BEIJING - Hours after US Vice President Joe Biden finished his lunch Thursday, noodles with soybean paste became the hottest topic on the Chinese Internet.
The homely Beijing favorite was the noon meal for Biden, who is making his first official visit to China as vice president. Biden had earlier met with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.
Biden and his staff ate at Yao Ji Stewed Liver, a small restaurant set in a traditional alley near Beijing's Drum Tower.
The Chinese public got the news of Biden's culinary expedition from an item posted on the microblog of the US Embassy in China.
"Western stomachs don't do offal," said a microblogger named Laociwei_CWM, speculating why Biden skipped the house specialty, stewed liver.
"American politicians are good at molding their public image. This is a product of the system," wrote Rui Chengang, an anchor with China Central Television.
The Embassy's post on Sina.com, China's top microblogging service, has been forwarded more than 47,000 times and generated 20,000 comments so far.
"The US Embassy is very good at PR, at publicizing the United States. This is worth learning from," wrote Rui.
The post said Biden and his staff ordered five bowls of noodles with soybean paste, ten pork buns, some side dishes and cola for a total cost of 79 yuan (about 12 US dollars). Biden paid the bill with a 100-yuan note and offered the remainder as a tip, "in line with American custom."
A microblogger named Shenxingzhong quickly did the math: "Five people dined for only 79 yuan, plus a tip of 21 yuan. That averages out to three dollars each. It's so cheap."
Some more globally minded Chinese netizens reacted to the news with a mention of world affairs. "Mr. Vice President, I know you didn't come here for noodles, so never mind the tip. But don't blow our 1.165 trillion US dollars in Treasury assets. There are 1.3 billion Chinese keeping an eye on this," wrote a microblogger named Ningxiangdong.
Biden's official visit to China comes on the heels of an unprecedented US credit rating downgrade earlier this month, which created global uncertainty about the safety of dollar assets. At the end of June, China remained the largest foreign holder of US debt with around 1.165 trillion US dollars in US Treasuries.
Biden's visit to the obscure Chinese restaurant also came days after a picture of the new US Ambassador to China Gary Locke caused heated discussion in the Chinese blogosphere. The photo showed Locke, wearing a backpack, buying his own coffee at a Starbucks in the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
"They (Locke and Biden) not only show to the Chinese public the austerity of high American officials, but also aim at boosting confidence in the safety of Chinese assets: We Americans do not squander," wrote a blogger named Henghenghaxi zw da.