I feel completely at ease with the routine familiarity of grocery shopping. In a city as big as Tianjin, one of the largest in China by population, there are only a few English signs here and there. Very few people I talk with in stores and on the street speak English which is helpful because it gives me more opportunities to practice my Chinese. I find it incredible how easy it is to recognize familiar American brands simply by the advertisement’s design such as Dove Chocolate, Chips Ahoy!, and Oreos–to name just a few. While these are what we might think of as American treats, there’s also something slightly different about the products. For example, in Vanguard there is half an aisle dedicated to Oreos (pronounced Ao-Li-Ao). There had to be more than a dozen flavors! Perhaps I never paid as much attention to the Oreo selection back in America, but I don’t believe there were such flavors as green tea ice cream or mango-orange. I just bought a pack of the green tea ice cream Oreos and I’ve got to admit, they’re delicious.

China has a large number of fast-food chains that have started in the U.S.A. and have since spread internationally. McDonald’s, Subway, KFC, and Pizza Hut are common fast-food restaurants in China that I can confidently say most Americans would recognize. Still, as with the Oreos, there are slight differences that allow the products to be more appealing to local consumers. I know for a fact that the McDonald’s back home doesn’t have a red bean pastry on the menu. The prices for the food served at McDonald’s are the equivalent price to the McDonald’s in America, but surprisingly, this dissuades me from eating there because McDonald’s prices are expensive relative to most other restaurants in the area. For a good solid dinner in Tianjin, I usually spend the equivalent of about $2. Spending $5 on a meal at McDonald’s might be one of the cheapest options for dining out at home, but in Tianjin, with quality food more accessible and far cheaper, I rarely eat at McDonald’s.

This past Tuesday, I went on a mini adventure to a fancy hot-pot restaurant with some friends. First, the seven of us were seated at a semi-circle booth. A waitress, dedicated solely to our table, handed us damp warm wash cloths to wipe our hands. I was wearing my glasses that day, so she handed me a cloth to wipe my glasses with that was printed with the name of the restaurant. We ordered various meats, such as lamb, beef, and eel, along with a multitude of vegetables. The waitress put hot broth in a pot that was set into the table. Using our chopsticks we plopped the food into the boiling broth to cook, and once it was ready, we used our chopsticks to take it out to eat. Our waitress was very attentive, never leaving the side of our table, and I ate so much delicious food that I skipped breakfast the next morning. Not to dwell too heavily on the prices of food in China, but for this dining experience I was shocked that I paid only about the equivalent of $10 once we split the bill. What shocks me most about dining in China is the affordable price and the fantastic quality of the food. It’s cheap, delicious, and a new experience every time.

*Erin received a reader’s question re: architecture after her first report:

Thanks for reading! As Tianjin modernizes and grows in population, the buildings under construction are skyscrapers, towering over everything downtown (I’ll make sure to post a picture at some point) with the apparent purpose to house as many people as possible. It’s efficiency over creative architecture, which makes it a treat to drive through the concessions that hold a bit of architecture from their respective countries with strong European influence. Unfortunately, I know very little about the technical side and terms of architecture–I’m just a big fan. From the bus, as I passed the Italian and Austria-Hungary concessions, I saw pillars stretching from the ground to the overhanging roof, extravagant stairs that fan out to the street, rounded roofs, tall rounded doorways, and great stone balconies. I appreciate that Tianjin has kept the beautiful architecture of the concessions in tact. I hope that as China grows from a developing country to a developed country, it will rediscover creative expression in its architecture. Of course, I understand the importance of efficiency when space is limited.
For all of the North Star Project 2013-2014 Reports, see
For all of the North Star Project 2013 Summer Reports, see

The North Star Project 2013-2014 School Year Reports: The Middle Ground Journal’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our K-12 outreach program. We also welcome Duluth East High School, Dodge Middle School and other schools around the world to the North Star Project. The North Star Project has flourished since 2012. For a brief summary, please see recent articles in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. We have confirmed student interns who will be reporting from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches here, and report on their interactions with the North Star Project students and teachers.

Hong-Ming Liang, Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA

(c) 2013-present The Middle Ground Journal. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.


Filed under Professor Hong-Ming Liang

9 responses to “The North Star Project, Summer Report Number Three, Tianjin, China, Tianjin Update 2: Oreos and ‘ao-li-ao’; Food in Tianjin

  1. Mitch VanTatenhove

    This was a very interesting post! I did not think that the price difference was that large! For 10$ here in America, your lucky to get a tossed together appetizer from a decent restaurant at that price.

  2. Tenzing Dorji

    Thank you for sharing this post! I think Its very interesting how these big brands (McDonalds, KFC, Oreo’s) tend to change in accordance to their surroundings (the Indian McDonalds menu is almost completely different there is no beef) but catering to different tastes everywhere is what enables such companies to be such powerhouses in the global market.

  3. Samantha Frascone

    Right before I read this post, I was on the “explore” tab on Instagram and I saw someone posted a picture of Oreos and I looked closer and saw that everything was written in Chinese, and that they were actually Green Tea flavored Oreos. For some reason my initial belief was that they were fake, but this post cleared that up. It’s kind of strange to me that they have so many flavors of everything in China rather than the United States, and it kind of makes me wish that we had those unique flavors here too. This post was interesting to me, thanks for sharing!

  4. Katy Goerke

    The hot pot restaurant sounds amazing, but I would be a bit weirded out by the waitress never leaving the table side. In the US I never talk about anything other than food infront of a waiter. Was it odd there? I know that even here in the US the wait staff has better things to do than judge my conversation but it doesn’t stop me from feeling odd.

  5. Johanna Jurgens

    I think this is extremely interesting, specially the part where other restaurants are cheaper than mcdonalds. I believe that in the United States it should be like that as well, so people are encouraged to eat healthier.

  6. Maija Fremling

    It’s interesting to think that in other countries good quality food is so cheap! I wonder if McDonalds in China is still perceived as a lot unhealthier and convenient, as opposed to the good quality and cheap food they could get else where. In the Us, I feel as though that convenience is one of the only reasons it is such a popular place!

  7. Mindy Aubin

    This was a very interesting article to read. I would have gone the rest of my life not knowing about all of those flavors of Oreos. It makes me want to go there just to try them all! I was also shocked about the food prices. I definitely thought it would be more expensive or at least the same price as the US, but not lower. Thanks for sharing your info!

  8. Ashley Svihel

    Wow! I found it very fascinating that the real meal at a sit down restaurant was cheaper than a fast food restaurant. This article is a good example of how different cultures value different things. The US seems to value money more going for the fast food, while in China it is cheaper to sit down and eat real food. I also thought it was intriguing that they do change the names of, like you explained, products like Oreos. I was not aware of that fact and I thank you for sharing for future reference. It sounds like if you can’t read it you can somewhat recognize the logo, which seems to be pretty helpful in your en-devour.

  9. Morgan Young

    Cheap prices and great quality food are not always a given in America! But what I really enjoyed was that it was more expensive to eat at McDonald’s, which I’m sure didn’t have as great quality food. In America, it is obviously the opposite, I’m sure a lot of people would rather eat from fast food chains because it’s cheaper, but the fact that the high prices deterred you from eating there is awesome!

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