Must Try Dishes When Visiting Chengdu
We love Gong Bao (Kung Pow) Chicken, Twice Cooked Pork, and Mapo Tofu, but Chengdu has much more to offer where food is concerned. Read on and let us introduce you to a quick list of 7 yummy dishes that capture the spirit, depth, and diversity of the city.
1. Fish Mint (折耳根 – Zhe Er Gen)
Houttuynia Cordata is a plant known for its contradictory flavors that most people either love or absolutely hate. Because of its unique texture and flavor – pungent and citrusy with an almost feather-like feeling on the tongue – we highly recommend tasting it for yourself when you are here. Personally, I think when it is lightly tossed in garlic, vinegar, chili oil, it is absolutely delicious. It is a specialty of this area and though it might not be for everyone, it is a must try while you are here.
2. Wood Fire Chicken (柴火鸡 – Chai Huo Ji)
This list would not be complete if we didn’t include Wood Fire Chicken. It’s just that good. A freshly killed whole chicken is fried with fresh Sichuan pepper and ginger, then stewed in pickles, ginger, garlic, pickled chilis, and fermented bean paste, along with green beans and potatoes. Your table is a stone and wood-fired brick stove (zaotai), with a giant wok perfectly seasoned set into its surface. Then minutes before serving, the cook at each table slaps cornbread pancakes (momos) on the side of the pan to steam. It has all the flavors and all the smokey atmosphere you can ask for plus pancakes for dipping!
3. Sichuan Dumplings in Chili Oil (红油抄手 – Hong You Chao Shou)
Chao Shou is a Sichuanese version of dumplings, not to be confused with the traditional steamed dumplings of China or a ‘jiaozi‘. These are filled with only ginger and pork and wrapped in a folded crescent shape. The flavor comes from the refined garlicky, spicy, and sweet sauce it is served in. This is a fantastic way to experience the taste of the chili oil popular in Sichuanese cuisine. Plus each chef makes their own from scratch placing special emphasizes on not only its spice, but also its subtle flavors. Plus, dumplings are just awesome and delicious in any form.
4. Spiced Steamed Beef (粉蒸牛肉 – Fen Zheng Niu Rou)
This delectably tender steamed beef dish is one of the classics of Leshan. The beef is first coated in spices and ground rice then steamed inside a bamboo steamer. Then right before it is served it is garnished with cilantro, chili powder, and garlic. Slightly sweet and fragrant with only a subtle hint of chilis, this dish is perfect for people who are cautious about ‘mala’. Steaming beef is just something you don’t hear much about, but this proves its a great idea.
5. Smoked Sausage (腊香肠 – La Xiang Chang)
How can you go wrong with smoked, dried, spiced, pork sausages? The sausages are fried or steamed and are so smokey and salty with a just the right amount of kick and Sichuan pepper, they are perfect just by themselves. The only problem with this dish is that it’s not available all year round – all Sichuan smoked meats are made in the winter and an important part of the traditional Chinese New Year’s feast.
6. Rabbit fried with Peppers (双椒兔 – Shuang Jiao Tu)
Chengdu’ers predilection for rabbit (not just the head) make it one of the iconic foods of the city. While a roasted rabbit is yummy at any time, a ‘double pepper fried rabbit’ showcases the flavorful versatility of this delicious lean meat. The rabbit is fried with ginger, garlic, fresh Sichuan pepper, and green and red pepper. This is what gives it a fragrant, spicy, tingly flavor. While it is not as easy to find a good fried rabbit in the city, the eastern towns and suburbs (HuangTu, LongQuan, XiHe, etc.) have plenty of tasty rabbit joints.
7. Cold Chicken in Chili Oil (凉拌鸡 – Liang Ban Ji)
Cold dishes are underrated in general, but this one does a particularly fantastic job of capturing a broad range of flavors that shout “Sichuan.” Both delicate and heavy-handed, it combines the famed hot and numb (or mala) feeling/flavor of Sichuan cuisine and mixes it with spring onions, sesame, sugar, Sichuan pepper oil, garlic, soy sauce, and fermented vinegar. While the spiciness hits you up front, it is the balance of flavors that makes this dish stand out, and likewise, make it a real test of a chef’s ability. A good Liang Ban Ji is the perfect representation of Sichuan at its best. It is not an easy dish to make, and you will find some places lose the balance by being too heavy on the numbing pepper spice, but find one a good one, and you just could get addicted!
Traveling to Chengdu? Be sure to let us know what you tried while you were there!
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