Monday, December 28, 2009

Three Kingdoms Hot Pot - 三锅演义

Liu Bei, warrior and statesman, founder and first Emperor of the Kingdom of Shu. (Shu is an ancient name for present day Sichuan.) His tomb is in Chengdu, near Wuhou Temple.



Liu Bei is also the hero of the great historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. (三国演义)

'Three Kingdoms' sounds almost exactly like 'Three Pots'. And so, the period decor of Triple Pot, a northwestern branch of a local hot pot chain:



Their specialty is the triple sectioned hot pot (三合锅). Half of the pot is spicy red soup, one quarter is a thin congee style soup, and one is mushroom. The rice and mushroom soup were both very slurpable though didn't do that much for the ingredients that were cooked inside. (Their website recommends cooking dumplings in the mild soups and a raw egg mixed with greens in the congee, which we didn't try.) The spicy soup had lots of seasoning, including a strong taste of cumin. It's very suited to a meat-heavy order:



Most of the hot pot ingredients were standard. The pork meatballs (肉丸) were very good. I really loved the shrimp paste (虾滑), the grey blob in the upper right hand corner of the picture below. We scraped it into each of the pots and it was like a shrimp dumpling without the wrapper. The lamb skewers (羊肉串), which came frozen, were pretty tough but the thinly sliced fatty lamb (肥羊) was great in the spicy soup.



Their flatbread (飞饼) was very good. We got an order of pumpkin fritters (南瓜饼), which had peanuts and sesame inside, but they had been cooked (or maybe reheated) in way-not-hot oil and were greasy. Service was fine, though it was a busy night and the staff seemed a bit run off their feet. The cleaning staff in particular was having a hard time keeping up.

Chinese name: 三锅演义

Address: 青羊区贝森北路1号

Hong Kong Style Egg Waffles

The other day I was looking for a warm snack on a chilly afternoon near Gong He Cun and was coming up short. The tapioca lady was not at her post, the congee seller was sold out, and I didn't have enough room for noodles or mao cai. Then I spied a vendor of Hong Kong style waffles (鸡蛋仔) inside the very new and still half-empty shopping complex.



I'd eaten these once before, from a street vendor. That time I got soft, deflated puffs tasting mostly of chemical fake dairy, like the smell of cheap theatre popcorn. I decided the snack was worth another try and ordered a sesame waffle.

The batter is poured into a special waffle iron that flips over. The waffle iron appeared to be Teflon coated, but some pieces still stuck:



I liked this version a lot better than the one I had tried before. The puffs were crisp enough to hold their shape and soft on the inside. They used artificial flavouring though. I would not hesitate to eat them again, even though they are pretty expensive at five yuan per serving.




Address: 红瓦寺街 共和村商铺1-08

First floor of the shopping complex at Gong He Cun, a street which branches off of Hong Wa Si street.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Losing Your Soul to Noodles

"During the Qing Dynasty there was a salt dealer in the city of Zigong named Hu. One day he bought several pounds of pork but carelessly dropped them into the mound of salt. He searched for the meat but couldn't find it. Later, a customer came to buy salt and they discovered the meat in the salt pile. Dealer Hu felt it would be a shame to waste the meat, so he chopped the meat into tiny pieces and mixed them into a large pot of noodles. The fragrance drew all the neighbors around to enjoy the new delicacy. Later Dealer Hu's business fell on hard times, the salt market closed, and he passed away.

However, Dealer Hu's son had learned the art of making soul hook noodles (勾魂面) and opened a shop styled 'Hu Style Soul Hook Noodles'. The taste was unique and the texture was wonderful. Business was so good that it continues until today. However, the Hu family technique is not shared with outsiders, so people outside Sichuan have little chance to taste this delicacy." (roughly translated from the Baidu encyclopedia)

Soul hook noodle shops are found all over Chengdu, and a few are called 'Hu Style Soul Hook Noodles'. I finally tried them the other day. The last thing I expected to see on top was rou song - pork floss.




However, once mixed up you couldn't really tell there was rou song.




These noodles were a little bland and soft, actually. I prefer ran mian, sujiao, zajiang, or any of the dozen other kinds of dry mixed noodles that can be enjoyed. However, I hope that I will taste a bowl of soul hook noodles worthy of the story some day.

The Yo Bar

The new complex at Gong He Village, down Hong Wa Si Street is starting to fill in with small shops and restaurants. One of the new tenants is a place that claims to sell European style yogurt.

