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Two years after Michelin debuted its famed restaurant guide on the Chinese mainland, online-to-offline service platform Meituan-Dianping has picked 28 restaurants as "must try once in a lifetime" for its own guide launched on Tuesday in Shanghai.
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.
Apart from the 28 restaurants awarded three diamonds, 85 are given two diamonds, which means "must try on an occasion", and 217 one diamond, meaning "must try for a casual gathering". The restaurants charge 677 yuan ($105) per capita on average.
"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 Zhang Chuan, vice-president of the company, 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 has been reviewed by at least three judges. About 200 anonymous judges, one-third of whom are chefs, signed up for the selection process. The bills are covered either by the website or the judges themselves. None of the judges are 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 Wang Xing, CEO of Meituan-Dianping.
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 in 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, 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 in 2017, up by 10.7 percent 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 Chinese cuisine still dominates the plates of Chinese people when they dine out, accounting for 57 percent of the money spent. But only 19 percent of the generation born in the 1990s, who are believed to be the powerhouse of the country"s consumption economy, choose Chinese cuisines when eating out.