Friday, May 29, 2009

牛肉面 , 加蛋 - Beef Noodles with an Egg

Fifteen minutes before class I was starving and running out of options, so pulled up a stool at this alley noodle stand and asked for beef noodles with an egg on top. The woman and man, who were just setting up shop, began working on my order.

I am not sure what fuel they were using in the buckets for heat - my guess is coal. They had cooked beef in a bowl of red oil and a stack of cold fried eggs. They held one of the eggs in the boiling water to heat it up before placing it on top of my bowl:

The noodles tasted better than I expected, considering the setup. (But not as good as Huiyuan Noodles around the corner.) The people working there prepared and served everything with care, and asked me if the noodles tasted good. A little attention makes all the difference.

Location: an alley branching south off of Hongwasi Street. Opposite the two Zigong cuisine restaurants. They aren't there every day.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Breakfast at The Bookworm

The menu at the Bookworm has every dish named after an author. I admit ordering these pancakes based on the name alone; they are the Gilles Vigneault pancakes. A coffee is Y10 with any breakfast order here. It's not a place to come when you are in a rush, and people are often smoking inside, but it's a great place to sit with a book or magazine on a slow morning.

If you drop by later in the day, their house wine by the glass is fine and a great value.

Website here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wei Mei Xuan, formerly The Little Kitchen

Edit: This place has changed beyond recognition. It now does barbecue at night.

This restaurant used to be called The Little Kitchen and serve great homestyle food. Recently there have been several annoying changes: new, silly name; plastic grape vines all over the ceiling; new menu with Chinglish on the cover and some of my favourite items removed or changed; and higher prices on their specialty dishes. It still packs in the locals though, so I decided to put my grudge aside and eat lunch there today.

It was hot so I ordered one of Chengdu's favourite cold dishes, usually translated 'garlic white meat' (蒜泥白肉), Y12.

Often the pork slices are just tossed in pureed garlic and spicy red oil, but this was built with care. There was a pile of sliced cucumbers on the bottom, then a layer of very fresh and tender thinly sliced pork, and finally minced garlic with red oil and sesame seeds poured over the top. The raw garlic was minced fine but not pureed, and so was not overpowering. Fantastic, though could have been hotter.

Yu Xiang eggplant:

This eggplant broke my heart; even after the new menu they still used to have my favourite yu xiang anywhere, dark and intense. This is a B- version of the more common red and sour style of yu xiang. Hope it's not a permanent change.

It was too hot to even think about ordering my other favourite dish there, Jinsha corn (金沙玉米). Jinsha is the name of a place but the literal meaning is golden sand. Jinsha corn is battered and deep fried corn kernels, looking like a little pile of gold on the plate. Also good is their bear paw tofu (熊掌豆腐) and hobo twice cooked pork (丐帮回锅肉).

In the evenings they bring out huge trays of cold dishes, mostly meat and other animal parts, and tables of people having leng dan bei (冷淡杯, cold dishes and drinks) cover the sidewalk. Like most businesses on this street, the place is under renos but this is the sign out front:

Address: 味美轩 肖家河街 47 号、 国际花园後面 Xiaojiahe street.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bus Stop Ad for 99 Duck

This ad shows a cross section of a duck neck in loving detail. 99 Duck sells street snacks and is very popular among students.

Theatre Snack at Fortune Centre

Whew...still coming down from the awesomeness of the new Star Trek movie. Tuesdays are half price at many theatres here so some friends and I caught a late show at the Fortune Centre cinema. The concession has drinks, popcorn, and ice cream (including expensive little cups of Häagen-Dazs), and one treat that was new to me. When I first spotted this menu board, I thought it was advertising bao bing (刨冰), the Taiwanese shaved ice treat. Actually, it is kefir yogurt (开菲尔)with various sweet toppings.

A worthy pre movie snack, but they were sold out of all but two flavours: red bean and black plum (乌梅). Black plum topped kefir:

Address: Wanda International Film City at the Fortune Centre near Xinnanmen

Sunday, May 17, 2009

宜宾面庄 - Yibin Noodles Manor

It's hot these days, and humid. All you really feel like eating are the basic, room temperature vegetable dishes like these, with a bowl of all you can eat congee on the side.

