Where to Eat in Chengdu
My Chengdu escapades continue and this round, I am taking you on a food trip in Chengdu!
Did you know that Chengdu was declared the City of Gastronomy in 2011 by UNESCO? Chengdu cuisine falls under the sub-category of Sichuan cuisine. There are basically four sub-styles in Sichuan cuisine – Chongqing, Chengdu, Zigong and Buddhist Vegetarian style.
Chengdu is not called The Land of Abundance for nothing. The geographical aesthetic of the province let the people enjoy bountiful produce from land and sea. Then there’s the famous Sichuan peppercorn where many will either love it or hate it. It has cause many brave foodies to bowl over with its magnitude of numbing heat or Ma La sensation. A tiny taste of the miniscule peppercorn will cause one to sweat as the numbing heat creeps up slowly to overtake your normal taste sense and set it on fire. In a nutshell, it would seem that a nuclear heat had just taken over your senses.
Not only is Chengdu cuisine, also known as Chuan Cai, spicy and numbing, it is literally oily. Flavours are pungent and robust with fiery concoctions of chili peppers, garlic, bean sauce and aromatic herbs. The dishes encompass many cooking techniques such as stir fry, steaming, braising, deep fry, pickling and more. It is also a cuisine that utilizes every part of animals and wide varieties of vegetables, roots and pulses. While beef seems to be a popular protein served in Chengdu, rabbit meat is also a highly consumed in many meals.
When one is in Chengdu, one simply must try the cuisine’s iconic dishes of Ma La Hotpot, Mapo Bean Curd, Kung Pao Chicken, FuQi FeiPian, Tea Smoked Duck, Dan Dan Noodles and a few more. FuQi FeiPian is a very popular dish in Sichuan and is heavily spicy and numbing concoction of sliced beef and offal like cow lungs, tongue, heart and tripe covered in Sichuan oil with lots of aromatics, sesame seeds and peanut. I actually enjoy this dish for its raw pungency and the heat gets my adrenalin going. Certainly not for the faint-hearted!
We had a fabulous list of places to dine and these certainly opened my taste bud to the authentic and rustic appeal of Chengdu cuisine. Here are 8 places worth trying if you are travelling to Chengdu…
1. Chengdu Street Food
I always believe that to know and understand a culture, one needs to eat their street food. It’s the heart and soul of the country and street food is as pure and as organic as it gets. I am talking comfort food one eats on daily basis, food that fills one up every day, food that gives the utmost satisfaction to locals and food that is certainly affordable. Street food is also food that could have been handed over from generations and family recipes. One can also understand how the geographical affects the produce and what kind of produce is abundance in the country.
To me, sampling street food is pure excitement. I am quite adventurous and am game to try most unless it’s something totally off my personal charts like wild animals, insects or something really funky. Two popular hotspots to try some Chengdu street food can be found at Jinli Street and KuanZhai Alley. These are two famous places to visit in Chengdu and so it is definitely worth paying a visit and killing a few birds with one stone. I will explain more about both places in my next post of Where to Go in Chengdu but first, let me tempt you with some of the food available at these places.
Jinli Street is filled with long rows of small shoplots selling various food. One of the more popular stalls I saw was selling these poultry and bird heads, wings and feet. It is a delicacy that locals favor I suppose, since there were quite a few stalls doing brisk business with these. These were braised in a soy sauce based sauce and served chilled or room temperature as I was told. Among the head, wing and feet, there were also offal parts on skewers. Heart, kidney, liver, intestine, tongue and more, you named it, they got it.
There is a particular dish called Zhang Fei Beef that is definitely worth trying. Zhang Fei is actually a famous military general during the late Eastern Han dynasty of the Three Kingdom period. He has a dark and reddish complexion with a fierce characteristic hence the dish is named after him with the same characteristics. Zhang Fei beef has thinly sliced beef dressed with the fiery Sichuan peppercorn sauce. Though there are dried and moist versions of this beef, the dish is extremely old and dates back to a good few hundred years ago. Beware of the intense volcanic hit of numbing sensation but be assured that this dish I tried is super delicious though. The beef with bits of tendon has robust beefy notes coupled with an intense heat and wonderfully aromatic notes of chili and coriander. Going by weight, it was 48 yuan per 250g.
