SHANGHAI (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Two years after Michelin debuted its famed restaurant guide on the Chinese mainland, China's online-to-offline service platform Meituan-Dianping has launched its own restaurant guide.
Dubbed the Black Pearl, which, like the guide, is painstaking to produce, the list recommends 330 restaurants from 27 cities known as culinary destinations. Five of the cities are overseas including New York, Paris and Tokyo.
Twenty eight of the restaurants were described by the guide as "must try once in a lifetime". These restaurants were awarded three diamonds.
Among the rest, 85 restaurants were given two diamonds, which means "must try on an occasion", and 217 were given one diamond, meaning "must try for a casual gathering".
The restaurants, on average, charge 677 yuan (S$139) per head.
"Black Pearl is not trying to be the Chinese version of the Michelin guide, but aims to be a world-class list compiled by Chinese and for Chinese palates," said Mr Zhang Chuan, vice-president of Meituan-Dianping, which is headquartered in Shanghai.
"The differences between Chinese and Western cuisines not only lie between forks and chopsticks, long tables and lazy Susans, but deep in the roots of culinary culture," he added.
Started in 2003 as a restaurant review website, from which it takes its name－meaning "public review", this is the first time the platform has tried to establish an "authoritative and credible" restaurant guide leveraging the expertise of industry insights.
Each nominated restaurant was reviewed by at least three judges. About 200 anonymous judges, one-third of whom are chefs, signed up for the selection process.
The meals were paid for either by the website or the judges themselves. None of the judges were paid for the reviews.
"It takes passion, cash and patience to create a guide like this. And we are not planning to make money from it," said Meituan-Dianping chief executive Wang Xing.
With more than 250 million active users and listings of seven million shops and restaurants in 2,800 Chinese cities, the platform generated transactions worth 360 billion yuan last year (2017).
Among the 28 three-diamond restaurants, five are located in Shanghai, where Michelin launched its inaugural guide in 2016. Three overlap with the 2017 Michelin guide.
In December last year, Michelin also announced that it would introduce its second Chinese guide for Guangzhou, Guangdong province, by the second quarter of this year.
A report released by the China Cuisine Association on Tuesday showed that the country's 1.37 billion population spent more than 3.9 trillion yuan eating out at restaurants last year, an increase of 10.7 per cent year-on-year.
The amount is larger than the gross domestic products of developed countries such as Sweden and Belgium, according to figures from the World Bank in 2016.
The report also said that Chinese cuisine still dominates the plates of Chinese people when they dine out, accounting for 57 per cent of the money spent.
In contrast, only 19 per cent of those born in the 1990s - who are believed to be the powerhouse of the country's consumer economy - choose Chinese cuisines when eating out.