Friday, September 18, 2009

Yetihua Pig Feet

Chinese people appreciate pig feet (蹄花) much more than we do in the West. There are two restaurants specializing in this part of the animal right next to each other on Shuangnan Street (right across from the big Ren Ren Le). The sign leaves no doubt about what you will find inside:

They have stewed pigs' feet in a variety of preparations, like white bean and ginkgo. I chose suan cai (pickled mustard greens) and asked for a plate of shredded zucchini on the side. Eating the foot is not that complicated; after taking out a couple of large bones the rest can be pulled apart into bite sized pieces. You put them into your mouth, work off the edible portions, and spit out the rest. The salty and tangy hot sauce is perfect for dipping the rich, mild skin and fat.

Women often eat pigs feet because the fat and collagen are good for the skin.

The servers here are extremely efficient though can be tough to understand (they don't seem to run into many foreigners, which is a shame.)

Name: 夜蹄花
Address: 武侯区双楠路257号

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Serious Health Food at Puzhong Kitchen

"90% of illness is diet related. We all need to eat healthy!" is one of the messages on the walls of Puzhong Kitchen, a newer place on Xian Middle Road. The black and yellow interior is simple but comfortable, and there is a very clean open kitchen at the back.

My favourite part:

The menu is very short but changes every day, and is suited to the season. There are two staple foods, two soups, three vegetarian dishes, two meat dishes, and two 'refined fried dishes', which just means more elaborate wok dishes, usually including a seafood choice.

From the staple food section, I ordered the 组合粗粮 (rustic mix) - corn, steamed pumpkin, and purple yam. A very nice change from rice. I also asked for gai lan and lily from the vegetarian section. Each black dish holds an individual sized portion of clean, simply prepared food. (There are a few dishes with hot peppers or black beans, but none of the thick spicy sauces typical of Sichuanese food.)

One big surprise on the menu was imported wine, available by the glass. In fact, their "women's beauty meal" at dinner consists of one rustic mix, one vegetarian dish, and a glass of red wine. (There is a "men's body building meal" as well.) I went back a few days later to try the wine but there was only one choice. It was cold, served in a champagne glass, and like an average domestic red. Wine and some very good garlic sauteed kong xin cai:

The menu is not easy for the Chinese character-challenged to figure out, unfortunately, since only the menu categories are translated and there are no pictures. However, one of the servers knew enough English to explain the items. (Servers here are efficient, friendly, and attentive. A little girl dropped her chopstick and the server brought over a new pair almost before it hit the floor.)

Sign outside:

Location: Xian Middle Road, #17. Couple of blocks west of Kuanzhai Alley, or a bit north of Qintai Road.

Name: 普众厨房
Address: 西安中路 17 号

Parrot Cafe

Vietnamese food is one of the things foreigners miss most when we come to Chengdu. In fact, I've never found it before coming to the Parrot Cafe, just south of the Great World Carrefour. The menu tends more towards pan-Asian, but they do serve Vietnamese coffee, spring rolls, and summer rolls.

A Vietnamese coffee brewing, slowly dripping into the super-sweet condensed milk at the bottom of the glass:

The Vietnamese 'fish net' spring rolls (越南鱼网春卷) were nice and crunchy and had a filling that was a little soft but tasted pretty authentic: mushroom, pork, a little shrimp, bean threads. It had been so long since I tasted fish sauce, I could have drunk it.

Much is made of the birdcage-themed decor and ambiance here, but the effect is less than the sum of its parts. They had a clarinet player performing, accompanied by a backing soundtrack. It was a little tough to get the servers' attention but they were very nice and helpful once flagged down.

Cinderella's coach outside:

Location: on Xin Guang Road, south of the Great World Carrefour

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Breakfast at the Market

This morning I woke up, filled a big travel mug with fresh coffee, and poured a little syrup and butter into a snap lid container. Then went straight to this booth at the Yulin Market, whose sign proclaims "Fresh and Tender Corn Cakes":

The booth has only been open this summer, and often has lineups. They grind the fresh corn on the spot. I served the corn cakes at a brunch once, and people couldn't get enough. Here is my Y2 worth, before they got dunked in the butter and syrup:
There is a small square outside the market with benches, though it is busy in the mornings.

UPDATE OCT 09 - This stall no longer selling corn cakes. Fresh potato chips instead. Still worth a visit.

Address: Yulin market, between Yulin Road and Yulin Street. 玉林菜 市场 玉林西街 12 号

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cafe Z

Rather modest plans led me to the Shangri-La hotel - lunch at Mooney's pub. However, Mooney's is only open for lunch Friday to Sunday, so I asked for a table at Cafe Z. The dining room is large, light, and comfortable; well appointed without being overly formal. And the food is exceptional.

The buffet has an enormous number of choices, spread over several stations. Your paper place mat has a map, which you may want to use for a walking tour of all the stations before starting to fill your plate. Otherwise it is easy to miss some options, such as the Indian food station which is located near the toe of the L-shaped dining room. Servers with grilled meat on skewers also circulate, Brazilian barbecue style, offering diners chunks of barbecued beef, sausage, toasty seasoned chicken wings, and tandoori chicken. The dim sum station:

The cooking here reveals an understanding of non-Chinese food that is extremely rare in Chengdu. The vegetable, salad, and cheese station had several Middle Eastern dips and salads, which I was excited to try. The fatouche, complete with mint and sumac, was excellent. I am still trying to figure out the carrot salad, which tasted strongly of garlic, and...lemon, olive oil, onion, and parsley? Ingredients this basic have no business tasting that good.

As with most buffets, not every item was done well. Most items in the hot food serving dishes were more lukewarm than hot. The warmest thing about the Hungarian goulash was the paprika in the sauce, and the meat was tough. The bear paw tofu was bland and soggy, and the sushi was not much above the local zombie-fish standard.

Saving room for dessert, always a challenge at a buffet, is important here. The crème brûlée , topped with kiwi, blueberry, fig, and currant, was beautiful. The crumbly, house made apple strudel was served warm.

The servers all showed a good spirit of hospitality and were quick to top up water glasses, whisk away used plates, and bring new silverware. I felt more cared for than at most full service restaurants.

The lunch buffet is Y128 per person, which only includes water to drink. Coffee, which you really do need with that dessert, is another Y35 and there is an automatic fifteen percent service charge. They also do a more elaborate buffet at dinner, and a seafood buffet on Friday night.

The place is priced for a special occasion and delivers; it has the power to pull your day above the ordinary. Back outside in the humidity, waiting for my bus beside first ring traffic, I felt like a new arrival in a foreign city.

Address: 成都市滨江东路9号

in the Shangri-La hotel, close to Jiuyan bridge