A cup of yogurt with diced melon:




The yogurt was pretty good, tangy and creamy. If you have been eating spicy noodles, mao cai, or barbecue at one of the establishments across the street this would be a refreshing place to stop afterwards.


Storefront:



Chinese name: 优蓓酸奶

Address: 武侯区红瓦寺共和村商业楼A1-13

Gong He Cun branches off of Hong Wa Si street.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Straight from the Horse's Stomach

They had horse stomach at the mao cai place last time I visited, so I had to give it a try. They put my regular order of vegetables in the soup to boil for a few minutes, then added the horse stomach just at the end so that it didn't cook very long.

Horse stomach mao cai (马肚冒菜) and a side order of egg pancake (鸡蛋饼):


(This one is at an address-less stand in another city, so no address.)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Hot Space - Ma La Kongjian

Ma La Kongjian is a hot space in more ways than one; it's an extremely popular hot pot restaurant just west of the Sua Du restaurant and entertainment complex. The slick red, black, and yellow decor seems to intensify the buzz that always hangs around a popular hot pot restaurant. The army of servers in flame-splashed black uniforms look like a pit crew and work almost as quickly.

Yuanyang soup, white broth nice and rich and not too salty, red with a mild kick that got stronger as the night wore on:


The standard youdie of garlic in sesame oil shows their attention to presentation:


Some of the order, clockwise from top: beef, quail eggs, cilantro meatballs, shrimp dumplings, duck intestine. The meatballs and shrimp dumplings are not their strong point, but the beef and duck intestine were very good.



A bit more of the order. This picture is more jumbled, but I'll try clockwise from top again: enoki mushrooms, pumpkin, lotus root, tofu skin (under the lotus root), wood ear mushroom, feng wei, potato noodle, potato slices, cauliflower. We also got an order of shao fen (potato starch noodle) which swells up in the spicy soup and gets slippery and sticky and elastic all at once. Tough to grab with the chopsticks, but very delicious.


The standards of hygiene were noticeably higher than average; the fully equipped bathrooms were kept very clean and vacated tables were being cleaned with a squeegee.

Storefront:


Name: 麻辣空间
Address: 通慈路39号一江城花2楼

Mao Cai

This mao cai place (not the one I previously posted) had something rather unusal on the menu.

"What does the horse stomach taste like?" I asked the proprietor.

"It's a lot like beef stomach. We're out today though, come back another time".

So I put together a standard vegetarian mao cai, but promise I will report on the horse stomach mao cai if I get a chance to try it. The mao cai pot during lunch rush, full of seven orders being prepared:

Kaffestugan

This is my new favourite cup of coffee in town, in a nicely appointed and thoughtfully decorated coffee shop across from the Hong Wa Si theatre complex.



It's billed as a Scandinavian coffee shop. The menu, in both English and Chinese, is short and sweet and does a good job of explaining the offerings. There is a good selection of coffee and desserts, a few sandwiches, and some homestyle and vegetarian dishes. The coffee is decent quality, and the cake was served with real cream that was unsweetened. This felt like a miracle.

Clove studded oranges, part of the old school seasonal decorations:


Storefront:


Address: 成都市 一环路南一段 9 号 凯悦新城 2 楼 9 号

Stuff over Rice - 盖浇饭

'Gai jiao fan' means a single serving of stuff over rice and is a typical offering of quick meal (kuai can) places. I recently noticed the phrase 'any stuff over rice for seven yuan' in fine print on the menu of one of my favourite homestyle places, which makes it much easier to order for one person.

A rough but good plate of Beijing-sauced shredded pork (京酱肉丝) over rice, a dish that turns up in many places in China.


Red Cooked Beef Noodles

When you have ten yuan in your pocket and have to eat quickly, a noodle shop like this one on Qingyang Da Dao is exactly what you need. Unfortunately these places are getting rarer and rarer in the more developed areas of the city.


A very generous one liang serving of su jiao za jiang noodles, a side order of boiled cabbage, and a gratis bowl of noodle water to drink completely hit the spot for a total of four yuan. (This kind of noodle is 素椒杂酱面, 'red-cooked beef noodles' in the post title is the name of the shop.)


Address: 青羊大道 152 号

High Connections Coffee

High Connections is a neighbourhood coffee place north of SWUFE and Metro. The light, art, and soundtrack combine to make the cosy space good for lingering, and small and large tables on the upper two floors mean you can come solo or with a few friends.


