The question I get asked most frequently is, “What do I eat when I go to Chengdu?” For a food-crazed city like Chengdu, the answer to that question is boundless. A place where ancient food culture meets the dizzying pace of new dining trends, and where the term ‘foodie’ makes no distinction at all because everyone is a certified 吃货, its no wonder that Chengdu’s food scene is constantly evolving. New fly restaurants and snack vendors set up shop every day, but few have the staying power of some of Chengdu’s long-standing 老字号 time-honoured establishments.
I was recently interviewed by New York Magazine (!!!) on three of my favourite spicy dishes in Chengdu. Here’s the excerpt
Thanks to its famous, fiery cuisine, Chengdu was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2010. Local food blogger Jenny Gao ranks her top dishes from kinda to insanely spicy.
Salt and Sichuan peppercorn cookies
“Gong Ting Bakery (58 Wuyuangong Jie; 8694-2646) is an institution—every grandmother goes there. You can see people lined up from a mile away. (Don’t worry, the line moves fast.) They use ingredients you won’t see anywhere else in China and have a cookie called jiaoyan taosu that’s seasoned with salt and Sichuan peppercorns—it’s such a complex flavor combination.”
Tianshuimian (sweet water noodles)
“This is a classic Sichuan street dish. Zhang Liangfen (39 Wenshuyuan Jie; no phone) does it amazingly. They are traditionally served cold and are really thick—imagine twice the size of an udon noodle and super-chewy, like gnocchi. They ladle a mixture of sauces on top and then sprinkle it with sesame seeds. The combination is divine.”
Pig-brain mapo tofu
“Sichuan food is defined by ‘fly restaurants’—basically tiny, hole-in-the-walls known for the most flavorful food. One of the most famous is Ming Ting (30 Yijiefang, Waicaojia Xiang; 8331-5978), and their best dish is an unusual take on mapo tofu. The pig brain adds a really interesting texture to it, and the dish is super-spicy. The thing about Sichuan food is that it’s well balanced, so all the sweetness and savouriness balance out the spice.”
*Note: before going to Ming Ting, call ahead to check if they have moved to their new (as yet unknown) location yet. As of early October, ’13 they are still in the former Waicaojia outdoor market, but inevitably, the city has ordered the storied old market to shut down earlier this year to make way for urban development and Ming Ting will sadly be a victim of the same fate.