Friday, February 27, 2009

燃抄手 - Ran Chao Shou

This is a twist - the regular mix-ins for ran mian atop a pile of chao shou. Pretty good, and a pretty good example of how even lower end places are always trying to mix it up and serve new things rather than uphold snack traditions. From Yi Guan Temple Noodle House.

新疆 烤包子 - Xinjiang Baked Lamb Pockets

Being in Western China, Chengdu has several Xinjiang restaurants as well as many lamb kebab and dried fruit vendors. These lamb pockets, which I love, are tougher to find. They are baked in the big hollow tandoor-like ovens that have salt water splashed on the side, so the outside is very crisp and salty.

The Uighur name I am still trying to figure out but in Mandarin they are 新疆 烤包子 - Xinjiang baked lamb pockets. My favourite purveyor of them has closed up shop, so I have been looking for a new source without much success. They are often done badly - full of grey meat mixed with un-chewable gristle. And they should only cost Y1 each; I broke down and paid Y3 once for terrible ones.

Yesterday I noticed a tray of 烤包子 at one of the most visible, and visibly dirty, Xinjiang places in town - the one on the first ring near the north gate of Sichuan Univeristy (any local will immediately know which one I am talking about). Most avoid this place due to hygiene concerns, but when I noticed the tray of 烤包子 I bought one to try. The outside was a bit too tough and there was one pretty big chunk of bone in it, but otherwise this was the best I have had in Chengdu so far - lamb meat, onions, lots of cumin. So if I am walking by hungry and they have fresh ones out I will probably get one again, but am still on the lookout.

Friday, February 20, 2009

惠元面庄 - Huiyuan Noodles

This Hongwasi area noodle house with its sign proclaming "Chongqing Flavour" scared me off in the past - I can handle Chengdu-spicy, but Chongqing-spicy is usually too much. Stellar Dianping ratings encouraged me to give it a try anyway, and I found myself in the area and starving one late afternoon of a day where nothing had gone right.

My order of one liang 姜鸭面 (ginger duck noodles) and one liang of 豌杂面 (peas and scraps noodles) gave the boss pause. "That's really spicy", he warned. I was too hungry to reason on the wisdom of eating a lot of very, very spicy food on such an empty stomach so confirmed my order and sat down to wait. The ginger duck noodles came first:

With the big chunks of fresh ginger and both fresh and pickled peppers, they were hot enough to give me the sniffles after only two bites. There was also a good hit of numbing Sichuan pepper. The endorphin effect of the hot peppers combined with numbing ma lent this bowl of noodles great mood-altering qualities.

The server then brought me a bowl of 蕃茄元子面 (tomato meatball noodles) by mistake. They looked so good I nearly accepted them, but I really wanted to try the famous peas and scraps noodles:

Very unassuming on the surface, but a little lifting and stirring with chopsticks revealed hot pepper oil and other goodies underneath. The broken-up peas soaked up the seasonings and kind of coated the noodles. Stirred up:

After leaving I walked around the area for a while, amazed at feeling so mellow and content after being starving and stressed a short half hour before, and wondering if eating spicy food is what gives the Sichuanese their famous indolence. Next time, must try those tomato meatball noodles.

Address: 惠元面庄 共和村

The place is not far from the first ring, Hongwasi Jie stop. You walk down Hongwasi Jie then make a right at Gonghe Cun. Bottom floor of the the pink building which is under construction and covered with scaffolding at the moment.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

烂肉豇豆面 - Noodles with soft meat and spicy pickled beans

Back at noodle place for dinner yesterday. The 烂肉豇豆面, in front of my usual order of mushroom noodles, were very hot.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Korean in the Core

Being close to downtown at mealtimes is never a good thing. The food options in the core are pretty grim outside some street food, dozens of chains, and some very high end or overly trendy places. I often end up at Fu Le Yong He Dou Jiang (a very decent Taiwanese chain) or filling up on street food.

The Plaza Center is one of the big department stores along Shun Cheng Da Jie. (2-8 or so 号 顺城大街) They have quite a few chains downstairs: Ajisen Ramen, a KFC, a DQ, a Singapore noodle place. A short lived branch of Beard Papa once served stale cream puffs. I wanted to check out the Korean place: 金草帽韩式烧烤 (Straw Hat Korean barbecue).

It's possible but tough to find good Korean food, which I adore, in Chengdu. Korean restaurants in the West are often staffed with Koreans, but not so here. Thus you can't order in Korean; if they have no English menu you need to read or know the Chinese words for everything. The staff were not sure what to do when a foreigner walked in. A Chinese speaking foreigner was even more puzzling, but I eventually got my order of 石锅拌饭 (dol sot bi bim bap; stone pot mixed rice and vegetables) and a watermelon juice:

Lots of room for improvement: stone pots are supposed to be stone, and supposed to be hot; this one was neither. No sesame flavour. Had to ask for pan chan. Y34 for everything.

So my search for good food in the core continues. Any tips?

Friday, February 13, 2009

怪味面 - Strange Flavour Noodles

"Yao guai yao hong du!" called the server to the kitchen after I carefully pronounced my order of one liang strange flavour noodles and one liang of spicy stomach noodles. 怪味面 is another chain that can be found all around the city. Strange flavour noodles are just that - a flavour that is hard to describe. They are spicy and flavoured with seafood, but there is much more to it. I found what looked like a dried mussel in my noodles and asked the server about it. I didn't understand her answer (something niao?) but she told me it was just for flavour and not intended to be eaten. The spicy stomach noodles were quite similar to the strange flavour noodles, minus the seafood and plus more numbing Sichuan pepper. 怪味面, 红肚面; any guesses which is which?

