Archive for the 'Chinese' Category

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“Home Common Food” and the Best Bite of the Trip at Zha Zha Mian Jia Chang Cai – Chengdu

"Home Common Food" at Zha Zha Mian Jia Chang Cai - Chengdu

I had my sights set on a down home, classically Sichuan “fly restaurant” called Ming Ting for my final supper in Chengdu. This bare-bones eatery earned its nickname because it is said to attract diners like flies.

As was usually the case in China whenever I had my heart set on a particular dining destination, we were unable to locate it due to a lack of a proper address. After wandering down Jinfangyuan Road for 45 minutes in search of the illusive Ming Ting, we finally called it quits and ducked inside Zha Zha Mian Jia Chang Cai for a taste of “home common food.”

"Home Common Food" at Zha Zha Mian Jia Chang Cai - Chengdu

I selected this restaurant on the fly (ha!) because the cold appetizers out front looked promising, while the men drinking outside were having a jolly time. Our dinner at Zha Zha Mian Jia Chang Cai ended up being one of my favorites of the entire trip.

We selected a trio of cold appetizers to start, including snappy green beans and shredded potatoes, wilted just so and lightly dressed. Both were simple, straightforward, and fantastic.

"Home Common Food" at Zha Zha Mian Jia Chang Cai - Chengdu

Taking a cue from the friendly business man dining beside us, we also ordered a serving of the head cheese. Dressed in numbing and spicy chili oil and a smattering of green onions, this cold appetizer left us feeling warm and fuzzy.

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Sichuan “Tofu Flower” Specialists at Xiao Tan Dou Hua – Chengdu

Xiao Tan Dou Hua - Chengdu

A blank and silky canvas, tofu gets the Sichuan treatment at this respected and popular Chengdu institution. Xiao Tan Dou Hua, literally “Little Tan’s Tofu Flower,” attracts a sizable crowd of local residents, business travelers, and the occasional tourist like The Astronomer and me at every meal.

Xiao Tan Dou Hua - Chengdu

We placed our order and paid upfront before snagging a seat in the dining room. As non-Chinese speakers, this protocol was incredibly frustrating because we weren’t able to apply our tried and true “point, nod, and smile” technique very easily.

A traveling businessman from Shanghai, well versed in English, Chinese, and deliciousness, sensed our distress and jumped in to save the day. We have him to thank for our most excellent meal here.

Xiao Tan Dou Hua - Chengdu

To start, we dug into a platter of beef steamed in rice meal (粉蒸肉). This classic Sichuan dish was prepared extraordinarily well—the meat was tender, delicately coated, and spiced just right.

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Yulin Comprehensive Market – Chengdu

Yulin Comprehensive Market - Chengdu - Sichuan - China

Exploring local markets, carefully selecting souvenirs and nibbling from stall to stall, is one of my all-time favorite things to do while on the road.

Reflecting on recent trips, my mind drifts to the sunny afternoon The Astronomer and I spent picnicking outside Valencia’s Mercado Central (those strawberries!), and the lovely walk along the canals of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue at the Sunday market in Provence (those sausages!).

Yulin Comprehensive Market - Chengdu - Sichuan - China

While in Chengdu, we made equally splendid memories at Yulin Comprehensive Market, which was tucked behind an extensive housing complex and surrounded by a bustling park.

Just outside the market’s entrance were clusters of local folks sipping tea, chatting, and gambling. Chengdu residents are famous for their laid back lifestyle.

Yulin Comprehensive Market - Chengdu - Sichuan - China

Our first snack of the day was freshly fried and served up warm…

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“Cold Pot Fish” at Yu Yue Men Leng Guo Yu (and getting ma la wasted) – Chengdu

Yu Yue Men Leng Guo Yu Hot Pot Restaurant - Chengdu

Do Chengdu residents eat spicy, numbing, oil-slicked delights at every meal? The Astronomer and I often wondered this during our Sichuan stay. Though we were never able to confirm locals’ dining habits, we consciously dedicated every meal to the stuff that burns, really burns, because we wanted to experience Chengdu’s cuisine to the fullest.

The spiciest meal of the trip, the one that made me feel downright intoxicated from all the chilies and peppercorns, was at Yu Yue Men Leng Guo Yu*, an emporium of communal dining.

Yu Yue Men Leng Guo Yu Hot Pot Restaurant - Chengdu

The only dish served here is “Cold Pot Fish” (leng guo yu), a Sichuan specialty in which perfectly cooked fish fillets, usually Silver Carp, are served in a “cold” hot pot to begin; the broth’s actual temperature is lukewarm. The hot pot’s burners are turned on when all of the fish has been eaten to avoid over-cooking the fish. Then, it’s a traditional hot pot experience complete with veggies, noodles, meat, and the like!

Yu Yue Men Leng Guo Yu Hot Pot Restaurant - Chengdu

In a futile attempt to keep the avalanche of numbing spice at bay, I sipped on Chinese Sunny-D, while The Astronomer chugged some beer.

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