April 3rd, 2012


Doing my Homework: Eating in Chengdu

Getting better at cooking Sichuan food is only half the reason I am in Chengdu. The other half is eating in all those splendid authentic restaurants and snack stalls! For research purposes, of course.

Zhong dumplings 钟水饺 in a very popular canteen at Wuhou Temple Street were divine. The skins were elastic and substantial; the filling was a tender pocket of meat that held together well. I simply never tasted such an intense and sweet garlicky sauce before; and the sour and spicy sauce was almost better. The bowl on the upper right is douhua in sour sauce 酸豆花 -- a feast of lovely textures: airy tofu, crisp deep-fried dough sticks and peanuts.

Flaky pastry sweetened with bean paste and prunes (on top) and also flaky 'sandwiches' with sesame-walnut filling, resembling baklava, but not as sweet.

One of the evenings we tried Zigong cuisine, of which (for now) I know little except that it's defined by Zigong's history of a being a salt capital. Everything we tried in this restaurant called 呵细 was complex and balanced.

We ate a fish in rich peppery stew, beef slices in chili oil...

...and a marvelous grainy and tender rice dessert (its deep-fried crust was dusted with crushed peanuts).

It was inevitable that we'd eat in the famed Chen's Mapo Tofu restaurant very soon into our stay in Chengdu.

The tofu (firmer than usual) was enshrouded in smoky sauce; it was served still sizzling, in a heated pot.

Chengdu snacks are pleasantly cheap.

In a glassed-in kitchen a small lady whips up the best liangfen 凉粉 in the universe.

Cold bean noodle 凉粉 (that we call sline) comes in a couple dozen of sauces and extra toppings like bean sprouts. We went for the classics: yellow sline with mala 麻辣 (numbing and spicy) sauce and noodly sline in suanla 酸辣 (sour and spicy) sauce.

Near Wenshu Monastery there is a street of teahouses (one of the many in Chengdu, I'm sure).

Huamaofeng tea from Mount Emei is wonderfully tart and refreshing; it keeps on 'playing' for hours on end. But to make the teahouse experience perfect next time, we need to bring cards, backgammon, or books.

Strolling past a peppercorn shelf in a local supermarket one is enshrouded in waves of minty fragrance that's only comparable to wafts of ozone or freshly cut grass. I felt I was at a holy shrine (and probably looked it, as I was waving my hands over the peppercorn box and actually feeling the cooling sensation on my palms).