The colonial influence in Harbin is evident in much of the city's cuisine and eating here is a very different experience from dining elsewhere in China or indeed in the province.
For starters, the exterior of the restaurants is pretty unique. Lanterns hang outside each restaurant, each denoting different characteristics about the food and facilities available. Red lanterns denote a typical Chinese place and blue lanterns indicate that the restaurant serves Muslim food (no pork). What's more, the greater the number of lanterns hanging outside, the higher the standard of cooking and accordingly, the larger the size of your bill!
The actual dishes available in many places is also unusual. Exotic animals such as deer, bear and tiger were once an integral part of the diet here. Fortunately Beijing have made their disapproval of this kind of thing clear in recent years, and Bear Paw and Siberian Tiger Testicles are no longer as popular as they once were.
In accordance with the historical influence, Russian styles are used abundantly in the preparation of most dishes. Stroganoff and caviar are also available in a few places, including the Huamei Restaurant.
For more typical Harbin food, check out the Futailou Restaurant, serving good fish soups and some of the city's more exotic dishes. The Beilaishun Restaurant is an authority on Muslim dishes (note the plethora of blue lanterns suspended from outside). The Laodu Yichu Dumpling Restaurant, is one of the few places in town serving authentic dongbei dumplings.
Big Bread (da mianbao) is another specialty that bears obvious Russian influence. These huge breads are round in shape and can weigh as much as 6 pounds. Aside from size and weight, what makes this particular bread popular with locals and foreigners is the European flavor. When you come to Harbin to appreciate the Russian architecture, don't forget to sample this crispy-on the-outside yet soft within bread!
When one mentions Chinese dumpling (jiaozi), most people are familiar with the crescent shaped dumpling that can be found across the country. Only in Harbin can you expect to sample some of the most authentic and original types of dumpling, made using quality flour and fresh cabbage and pork meat. These dumplings are usually served around Chinese New Year and during the Ice Festival as special treats.