The enormous menu of homestyle Sichuan food at the back of this place drew my attention, though. They have potato twice cooked pork (土豆回锅肉), my favourite kind, as well as a couple kinds that I had never seen before: black pepper twice cooked pork 胡椒回锅肉 and, unbelievabley, twice cooked pork made with chao shou (抄手回锅肉). All very cheap, too. I ordered a Y10 plate of homestyle tofu (家常豆腐). 'Homestyle tofu' elswhere in the Chinese speaking world means a humble stir fry of tofu and vegetables. In Sichuan homestyle means spicy:

I really wanted to like this place since the menu was so great, but whoever cooked this didn't care much about how it ended up tasting, and the plate hadn't been cleaned properly in a long time. Have been trying to put more good native Sichuan food on this blog, really I have, but struck out this time. Storefront:

宜宾面庄 太平南新街, on one of the back streets between Hongwasi and Jiuyanqiao, not that you should try to find it.

Signature Bakery

This highly regarded little cake shop is attached to a hotel near the Fortune Centre (walk up Daye Road towards Women's Street). It's easy to miss, and has a display counter showing black forest cake (黑森林), lemon cheesecake (柠檬之士), opera cake (奥普拉), tiramisu (提拉米苏), and different kinds of mousse (慕斯). There was one cake with the word Sacher on top which the counter girl assured me was genuine Sacher (撒切尔), the classic chocolate/apricot torte. I asked if the cheesecake was New York or Japanese style and she wasn't sure. (Perhaps not a useful question to ask at a supposedly European bakery in China.) I decided to try the Sacher torte and told her to wrap up a piece, thus learning about their minimum two pieces per order policy for takeout. Silly, but I got a piece of the cheesecake as well.

The Sacher torte's construction material had a texture way more like cake than torte and wasn't very chocolatey, but it did have a nice thick layer of chocolate glaze on top that almost made up for that. The deal breaker was the jam between the layers tasting a whole hell of a lot like peaches.

The lemon cheesecake didn't have much lemon flavour but was a passable plain cheesecake. It was a little dry and had a baked, NY style texture but also the layer of sponge cake on top that I associate with Japanese cheesecake. Anyway, Western bakeries here are few and far between so I will probably be back to check on some of their other offerings.

Address: 签名饼屋 盐市口大业路8号华阳花园城大酒店1楼 Just behind Daye Rd bus stop, beside Fortune Centre.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

黄花耳丝面 - Lily Bud and Shredded Wood Ear Noodles

Test posting via email. This is a very spicy bowl of noodles with dried lily buds and crunchy shredded wood ear mushrooms. From
Huiyuan Noodle Shop

Thursday, May 14, 2009

大海湾酒楼 - Grand Bay Seafood Restaurant

Lately I've had an itch in my teeth to bite into a good shrimp dumpling. Today, feeling flush from payday, I decided to look for a Cantonese dim sum place for lunch and entered the search term 'shrimp dumpling' into our local Dianping. Grand Bay Seafood popped up.

When I got there, I asked about dim sum (点心) and the server turned to one page near the back of the menu with just a few items listed. Shrimp dumplings were Y58 a serving, and there were only six in the picture. I was a little disappointed in the lack of choice and high prices, but asked for the dumplings (虾饺) and an order of seasonal vegetables braised in superior soup, Y26. The server said, 'You just want a half order of dumplings, right?' and I agreed. She was quick to bring me a new plate when I pointed out the first one wasn't clean.

Peanuts and pao cai. (First time I've run into pao cai containing fermented beans.)

Besides the lack of dim sum, I was very impressed with the menu. You can get a Nanjing style roast duck (with pancakes, sauce, and vegetable) for just over Y100, very reasonable for this style of restaurant, and there is one interesting page of medicinal tonics. They also have a selection of Sichuanese classics like ma po tofu. The menu is not only translated into English but translated well, doing a decent job of describing food that is foreign to most Westerners.

Vegetables in superior soup:

Superior soup (上汤) is broth that has been further enhanced by simmering meat and aromatics in it. This 'superior soup' didn't have the clarity that one associates with high end soup, but the flavour was very satisfying, and it was appealingly served with some of the soup components - mushrooms, small bits of pork and seafood, and whole, tender cloves of garlic. The vegetable was gai lan.

Guangdong style shrimp dumplings:

It turns out that six dumplings is a half order. Whole shrimp, loosely bound, with just enough tiny diced celery for crunch. Both celery and shrimp were cooked to the correct level. The wrappers could have been thinner, but these dumplings were pretty perfect otherwise. I ate a couple of them with the pao cai but they were really good as is. Despite the price, very good value.

The servers were quick and efficient, though seemed a little foreigner-shy. They mostly left me alone while looking at the menu and after I got my order.

Gratis plate of fruit to finish:

Address: 大海湾酒楼 成都市人民南路三段29号附1号 On the third south section of Renmin South Road, the section in between the river and Computer City.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Good Congee at 一品粥 (Yi Pin Zhou)

One rainy night, a few months ago when I had a sprained ankle, I hobbled up to the door of my new apartment building and waited behind a woman who was delivering a heavy load of takeout containers.

