Chengdu is well known for its culinary prowess; the spiciest of Chinese cuisine doesn’t take a backseat to any dim sum or street stall barbeque recipes so save room in your itinerary to take in this zesty chow.
But what to taste first on your expedition into this foodie territory? No need to look any further, these 7 culinary wonders are the perfect place to start your own gastronomic tour and the only requirement is a hunger for spice and a deep sense of adventure.
1. Hot Pot
It’s absolutely not allowed to even consider Chengdu cuisine without including the original fondue; hot pots reputation proceeds itself far and beyond just the usual must-try because lovers of this dish can often be described as cult status. This spicy, bubbling broth with veggies, meats, noodles and cook-it-yourself appeal is perfect for grabbing a social dinner with your posse. In Chengdu you can grab a heater at Da Miao; with many locations throughout the area, you won’t have to be searching for one place in particular and can rest assured that any location will serve up the same piping hot dish anywhere. And a bonus: its got a great atmosphere so grab your camera and get to snapping those #Instadailys.
2. Mapo Doufu
All the ingredients for the “grandmother” of Sichuan cuisine are easy, but the taste is so rich, it doesn’t seem all that possible. The “pockmarked grandmother’s tofu” dish is really just fermented chili paste, tofu, ground meat, peppercorns and plenty of hot chili oil, but it tastes like so much more. Best eaten traditionally in a cast iron pot, this warm stew is a must-taste even for those who aren’t so much into the hot stuff; this dish is known for its slow heat, despite all of the chilis, and is known for its sneaky sweet flavor.
But instead of sitting down for a meal at a restaurant, consider attending a cooking class in Chengdu to learn how to make this homegrown meal yourself—the recipe and culinary know-how will be a much better souvenir than anything you might grab at a street stall.
3. Fuqi Feipian
Fuqi Feipian is not a dish for the faint of heart; with beef tongue and heart, tendon and tripe, this recipe requires brave taste buds. Once you get one bite in though, you can’t imagine the idea of being queasy at all because it’s all down to the savory sauce. The chili vinaigrette with roasted peanuts and cilantro on the side add powerful punch to the meat, and it’s the true MVP of this cold appetizer. Grab one and split it with the table, it’ll certainly be a test of who has the most adventurous spirit and is willing to take the first bite.
4. Cold Diced Rabbit With Chilies and Peanuts
A follow-up for the Fuqi Feipan with meat a little less daunting, the cold diced rabbit is another dish that comes with an incredible sour sauce that really takes the cake. Word to the wise: the rabbit comes bone-in so you’re going to want to take it slow on the chew, but the good news is that this cooking technique means incredibly juicy bits of nosh in every bite. With its fair share of hot chili oil—of course—this dish is no second to Fuqi, but might be a great alternative if you’re not a fan of the beef plate. It’s also the chosen Chengdu snack, so there’s no way getting around tasting this delight!
5. Chuanbei Liangfen
Ok with this dish you’re in for another world wind. Not only is it mind-numbingly spicy but the main dish ingredient is mung bean jelly and it’s one of those tastes you just have to try to understand. Because it’s served cold, it’s a summer favorite and with the soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, sesame, carrot and chili seasonings, it really packs a flavorful punch. With such a unique texture, I suggest having your camera ready for any first-tasters; you might get some funny faces for the jelly’s slippery texture or the ultra hot sauce.
For updating your Snapchat story with first reactions to this dish, or really for finding the best restaurants with your GPS, I suggest grabbing a local SIM card while you’re in Chengdu and not worrying about the crazy rates of your provider’s international plan. Just prep your phone and replace the SIM cards, it’s that easy and it’s cheap to enjoy your apps abroad.
6. Dan Dan Mian
If you’ve tasted dan dan noodles and think that exempts you from this taste test, think again. While you may be a pro with the Westernized version of the dish, they take it a little more seriously in Chengdu and you’re going to want to grab it street side from a vendor to really experience it the way it was meant to be tasted. I like mine with a lot of meat—bring me the pork!—so grab the dish with a side of meat and then pile on your own winning combination of garlic, peppercorns, black vinegar, soy sauce, chilies, peanuts and scallions and enjoy the top quality noodles.
7. Shuizhu Yu
Self-described by many taste testers as a burning lava fire in your mouth, the Shuizhu Yu is definitely for those with an iron stomach and a burning desire to set your intestines on a spice rollercoaster. This fish dish is marinated and then fried for crackling goodness that is then submerged into burning chilli oil and the customary Sichuan peppercorns on top. Just like the cold rabbit, sometimes the catfish or carp comes with bones-in, so be on the lookout and don’t just scarf it down! Grab it at this restuarant for the dish at its most potent; in some places it’s called Fei Teng Fish instead, simply because this restaurant makes it so well.
8. Huigou Rou
Finally, a dish that isn’t guaranteed to burn off your taste buds and leave you tasting blandness in your meals for the rest of eternity; this double cooked pork belly is made with only a hint of chilis, so it’s a salty respite for those of you who have had your fill of the Chengdu fire. Sauteed with leeks, this dish is super crispy and a must-try for any bacon lovers so dig your chopsticks in for a milder version of savory Sichuan cuisine.
If you’ve still got your tastebuds intact, try out some of Chengdu’s other popular dishes (like Gongbao Jiding or Shaokao grilled skewers) and report back with a comment on how you fared; a trip to Chengdu is certainly not for the faint of heart, or stomach!
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