In my last post I posted a photo of Tianjin’s famous 狗不理包 gǒubùlǐ bāo. I then received a comment about this very unusual name for this steamed dumpling. As the commenter noted, it sounds like these 包子bāozi are not even fit for dogs. For the non-Chinese speaking readers, let me explain. 狗 gǒu simple means ‘dog’ and to 不理 bùlǐ means to ‘pay no attention to,’ so a literal translation would be something like ‘the dumpling that dogs won’t pay attention to.” This would imply that they are not too tasty.
Before going to Tianjin last Autumn I had never tasted them, though I had heard of them as they are considered a famous Tianjin snack. Here is the story about these very tasty dumplings. It comes from the book 旅游城市美食指南：便走便吃 edited by 周国宝. (Tourist City Guide to Gourmet Food: Eating While Traveling).
According to tradition, the story begins in 1858 when a 14 year old boy named Gao Guiyou arrived in Tianjin. His nickname was Gouzi (狗子 gǒuzi) or ‘dog.’ He had come to Tianjin to study to be a craftsman. He was very clever, good with his hands, and a quick learner. He apprenticed at a shop run by the Liu Family that made steamed dumplings (包子 bāozi). He learned very quickly how to make beautiful and delicious dumplings. After three years he had served out his apprenticeship and opened his own shop selling his own dumplings. He soon gained a reputation for making the best dumplings in town and people came from all over to eat them. He became so busy that he had no time to talk to his customers, thus the phrase, 狗子卖包子，不理人, gǒuzi mài bāozi, bùlǐ rén, ‘Gouzi sells dumplings and doesn’t pay attention to people (meaning his customers). After awhile people began calling him 狗不理 gǒubùlǐ, and his famous dumplings became known as 狗不理包 gǒubùlǐ bāo. Now it is said that if you travel to Tianjin and don’t try 狗不理包子 gǒubùlǐ bāozi, then you’ve never been to Tianjin.
Me and a couple friends/colleagues traveled to Tianjin to visit the parents of a former graduate student I worked with. It was also a good excuse to visit Tianjin. We took the new bullet train from Beijing and it only too 28 minutes to get to Tianjin. They took us out to eat at the famous 狗不理大酒店. Whether this was the original location of the shop in the story, I don’t know.
We had an excellent meal which of course included gǒubùlǐ bāo. I am happy to report that they are delicious. We had a chef come into our private room and demonstrate how to wrap them. She then taught us how to do it. Though it may look easy, it surely is not and takes a great deal of practice to wrap them properly.
Finally, here is a short video I shot of the chef wrapping a 狗不理包. She makes it look so easy and effortless, but I assure you it is not. As I said, they are truly delicious. Next time you are in Tianjin, make sure to eat some 狗不理包.
More memories of that fine day in Tianjin. And thanks for getting to the bottom of the origin of Gou Buli!
Mystery finally solved. I will finally eat this kind of dumpling now! Thanks so much!!
I lived in Tianjin for a year as part of my university studies and, yes, visiting Goubuli is an absolute must. Do you know if they’ve opened any new restaurants in the last decade or so? The one I visited back in 1999 was a lot smaller and looked a lot older than the one seen here…
I’m not sure as I have only been to Tianjin once. But I’m pretty sure you can get 狗不理包 just about anywhere in Tianjin, from fancy restaurants to street side stalls. There are probably more than one restaurant named after them as well.
I did not feel well today, but this made me hungry! Nice blog.
You’ve made me hungry too! Next time I make jiaodz (sp) I’m going to try using your chef’s technique.
The story behind the dumplings makes them seem more enjoyable! When something has a history to me at least, it becomes richer in every way.
It is interesting that 狗不理包 has a translation that makes it sound like they are not good tasting, even though they are one of my favorite foods! The story behind them is also interesting and I had no idea that the story was originally with dumplings and that there was even an origin story to this food at all! I have never seen them made before, and the process looks very difficult. Seeing foods like that being made by hand makes me have more respect to those involved in the cooking process of all of their dishes, because they are obviously made with care.