Profile: Restoring Russian flavor to Harbin

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HARBIN, June 4 (Xinhua) -- Strolling down the century-old Central Pedestrian Street in Harbin, tourists cannot miss the old Russian restaurant or the remarkable story of its owner.

For Hu Hong and his 19-year-old Russia Coffee & Food, busy season comes every winter as the "ice city" in China's northernmost Heilongjiang Province sees more visitors.

Food lovers come and go, rarely realizing that the Russian meat pies, accordion music, and art at the restaurant all come from the master who runs the eatery.

Tens of thousands of Russians came to Harbin at the turn of the 20th century when construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway was underway. Missing a taste of their homeland, they soon opened many Russian restaurants.

Born to a Russian mother in a Chinese-Russian marriage, Hu, 68, grew up immersed in Russian cuisine, music and architecture, and still remembers the taste of the Russian food his mother and grandmother cooked for him when he was a child.

A carpenter in his teens, Hu came to the fore with a talent for architecture after he finished middle school and built farmhouses together with his peers in Heilongjiang's Baoqing County in 1968.

In 1988, Hu left Harbin for Japan, working as an architect. He set up his own architecture and design firm in Tokyo, with his designs appearing in Kobe, Nagasaki, Yokohama and Fukuoka.

He returned 12 years later and opened the restaurant on the 1,400-meter-long street, not only to beat his homesickness but to restore Russian culture and lifestyle to the city.

"I made the interior design myself, from tables and chairs to wood carvings on the ceiling," Hu said. "Construction work took four years based on more than 2,000 design drawings."

In addition to the oil paintings, photos, furniture and other decorations, he even set the menu of the restaurant, with every recipe carefully considered.

In 2007, Russia Coffee & Food was rated as one of the 50 best restaurants in China by National Geographic magazine, Hu said.

Hu loves writing about the city and has finished several novels. He published his first book in 2016 and is now working on a new novel that depicts the lives of early Russians settlers in Harbin, and their lives knitted with local residents.

"I visited Russia several times in recent years, mainly in search of inspirations for my story," he said.

His acquaintances are always curious about the job labels he has -- chef, musician, writer and architect. Which one does he value most?

"They are all about me," Hu replied.

When the restaurant is not busy, he usually reads books in the morning, spends an hour playing the accordion and three to four hours writing every day, sometimes until after midnight. He also organizes children to learn western dining etiquette on weekends.

In recent years, a growing number of people like Hu have multiple professional and diversified lifestyles.

"I'll keep on my endeavor to build beautiful architecture, make authentic Russian food and write real stories about Harbin," he said. Enditem

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