I also spied a stall selling dried beef or beef jerky together with other confectionaries. There are so much beef seasoned in various sauce vacuum-packed and also dried versions. One of the sellers was also cutting long strips of beef jerky with a heavy duty knife cutter. I tried a piece and it was quite dense and chewy but there is a good beefy flavour that seems to get better the longer you chew on the jerky. There other lady was toasting pressed thin pancake that has beef flavours too.
We also tried this interesting looking fountain flowing with double boiled snow pear, jujube dates and goji berry drink that is nicely refreshing and not too sweet. Next to the beverage stall was a young fella making a traditional Chinese sweet of Dragon Beard candy where thin strands of spun sugar is pulled and wrapped with a peanut filling.
More goodies in the street are bowls of Dan Dan Noodles, Clear Noodles in Chili Sauce (川北凉粉), Glutinous Rice in Pineapple, Ice Creams, Fried Snacks and more…
Kuanzhai Alley is located in Qingyang District and resembles long narrow alley that has courtyards filled with bars, restaurants, shops and hotels. It is very prominent for tourist and is always packed throughout the day while the night is even more crowded with many hanging out in the many cool bars there. I didn’t managed to try much street food there since we visited this place after a heavy meal of hotpot one evening. We were also there late in the evening so many food vendors has already started to wind down as the bar business takes over.
2. Yue Rong Café
I had one of the most delicious noodle affair at Yue Rong Café located in Dorsett Grand Chengdu.
Believe or not, Chef Bill Wang makes hand-pulled noodles look like a breeze. We had a quick masterclass on the art of hand-pulled noodles and knife shaved noodles and then Chef Wang and team proceeded to whip up bowls after bowls of his specialty noodles. Diners can order these a la carte and they are also part of buffet feast for lunch and dinner at Yue Rong Café.
Some of us even tried our hands on the art and it was indeed an interesting experience!
I really enjoyed my Knife Shaved Noodles in Duck Soup. Duck meat cubed and cooked with other vegetables in a hearty and earthy duck broth heated up with chili oil and coriander is comfort food I can enjoy daily. Besides my noodles, there was Dan Dan Noodles or simply select your choice of noodles and ladle on the special signature soups of Braised Pork Ribs with Bamboo Shoots, Stir Fried Cowpea with Chicken Giblet, Scrambled Egg with Tomato and Stir Fried Sour Pickle Vegetables with Shredded Pork.
Yue Rong Café also has a delicious Jiaozi 餃子 that has a tasty filling of chives and meat. It was also available during breakfast so I enjoyed having this quite a bit.
Besides noodles, another specialty of Yue Rong Café is the version of hotpot where diners select from a spread of meat, noodles and vegetables and have these cooked and served in a spicy Ma La broth. My bowl of bacon, meatball and vegetables was indeed oily but the flavours are so yummy.
Yue Rong Café
Level 6, Dorsett Grand Chengdu, 168 Xi Yulong Street, Qingyang District, Chengdu. Tel: +86 28 8332 8666
3. Damiao hot pot
Damiao Hot Pot popularity was further enhanced when I read that Michelle Obama actually dined there with her family. The restaurant has garnered quite a name for their Ma La hotpot. Though we have plenty of hotpot restaurants here in our country, Chengdu’s version is quite different from the soup to the ingredients and sauces. The restaurant is quite grand and decorated with Oriental theme.
Group photo before dinner…
Our Yin Yang Hotpot had Ma La Soup and Milky Pork Broth and was quite standard across the room since many also seems to opt for this version. A side bowl of sauce which was sesame oil of some sort and raw chopped garlic just didn’t work for me. I prefer our Malaysian sauces which had more flavour.
There were lots of slice pork and beef, some marinated and some served on its own plain. I really enjoyed the meat as they were very tasty. We also had some appetizers of cold smoked meat, fried chicken keel, radish with red sauce and some which I couldn’t really identify. Servers would assist us as well to put in plates after plates of meatballs, meat and fish paste and vegetables. I do enjoy the thinly shaved asparagus, ribbons of bean curd skins and some dried noodles.
It was a lot of food and this is a set meal by person. We could barely finish the items towards the end. In China it seems, meals are pretty lavish and the culture takes pride in making sure meals are endless servings to ensure their diners are fully satiated. This meal was about 200 yuan per person.
Damiao Hot Pot
Courtyard 2/3, Jinli Phase 2, No 231, Wuhouci Street, Chengdu. Tel: +86 28 8559 1111
4. long chao shou
Lunch at Long Chao Shou Restaurant was plentiful and quite extravagant. The restaurant is famous for dumplings and offers diners a casual café or fine dining restaurant. We went to the one which had both with the casual café located at the ground floor while the fine dining restaurant located above.