"Where is this food from?" I asked her, wanting to learn more about delivery options in the area.

"We are 一品粥 (yi pin zhou)", she said. Finally they let her in and we made it to the elevator.

"You live in which apartment?" she asked, and added, "If these guys don't pay for their food, I'll give it to you!"

Yi Pin Zhou is a chain of Cantonese style places. Their main product is congee and they do it very well - always creamy and rich tasting. The Fang Cao Jie branch, where the generous delivery lady was from, is open very late at night. They also have roast goose, cha siu pork, and a steam table with a few dim sum. The signature 一品粥 congee is very good but includes cubes of Chinese spam (火腿), which I always pick out. Today, because I am still fighting off the loosening grip of a cold, I ordered the chicken and mountain yam congee (鸡肉山药粥). I also got a basket of shrimp dumplings (虾饺).

I've been on a quest for shrimp dumplings lately (more on this to come). These were just OK. The wrappers were gummy and the shrimp stuffing was a little too pasty, but contained nice little cubes of bamboo shoot for crunch. I thought the dumplings were a decent value for Y10. They don't have soy sauce and vinegar on the tables; I had to ask for it and they brought me a little dish of good, light-tasting soy sauce. The chicken and mountain yam congee (Y6)was mild, fragrant, and delicious.

The menu has pictures, but not of everything. (Every single style of congee, for instance, doesn't have a picture.) Other menu items really can ramp up your bill, though. I've never loved the dim sum options I've tried here but the congee is definitely on a higher level than the standard in Chengdu. I also like how, if you want vegetables, they will stir fry an order of kong xin cai or whatever greens they have in season for you. This branch is very crowded at mealtimes, espcially on the weekends.

Update May 30: Picture taken earlier this year (I'd forgotten about it), outside Yi Pin Zhou

Address: 芳草街45号附1号 Walk north along Fang Cao Jie from Fang Cao Dong Jie.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Yong Feng Honey Shop

Honey shops, like tea shops, are full of a bewildering assortment of fragrant things. It can be tough to pick out something even if you can read Chinese, but this little store has a couple of ways around the language barrier. First, they sell pre-jarred honey that is labelled in English though a bit more expensive than the bulk honey. Also, there are about ten huge lidded pots of bulk honey in the middle of ths store so you can lift the lids and use your nose to choose. Or ask for a taste if you want.

I was so captivated by the scent from one pot, I ended up buying one of the more expensive kinds. The shop owner said it was 'yang hua' honey, labelled acacia honey in English. (Acacia? Really?) The honey in this shop ranges from six to about twenty yuan per half kilo, depending on what flower it is from, and I wasn't charged anything for the bottle. Besides honey (蜜糖), the store also sells pollen (花粉) and fresh royal jelly (王浆)

1 kg jar of 'acacia' honey:

Address: 永丰路8号6附. Yong Feng Road, on the west side of the street just south of the first ring overpass. There's actually a well hidden English sign.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

熙元双皮奶 - Xi Yuan Milk Pudding Dessert Shop

Xi Yuan Milk Pudding is a pretty good, and pretty consistent, chain of dessert shops of the type that tend to cluster around universities. Their menu is Chinese only, and in traditional characters which is a bit of a struggle. But I love the traditional, crawling-turtle 龜 character that marks my favourite menu item, 龜苓膏, or herb jelly.

This bitter, dark green jelly has wondrous properties. One swallow can make you feel cooler. You can buy little cups of it in grocery and convenience stores, or eat bowls of the stuff, usually covered in jam or sweet syrup, in snack and dessert shops. Here is a small, Y3 bowl of jelly with my spoon resting in the fruit jam on the surface:

双皮奶 - The shop's signature product is milk pudding (lit, 'double skin milk'). They will serve it cool or warm with jam, syrup, or sweet red or green bean on top. This is red bean.

Another great thing to order is the 姜撞奶, ginger pudding.

Address: 科华北路131号四川大学南门附近(郭家桥菜市街对面) Not actually on Kehua North Road; go east past the Dico's and one more block past the Leg and Whistle. It's across the road from the veg market, by the river.

麻辣 (Numbing and Spicy) at McDonald's

The McDonald's in China have many products that are not found at McDonald's in an expat's home country. One example is the 'mala' pork burger on the bottom left corner of this sign, featuring a signature flavour of Sichuan cuisine. It's part of their 'Y6 everyday value' features. Have no plans to taste the sandwich, but am curious: other China readers, does your local McDonald's have mala burgers?