The food is what I miss most about Chengdu. All the Sichuanese dishes were always so fragrant and fresh, and the spicier the better. Please note that numbing pepper is exactly what it sounds like, and if you bite into a whole one you will mostly likely regret it. I admit, I probably should have branched out more then it came to where I ate, but my tried and true favorites were just too good! The food was also incredibly fresh. So fresh, that I would walk down the street and see a chicken tied to a post outside of a restaurant, and then half an hour later when I walked by, Mr. Chicken wasn’t there anymore.
For breakfast, at first I started out going down to the little convenience store just outside of east gate to get some raisin bread and yogurt, because anything that I didn’t really consider “breakfast” food was so far out of my comfort zone. Then my friend Max introduced me to this baozi place that was also just outside of eat gate. Baozi are steamed bread(ish) buns that are so good in their simplicity:
After I had a pork and cabbage baozi, I was hooked. I probably had one almost every morning after that. They cost something like 2 kuai each, so they were insanely cheap-a no-brainer for a study abroad student. They also came filled with beef (which is almost always actually Yak in Chengdu, but still delicious), various veggies, red bean paste, or nothing at all. When I wasn’t feeling meat in the morning, or my stomach was upset, I would eat plain baozi drizzled with honey.
My favorite thing to have for lunch was jiaozi. These are what we call “potstickers”, or not so bready dumplings. Here are some I made last week:
My favorite were fried pork and chive (猪肉韭菜), and I would eat about 12 at a time for 6 kuai or less. They also came filled with an egg and chive mixture, beef and carrot, and pork and cabbage at the place I always went to. It took a while to perfect, but I dipped them in a mixture of black vinegar, soy sauce, and this mixture of oil and spices that I’m still trying to find today. I knew I should have bought like 5 lbs on that spice mixture and brought it back with me. I still regret not doing so.
There was also a noodle restaurant off campus we frequented when we wanted something hot, quick, and filling. the spaghetti-like noodles were always ready to cook, but if we wanted flat noodles the cook would shave them off a huge block of pasta as soon as we ordered them. Around the corner from here there were 3 or so restaurants right next to each other, but they all pretty much sold the same thing (still amazing).
Then there was shaokao (烧烤), or Chinese barbecue. The entire selection of meat and veggies was laid out for customers to see, all on skewers, like this:
You get a basket, throw whatever you want in there, and they weigh it and cook it for you. My eyes were almost always too big for my stomach, so skew light with your selections unless you are ravenous. I also had the opportunity to try some northern Chinese food, which was also incredible. Noodles drenched in garlicky sauce…heaven for me.
Oddly enough, the best food I had while I was in China was Korean food. My friend Brittany LOVES South Korea, and made friends with some Korean students. They invited a few of us to dinner and took us to a Korean restaurant where they ordered everything. I think I was too amazed with how good it all was to ask what they had ordered. You should go get some Korean food though. As soon as possible.
I had the pleasure of taking a cooking class while I lived in Chengdu, which was right up my alley and lots of fun. Our teacher was a highly respected chef, native to Sichuan. On our very first day I learned that it is absolutely silly to have 13 different kinds of knives in our kitchens, because all you need is a cleaver. Our chef taught us how to do many different cuts with just that one knife, and I bought one just before I left China for that very reason. We made egg and tomato, wonton soup, kungpao chicken, jiaozi, and a few others, though the only one I have recreated at home are the jiaozi above.
There were also lots western restaurants in Chengdu. I ate at Hooters for the very first time while I lived there, so that was weird. Oddly enough, some of the best western food I’ve ever had in my life I found in Chengdu. The best nachos I’ve ever had came from the Lazy Pug. Everything there is good, so if you are willing splurge a little and are missing American food, GO THERE. There’s also Grandma’s for breakfast, Mike’s Pizza (also the best pizza I’ve ever had, and Cakey Butta for dessert (best brownies I’ve ever had), and Bookworm (very good for a nice dinner).
Ever since I returned from Chengdu, I haven’t been able to stomach American Chinese food. It’s just…off. It must often be prepared to suit American palates because it tastes drastically different from what I had in Chengdu. All of my favorite places to eat there were little “hole-in-the-wall” restaurants, whereas here I probably gravitate toward the opposite.
The Chinese food I had was generally very cheap, but well made and delicious at the same time, so eat everything you can while you’re there (within reason). The most peculiar thing I ate was duck blood, which is exactly what it sounds like…a mound of coagulated blood. It wasn’t nearly as gross as it sounds lol.