Get ready for this set meal as we had roughly 28 dishes served to us. Yes, you read it right the first time… 28 dishes! Of course one can go for a la carte but the set meal is more value-for-money. To name a few dishes I enjoy, I like Tea Smoked Duck, Stir Fried Edamame, Squid Soup with brown and white squid and root vegetables, Fu Qi Fei Pian, Spicy Clam Salad, Ma Po Bean Curd and Spicy Dumplings. I don’t have all the exact names for these dishes but it describes what they are.
Other dishes include Rabbit with Chili, Frog, Beef with Bamboo Shoot, Shredded Cold Chicken, Celery with Lily Bulb, Chill Clear Noodles in Chili Sauce, Dan Dan Noodle, Pancake, Steamed Cake, Glutinous Rice Dumpling and more. This set meal was about 80 yuan per pax.
In China, apparently they like to serve all their dishes at once and so they tend to stack the dishes all together at once. It is a cultural practice and it’s quite the norm here so don’t be surprise by this. If you prefer less dishes, I would opt for the casual café as I saw many diners slurping happily at their bowls of noodles and dumplings.
Long Chao Shou
Corner Chengshou Street & Liangshen Alley, Tianfu Square Area, Chengdu. Tel: +86 28 8666 6947
5. HongQiang Jiyi
We wouldn’t have found this place if not for the recommendation from the hotel staff. A very quaint supper club concept that is location in a tiny shoplot nearby our hotel. This meal is not to be missed as the ambiance and food is truly humble and makes me feel like someone has invited me to their home for a home cook meal. The owner David Hong and his wife whipped up dishes based on fresh seasonal ingredients available each day. There are no menu here but they will cater to your whims should there be something you won’t eat so just let them know.
The place is small but priceless in their own merits as the owners decorated their space with warmth and coziness in mind. Though everything is mismatched but that’s how our homes are right? David and his wife takes pleasure in serving up Sichuan and Tibetan dishes from their own list of recipes. Speaking to the man and wife themselves, I find them really passionate and genuinely humble with a desire for good food.
That evening, we feast on Crucian Carp, Tibetan Rabbit Meat with Cilantro, Glass Noodles with Walnut Stems, Dong Po Pork Belly, Sauteed Beef with Peppers, Frog with Peppers, Cold Noodles, Chicken Feet, Lily Bulb Flowers, Sweet and Sour Shoestring Potato and ended with Sweet Broth of Papaya and Bird Nest. The Crucian Carp is a fine-fleshed fish that lots of fine bones so it takes skills to really enjoy this fish. Cooked in a spicy Ma La broth that looked innocent, there are lots of spring onions, chives and chilies in the broth. Once we finish the fish, boiled noodles is added into the broth and this was really yummy. The assorted Chuan Cai or light appetizer and salad is very delicious. From the various raw and cooked vegetables all tossed in simple flavours made this meal fresh, vibrant in flavours and light.
No.19-7, Hongqiang Alley, Qingyang District, Chengdu. Tel: +86 159 2881 4110
6. Fu Yue Xuan Chinese Restaurant
If you are looking to go fine dining and splurge, visit Fu Yue Xuan Chinese Restaurant in Dorsett Grand Chengdu. Chef Michael specializes in Cantonese as well as Sichuan cuisine and also garner some accolades in serving refine Cantonese and Sichuan cuisine. One can certainly dine like kings and queens here at the restaurant which also has an elegant ambiance.
Though I was pretty tired that evening from our journey to the mountain, I still enjoyed the beautiful and lavish spread of Chef Michael’s signatures. The dishes have beautifully balanced flavours and presentation was polished and classy.
We sampled lots of Cold and Hot dishes and I quite a few favorites that I really enjoy. From the cold menu, we had Sliced Chicken with Chili Pepper, Mixed Seafood with Soy Sauce & Chili, Cucumber Roll with Jelly Fish, Sliced Duck with Pepper & Chili, Sweet-Scented Osmanthus Sticky Rice Sugar Lotus Root, Mixed Wheat Grass with Fresh Pepper, Pickled Turnip with Soy Sauce and Mixed Spinach & Fish Roe.
