cangyingguan 苍蝇馆 or ‘fly restaurants’ are the lifeblood of Chengdu cuisine. In ancient times, street peddlers selling dumplings and snacks eventually upgraded into tiny stalls, what are literally hole in the walls, and set up shop with rickety stools and tables you can rest on while devouring afternoon snacks or morning tea.
Click here to read the essay I wrote last year on dumpling nostalgia growing up in Guanghan, Sichuan. It can give you a glimpse into the soul of a cangyingguan.
The cangying or ‘fly’ does not refer to the establishments’ size, or cleanliness factor. It is said that the word actually refers to the constant buzz of patrons, bustling in and out with mission and purpose to fulfill their cravings.
Here I take you to one of my favorites in Chengdu city. Opposite Wensuyuan, 张老儿凉粉 Zhanglaoerliangfen (I won’t bother translating that one) is a mile apart from the other restaurants around, most of which are designed to lure the myriad tourists in the area. With a long history (it was around when my mother grew up in Chengdu), it is well respected for its no-nonsense grub and a mean bowl of cold noodles.
The restaurant is the size of a shoebox and its 30 or so chairs are never empty. Diners swarm in and turn over every 15 minutes or so. You place your order at the entrance with a large menu on the wall. There are all the standards, red chili oil dumplings, longchaoshou, etc. But a scan of the busy tables around quickly determines that a bowl of the tianshuimian sweet and spicy noodles cannot be missed.
You get your ticket and bring it to the noodle counter, where each bowl is assembled on the spot with your only addition being if you’d like an extra spoon of chili sauce. If you’re there on a particularly busy day like I was, you eat your noodles standing up.
What makes these tianshuimian so special is not just the bath of red hot chili oil, sesame seeds, ground sichuan peppercorn and sugar, it is the perfect consistency of the handmade noodles. Thick, and slightly too chewy, it makes the perfect canvas for the sauce.
I also polished off a bowl of chili wontons, which were ace. Though I didn’t order it this time, you should try the liangfen, or mung bean cubes, another specialty of the restaurant.