The French aren’t the only foreigners going ga-ga for Texas-style barbecue. Restaurants offering (purported) Lone Star State fare are popping up all over China, hardly an unexpected phenomenon given the country’s large American expat population. What is pleasantly surprising are the ways “Texas barbecue” manifests in these restaurants, for in some cases, there seems to be something lost in translation.
Since 2011, Home Plate BBQ has been serving Beijing residents various smoked meats and sides (Southern greens, creamed corn, cheese grits) out of two central locations. Their chopped brisket comes with your choice of “Memphis Twang” or “Texas Heat” and sausages are available in flavors such as pork, beef, and jalapeño cheddar. Even more intriguing are the baby back ribs, which Home Plate prepares with “four hours of kisses from sublime BBQ smoke.” (The last time this gal was treated to four hours of kisses I was not fit for consumption, but whatever.) While the menu does tend to stray a bit from the theme via the inclusion of hot dogs (with Texas chili!) and burgers with various unconventional toppings (fried pickles, roasted beets), Home Plate remains in the general ballpark, so to speak, of Southern/BBQ food.
Regardless of whether Bubba’s Bar-B-Que & Saloon is, as they claim “the first American-style barbecue joint in China,” they certainly do deliver, um, a certain style of this cuisine. Edible homage to Texas barbecue in particular comes in the form of “Texas-style smoked ribs,” “Texas-style slaw” (not to be confused with “Bubba’s Shanghai slaw”), and “Texas Hot Gut sausage.” As a cowboy hat tip to our state capital, Bubba’s offers “Austin tacos,” hard shells (guess they didn’t get the corn/flour soft tortilla memo) stuffed with spicy beef, chicken or chili. With each virtual turn of the pages of their menu, things tend to get a little more confusing as suddenly you find yourself wondering what in the heckfire a vegetarian calzone and fish ‘n’ are doing in Bar-B-Que Saloon.
One of the most recent additions to the barbecue scene, Iron Pig in Chengdu, boasts a no-frills straightforward menu most reminiscent of those old-school barbecue joints for which Texas is famous. Protein options include just-pulled pork, ribs and beef brisket, which can be paired in combination platters with sides of coleslaw, mashed potatoes, cornbread, creamed corn, green beans and biscuits.
Given that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I am tickled pink that a nation like China with such rich diverse gustatory traditions (that happen to include more than one of its own strains of barbecue) is so eager to embrace Texas 'cue. Maybe a culinary exchange program is in order.