My personal favorites was the Mixed Seafood with Soy Sauce served on ice that had a scrumptious note of wasabi kick to the chilled seafood and Mixed Wheat Grass with Fresh Pepper that showed off the crisp texture of the vegetable being iced and savored with the umami and savory sauce.
From the hot menu, we had Fried Prawn with Chili & Honey, Stewed Morel & Bean Curd in Superior Soup, Fried Diced Chicken with Dry Chili, Fried Snail with Fresh Chili, Fried Wagyu Beef with Herbs, Pan-Fried Goose Liver with Oat, Braised Sea Cucumber in Millet, Superior Egg Dumpling with Assorted Meat & Mushroom, Stir-Fried Green Vegetables with Gingko and Stir-Fried Mixed Beans.
I had lots of favorites from the hot menu but if I have to pick three top favorites, it would be Superior Egg Dumpling with Assorted Meat & Mushroom, Fried Prawn with Chili & Honey and Braised Sea Cucumber in Millet. The Egg Dumpling has an egg pancake skin stuffed with a bouncy meaty filling and the soup was soothing and flavourful. The prawns were so crispy that I eat the whole shell and head while the comforting and delicate flavours of the Braised Sea Cucumber in a millet broth was perfect for our evening after a long day outside.
Dinner ended with Fresh Fruits, Pan-Fried Thin Cake with Mixed Nuts & Peanut Paste and Baked Buns with Spring Onion. Indeed an unforgettable meal as the dishes are very unique and yet very enjoyable!
Fu Yue Xuan Chinese Restaurant
Level 6, Dorsett Grand Chengdu, 168 Xi Yulong Street, Qingyang District, Chengdu. Tel: +86 28 8332 8666
7. TaoPing Qiang Village homecooked
Our last day at Chengdu was spent at Taoping Qiang Village in Li Country. This meal was another favorite of mine as we stumbled into this home cum restaurant inside the village. Unfortunately I do not have much details of this place as it is actually a home that does double duty as a restaurant. I do have a photo of the place and its Chinese name so if you happen to be at Taoping Qiang Village, check this out as the home cook dishes here are very yummy.
Our simple Pickled Vegetable and Bean Curd soup was decent and makes good starter to warm up our growling tummies. Other simple dishes of Scrambled Egg with Tomatoes, Stir-Fried Beef with Celery & Pepper, Sauteed Onion Pork, Double Cooked Pork Belly with Spring Onions, Sauteed Beef and Sauteed Potatoes epitomizes what every home cook meal should be… simple heart-warming flavours and comfort food.
Taoping District, Li County, Aba Prefecture (163 kilometers away from Chengdu)
8. Chen MaPo Beancurd
Our last meal in Chengdu certainly concluded in grandeur. Ma Po Bean Curd is a signature of Sichuan cuisine and this Grandma Chen Mapo Beancurd Restaurant is very famous for the dish. After all, the restaurant is named after the dish too!
More dishes stacked to the max on the lazy susan and the feast was just a full treat to leave us with a sumptuous memory of Chengdu. The restaurant is located just right across the street from Dorsett Grand Chengdu so it’s easy to locate if you are staying at the hotel.
Our full-force set dinner had Chen Mapo Bean Curd, FuQi FeiPian, Tea Smoked Duck, Spicy Sichuan Chicken, Liang Fen Noodles in Chili Oil, Spicy Instestines, Hot & Sour Pepper Fish Soup, Frog with Pepper, Bean Curd with Prawn, Smoked Beef Ribs, Kung Pao Chicken, Steamed Fish, Squid & Celery, Fried Milk Pastry, Steamed Mantao and desserts too.
The Mapo Bean Curd is a killer dish here as it is super spicy and numbing and yet has pungent aromatic flavours of the chili to make me going back for more. The Kung Pao Chicken also has the little atomic bombs of Sichuan pepper although the ones here in Malaysia don’t so make sure to watch out for these little heat bombers. I also like the Smoked Beef Ribs and the Fried Milk Pastry.
Chen MaPo Beancurd
No. 197, West Yulong Street, Qingyang District, Chengdu. Tel: +86 28 8674 3889
And that concludes our food adventure in Chengdu. Call me weird but since I enjoy the Sichuan tongue-numbing dishes a lot, I had lots of fun on this lot of food escapade. And food is a darn good reason to visit Chengdu!
Stay tune on Where to Go in Chengdu…
The trip is made possible by Dorsett Grand Chengdu and Air Asia’s warm hospitality on the insights of the Heavenly State.