Their drinks and prices are all average. I haven't tried the food there, with so many very good local options in the area. Espresso:


They have English corners on Wednesday and Saturday nights so if you go then it's normal to have local people ask to share your table and talk.

Address: 成都市双清南路6号附A-20

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Yong He Soy Milk

Yong He Soy Milk is a chain with several branches in Chengdu that serve up basic and quality Chinese food in a comfortable, informal atmosphere. I don't often bring tourists here, but it's one of the first places I introduce to new residents. Since soy milk is their specialty, they open early and are very busy for breakfast and lunch. You can see many locals dipping youtiao (long, not-sweet doughnuts) into steaming bowls of soy milk at breakfast, or eating pot stickers and dumplings or fried eggs. Table sharing is very common at the busier branches.

At lunch, about a third of the tables seem to have an order of stewed ribs and rice (大排饭). The meat is tender with just the right amount of richness, and you get half a stewed egg and greens with the order. They often run out.


The vegetable soup (素菜汤) is always a great indicator of kitchen quality. Note the fresh and clean greens, and how they use real soup broth instead of water.



An order of green pepper and beef fried rice (青椒牛肉炒饭). Not greasy, and with an excellent stuff/rice ratio.


This is the branch on Xi Da street, (2nd floor of Golden Hawaii building) showing their red and white logo and writing in traditional Chinese characters:


They charge not quite double what you would pay for the same items in a local place but the cleanness and quality of the food, served up by well-trained staff, make the prices very worth it. However, they are not always consistent between branches and I suspect a few are copycat restaurants. The above location on Xi Da Street is a solid choice. The one on Fang Cao Street is one of my favourites (they used to burn their soy milk a lot but have been better lately). The Kehua North Road branch is good and has the most gorgeous, silky soy milk ever. The branches on the east and south first ring and the branches in the Auchan supermarkets can be skipped. However, if I find myself hungry in an unfamiliar area of the city, I am pretty happy to catch a glimpse of that red sign.

Name: 永和豆浆

Addresses for a few of their locations:

Yanshikou, downtown: 锦江区东御街19号人民商场B1楼

Kehua North Rd: 武侯区棕北小区科华北路46号

Fang Cao Street: 武侯区芳草西二巷22号

Xi Da Street: 青羊区西大街84号金色夏威夷2楼

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Guanghua Village Snack Street

The busiest and most delicious snack streets are often located near schools and universities. The Guanghua Village snack street is just adjacent to the Sichuan Administrative College, and opposite the second south gate of the Southwest University of Finance and Economics. It extends a longs ways back from the street and is lined with small restaurants, sweet shops, and food carts.

Everyone on the street seemed to be munching on a ball or two of tang you guo zi (糖油果子)along with whatever else they were eating. I've never been a fan of this sweet, but these were served piping hot and were miraculously crispy outside and soft inside.


You can see the attention to detail just in how the raw dough is laid out. There are actually two manning this cart, one guy cooking and the other tossing cooked balls in sesame and taking orders. The guy with the wok was paying close attention to the temperature and condition of the sweetened oil, which was uncommonly clean. They were only 1.5 yuan per stick.


One of the specialties of Sichuan is 'iron plate' barbecue. You choose your items on skewers just like for regular barbecue, but then they are cooked on a flat metal grill. They are often partly deep fried first. Waertie barbecue, the shop with the greasy green sign, uses the deep fry method and then arranges your selection nicely on one of the trays. I picked up pea shoots, herbs and pork wrapped in tofu skin, shiitake and oyster mushrooms, zucchini, konnyaku, and some thin and very sweet sausage.



This is the after-school crowd, at about 5:30 in the evening. Later on the stinky tofu vendors and barbecue carts come out.


Location: Guanghua Village street, just beside main gate of Sichuan Administrative College
青羊区光华村街56号四川行政学院小巷

Back to the Tea Market

Early this week I went back to the Wukuaishi tea market, in search of something to drink in cooler weather. I was specifically on the lookout for pu-erh tea and Yunnan red. On this trip I realized I'd only seen a tiny corner of the tea market before. It does span several streets and buildings.

One of the many tea culture sculptures in the area:


Workers picking through Tie Guan Yin in front a shop specializing in this kind of tea. We tasted some but thought the prices quoted were a bit high for the quality.


