Food – TianJin, China

The “Not Even the Dogs Care About (the man)” Meat Bun from TianJin

“TianJin is a bustling city north of Beijing, in PR China. It is a port city buzzing with life and energy. One of its famous trademarks is the well known “Not Even the Dogs Care Bun” filled with juicy meat. You can find them almost everywhere from street vendors to little restaurants. These buns are so delicious that people come from all over the country to taste them. One must question why such a scrumptious snack food was named, “Not Even the Dogs Care Bun,” a very unattractive name that might suggest just the opposite of its fame.

Story has it that there once lived a man in the heart of Tianjin, then just a small village. This man was very mean- spirited, grouchy, unkind, and spiteful. He opened this little food stand trading on the banks of the river, where trading boats traveled up and down all day long en route to other main cities. Merchants would stop by his food stand and traders would buy his buns for snacks and meals. These buns were so delicious that word spread and there was more demand than he could make. People took his buns home to their families and friends. No one knew what to call those buns. They were referred to as the buns from that awful man who nobody cared for. –Lee Lee Wong


While I’ve never tried this Chinese pastry bun, my grandmother on my mother’s side used to eat them all the time when she was a child growing up in TianJin.  I’m sure it would be easy to make this bun and mass produce it with the right ingredients. However, it is the way in which it is made that gives the bun its unique flavor, distinct from all other variations of the meat bun in Chinese cuisine. It is the ironic name of the pastry that gives the treat its unique character and reputation. When I was growing up, my grandparents would introduce me to a variety of Chinese pastries and desserts, all of whose names did not have English translations. At that time when I was around five years old, I spoke Chinese pretty fluently and knew all of the pastries by their Chinese names. As time went on, I lost my grasp of the language and resorted to my mother, who translated dessert names for me in English. She has done this ever since. Folk foods evidently gain more popularity from their underlying stories and origins than from the actual taste of the food.

For those who know the story, the name reflects not the flavor of the pastry, but the attitudes of the villagers (and dogs) toward the man who originally started selling the pastry approximately 150 years ago. While the meat bun has had a receptive market, it has not left the region of TianJin. According to my mother, people travel by train just to try the pastry (which she distinctly remembers doing for the first time in 1984).