No drinks served but the bowls of starchy noodle water do a decent job of palate cleansing after all the spice and oil. I love how the menu divides everything up into 'red flavour' spicy dishes, and 'white flavour' mild.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

窝窝头 - Nest buns

Multigrain goodness, Sichuan style - Nest Buns, or Wowo Tou. The style of bun looks more northern to my amateur eye, but the signs in the shop insist that this is traditional Sichuan something. The colours are from different flours used - corn, buckwheat and one I didn't catch. The flavours are bland and a bit sweet; the kind of thing you eat for breakfast with your soymilk.

肥肠铺盖面 - Bedspread Noodles with Tripe

The menu at my favourite 铺盖面 (pugai mian, bedspread noodles) shop is a single page - bedspread noodles with your choice of topping, and rice noodles with almost exactly the same list. Y5 for a small bowl and Y7 for large.

杂酱铺盖面 - scrap sauce bedspread noodles
鸡杂铺盖面 - misc chicken (would be necks, gizzard, hearts, liver) bedspread noodles
牛肉铺盖面 - beef bedspread noodles
排骨铺盖面 - rib bedspread noodles
肥肠铺盖面 - tripe bedspread noodles
炖鸡铺盖面 - stewed chicken bedspread noodles
酸菜铺盖面 - preserved vegetable bedspread noodles

Noodles with ribs is a tricky order. You say 'paigu pugai' and it's very easy to get the sounds mixed up. Pictured is the specialty of the house with tripe - barnyardy, spicy, and great.

Monday, February 9, 2009

宽窄巷子 - China Lane

Any Chinese city with tourist traffic to speak of, or which desires tourists, has a rebuilt historic area or two and Chengdu is no exception. The latest addition to our collection of mock ups is three walking streets: 宽巷子 - the Wide Alley, 窄巷子 - the Narrow Alley, and 井巷子 - the Well Alley. (China Lane is the translation on signs, but you can tell cab drivers, 'kuanxiangzi!' or 'kuanzhaixiangzi!') There is a mountain equipment shop, some astoundingly expensive restaurants, souvenir shops and a Starbucks. Some of the buildings appear to have a preserved outside and rebuilt inside, but most are brand new - the black brickwork has no patina of age, but feels rough as a freshly chipped tooth.

Today is the last day of the winter holiday, and there were many extra food booths set up:

The vendors were aggressive today, calling out their wares and tending their woks at the same time. Below, three kinds of 臭豆腐 (chou dou fu; stinky tofu). The 特臭臭豆腐 (special stink stinky tofu?) looked exactly like coal:

In front, 'Milan' shrimp cakes. In back, Taiwanese oyster omelet on a grill - first raw oysters, then crepe batter, then a broken egg, served folded up and covered with hot sauce:

由茶 - 'oil tea' is a literal but not very accurate translation (anyone else want to give it a shot?) - kind of a thick gravy with crunchy toppings. I don't think it is made with meat, but with bean or nut flour.

Spiral cut deep fried potatoes (most people were getting these covered in hot pepper):

There is enough to like about the area, I must admit. I drop by often enough that the the M*o memorabilia shop owner recognized me the last time I went in. I do love the way the wide windows and doors in this style of traditional Chinese buildings are placed to frame views so perfectly and make you feel like you are outside and inside at the same time. There is a photography shop on one of the streets so you can often watch fashion and wedding photographers at work using the buildings as backdrop. There are enough local people relaxing in the tea shops or snack areas that it still feels like China. 井巷子 (the Well Alley) is my favourite of the three streets because the south wall is covered with information about Chengdu's history. There are maps, photos, and some odd but interesting half photo/half sculpture displays.

Non-holiday shot of Zhaixiangzi:

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Summer's International Foods

New additions to the foreign grocery scene here are always welcome. This little shop has been open all of one day, on Zijing Xi Lu pretty close to the Great World South Carrefour. They carry quite a few canned goods, seasonings, mixes, and snacks at prices that are comparable to other places in town. I am looking forward to returning to see what new stock they will carry. They are closed Sundays, unfortunately.

Summer's International Foods, Zijing Xi Lu #69 紫荆西路 69 号

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

真味抄手 - True Flavour Chao Shou

真味 is a chain; the branch I speak of is on KeHuaBeiLu, across from the SOHO complex in between a place that serves bad Crossing the Bridge Noodles and a DanDan Noodle shop. This is by far my favourite chao shou spot, though like many places if you go in the afternoon during staff nap time service suffers. Their dumplings are not the small delicate ideal chao shou specimens; they are large and chewy, a style I much prefer. I also love that they throw in a bowl of boiled cabbage and pao cai for free. (Pao cai is always free, but most dumpling and noodle shops charge one yuan or so if you want a bowl of boiled cabbage on the side.) Their spicy red oil chao shou carries a good hit of ya cai sourness and is not overwhelmingly hot.

Blurry pic of 豆班抄手 (Spicy bean paste chao shou), which I have never seen offered elsewhere:

They have many other ways to serve the dumplings: 牛肉 (beef)、排骨 (rib), 红由 (red oil), 炖鸡 (stewed chicken)、 土鸡 (free range chicken)、 怪味 (strange flavour)、 海味 (seafood flavour)、 酸菜(suan cai - sour preserved vegetable)、酸辣 (sour-hot)、鸡杂 (misc chicken), as well as noodles and big bowls of bobo ji on every table. Chinese only menu.

Address: on 科华北路; details to come