Tea Joy, which I referred to in a previous post, seemed way more expensive than before. If you come here, bargain hard.



Some bags of small pressed Pu-erh; Tibetan brick tea on lower left:



Besides tea there are all manner of flowers, herbs, and fruit for steeping. My friends bought rosebuds, lavender, and sliced licorice root.



Location: Wukuaishi Tea Market, close to Wukuaishi bus station.
五块石茶叶市场

Ladies and Gentlemen....

May I present,

Dry-Fried Green Beans!



Sunday, November 1, 2009

Mountain Treasure

Chengdu is peppered with mountain treasure (山珍) restaurants, which specialize in mushrooms, fungus, and medicinal foods. I wanted to visit one before the mushroom season was over and found my way to the mushroom restaurant in Beilian Tianfu with a couple of friends on the weekend.

The server who took our order didn't give much guidance about the menu, but talked me into ordering a box of corn juice to share, which tasted just like the liquid in a can of corn. Then a new, very pleasant and attentive server took over and cared for us very well, explaining how to cook and eat the mushrooms.

The rather intimidating main attraction - their most basic mix of mushrooms. The only ones I recognized were the chicken leg mushrooms, bamboo fungus, the pig stomach mushrooms, and the beef liver mushrooms. I asked our server to introduce the others but most of the explanations were beyond my Chinese.



Individual pots of soup (you can also order a large bowl). Rich and complex without being the least bit greasy. I tried to ask what was in the soup, but beyond 'secret recipe' not much of the explanation registered. Once the soup was boiling, the mushrooms were added and cooked for several minutes.


A rich dish of liang fen (cubes of yellow bean starch) with pork belly, recommended by the server. It wasn't bad, but everything else was so good we left most of it.


Baby bok choi in a chicken sauce with goji berries.


This type of hot pot is much lighter than traditional kinds, with no oily broth or dipping sauce, but felt ten times as nourishing. The varied textures and flavours of the mushrooms were so interesting I could have kept eating them all night. The really remarkable thing was how good the food made us feel. We didn't finish eating until late, but I felt energized enough to walk all the way home.

Name: 川野山珍酒楼
Address: 武侯区科华中路9号百联天府购物中心

Fourth floor of Beilian Tianfu Shopping Mall, just south of the second ring on Kehua Middle Road.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Huang Cheng Lao Ma Hot Pot

I'd often walked by the architecturally interesting building on the south side of the second ring near the Zijing cinema complex without any clue that this was a branch of the high end hot pot chain Huang Cheng Lao Ma, probably the best known hot pot in Chengdu.


A friend and I went to check it out this evening. You can choose self serve, at Y110 per person, or to order from the menu (our choice). I was very pleased that we could order the hot pot stir-ins in both large and small portions. Goose intestine, served in a bowl of ice water, and lamb:


Shrimp balls, like shrimp dumplings with no wrapper. Really liked these in both the mild and spicy soup.


For soup we ordered basic yuanyang style (half spicy, half mild). This was some of the best mild soup I've ever eaten, milky white with a good rich pork flavour. The serving plate lettuce and green vegetables were cooked in the white soup and eaten with great satisfaction. The spicy side was pretty ordinary, though it got spicier very quickly. (It's normal for hot pot soup to get more and more spicy as you eat, but the effect was very intense here.) However, the potato starch noodles at the end were amazing good, cooked in the spicy soup and dipped in a garlic and sesame.


The servers were efficient, attentive, and completely unobtrusive as they poured tea, picked up used serviettes, cleared dishes, and kept the hot pot temperature at the perfect bubble.

For a first visit, I was pretty impressed but it was still about double the price of comparable tasting hot pot elsewhere. They also have many special options on the menu, like French goose liver and special mushrooms, which can quickly inflate the check. Even though there were many large groups, the room was about half full and lacked the friendly chaotic buzz that hangs around a more typical hot pot evening in Chengdu.

Name: 皇城老妈
Address: 二环路南三段 20 号

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Homestyle on Kehua North

This is the wood paneled place on Kehua North, with the mysterious name 'mumfortunerestaurant'.

The yu xiang eggplant, very garlicky, in the typical homestyle swimming pool of oil:


Preserved vegetable and shredded pork soup:



The food is 'yi ban', just okay, and a little expensive.

Chinese name: 聚缘家味馆
Address: 科华北路36号