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