CHINA – If you are a food enthusiast or enjoy adventurous eating, then a trip to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, China, is a must. Renowned for its bold and spicy flavors, Chengdu’s cuisine offers a truly tantalizing experience that will excite your taste buds.
From fiery hotpots to spicy noodles, join us on a flavorful journey through some of Chengdu’s top dishes that will leave you craving for more.
Sichuan Hotpot: A Fiery Delight
Sichuan hotpot is not just a meal; it’s an experience. Imagine a bubbling pot of spicy broth surrounded by a variety of fresh ingredients such as meat, vegetables, and thinly sliced tofu.
The communal aspect of sharing and cooking your ingredients in the simmering broth makes it a social and flavorful event.
Mapo Tofu: Tempting Spicy Tofu
Mapo Tofu, a cornerstone of Sichuan cuisine, is a dish that combines soft tofu with a spicy sauce and plenty of chili peppers. The result is a symphony of texture and flavor that dances on your taste buds.
This dish is believed to have been created at a small restaurant called Chen Xingsheng in Chengdu in 1862, with the name deriving from the chef who invented it.
It perfectly captures the rich and numbing essence of Sichuan cuisine.
Dan Dan Noodles: A Tongue-Tingling Culinary Adventure
Dan Dan Noodles are a classic street food that embodies the essence of Chengdu. These noodles are typically served with a spicy sauce and topped with ground pork, preserved vegetables, and crushed peanuts.
The crunchy sensation from Sichuan peppercorns adds a unique twist to this beloved dish.
Kung Pao Chicken: Perfect Harmony of Flavors
Kung Pao Chicken is a Sichuan favorite enjoyed worldwide. Tender chicken is stir-fried with peanuts, vegetables, and chili peppers, striking a delightful balance between the spiciness of the seasonings and the crunchiness of the peanuts.
It’s a harmonious blend of texture and flavor.
Liangfen: Red Oil Jelly Noodles
Liangfen (凉粉 liángfěn ‘jelly noodles’) is another famous representative of Sichuan street food. These jelly noodles are often served in a red oil and sesame sauce. Various seasonings like cilantro are added to enhance the flavor.
In Chengdu, they make thick noodles from starches like mung bean, sweet potato, or green bean, so there are three common varieties to try.
Each restaurant and stall has its own special homemade sauce, but aside from red oil and a generous amount of chili flakes or powder, they often include garlic, salt, and various other spices. At many places, you can add your choice of greens and seasonings to the noodles.
The spicy heat contrasts well with the sweetness of the noodles, and you’ll often find sweet and spicy noodle dishes offered by the same eatery or neighboring stalls.
In addition to the red oil variety, another kind of liangfen is made with a bean sauce. Locals believe liangfen helps them adapt to Chengdu’s high temperatures in the summer.
Baozi: Spicy Steamed Dumplings
Baozi (Dumplings – 水饺) are a popular food throughout China, but in Chengdu, they come with a subtle yet exquisite spicy kick. These dumplings, often filled with pork, can be ordered in a regular soup or spicy oil sauce.
Red oil baozi has a spicy and savory taste. It is the most common type. Red oil is made from chili oil, ground chili, or minced chili, and may include sesame oil.
Soup baozi has a light and delicate flavor; the soup pairs well with the dumplings and aids in digestion.
Wontons: Chengdu’s Signature Dumplings
Wontons (Longchaoshou – 龙抄手 lóngchāoshǒu) are what Chengdu locals call wontons. Chengdu’s wontons are handmade with natural ingredients.
The key feature of Chengdu’s wontons is their thin dough skin made from wheat flour, and the flavorful filling and delicious broth. The wontons are meticulously folded and rolled to be “thin as paper, smooth as silk.”
The soup is made from chicken, duck, or boiled pork parts, and it’s considered ready after being simmered and stewed slowly.
Fuqi Feipian (夫妻肺片): Couple’s Lung Slices
Fuqi Feipian, also known as Sliced Beef and Offal in Chili Sauce, is a dish with a unique and famous flavor in the Chengdu region.
It has a history dating back to the early 20th century, originating in a small town near Chengdu. A man named Zhao Hanhua and his wife carried slices of offal marinated in vinegar on their pushcarts along the streets.
Guokui: Meat Pies and Sandwiches
Guokui (锅魁 /gwor-kway/ ‘excellent cake’) is a favorite among many foreigners as it somewhat resembles a pancake, crepe, or sandwich.
There are two types of guokui. One is filled with grilled meat, offering various fillings and a characteristic spicy touch from red chili and black pepper.
The other type is more like a pita bread, with meat and/or other fillings. Some are sweet, serving as a dessert, while others are savory. This type of guokui is less greasy.
You’ll have plenty of choices when it comes to guokui in Chengdu. You can also find or order vegetarian guokui with salad fillings.
Chuan Chuan: Skewer Skewer
Chuan Chuan (康二姐串串) is a popular dish in Chengdu, with all the ingredients skewered on bamboo sticks.
There are two types of Chuan Chuan: one is like a hotpot where diners cook their food on skewers in a small pot of boiling broth, and the other is prepared by the chef and served to the table. Both options allow diners to choose what they like, including meats and vegetables, making it a budget-friendly way to enjoy Chuan Chuan.
Sticky Rice and Dried Fruits
Half a sticky rice dumpling is filled with sweet rice, a bit of dried fruits, and jujube. The sticky rice is wrapped in lotus leaves and served with two small plastic spoons.
Tea Culture in Chengdu
Amidst the spicy dishes, Chengdu’s tea culture provides a refreshing contrast. Tea houses are a common sight, offering a tranquil environment to savor a variety of teas while engaging in leisurely conversations.
Zhangcha Smoked Duck
Zhangcha Duck is a smoked duck dish flavored with tea and camphor, originating from Sichuan province. Preparing this dish involves a 5-step process: marinating, boiling, air-drying, smoking, and finally frying.
To learn more details, check out our Chengdu Travel Guide.