Thursday, April 29, 2010

No-flavour Mao Cai

The soup had lots of red pepper floating on top, Sichuan pepper, cinnamon, and other spices floating in it. The cooked vegetables already had a red tinge. The server mixing up the cooked ingredients with seasonings was worried though.

"It's not going to have any flavour!"

The problem was that I requested no msg or chicken flavouring be added to the bowl. I also asked for hot pepper but less red oil on top.

"I don't know if it has any flavour", she said as she set the bowl down.

And while I was eating the mao cai, which was hot enough to give me the sniffles,

"Any flavour in there?"

Spicy Potatoes

These are my favourite kind - cut in chunks, cooked on a flat griddle with not too much oil, and plenty spicy. These are from a little stall under a staircase by the west gate of the Nationalities University. It's under an inexplicably popular northeast restaurant, Da Dong Bei.

Qionglai Noodle Soup

In the mood for Qionglai-style noodles, I debated going out to Dai family restaurant or hitting a more convenient shop on my way home. Convenience won out and I ended up in this little place near Gaoshengqiao:

I got an order of ji tang mao su cai, basically vegetables cooked in the chicken soup, which was delicious, if barely lukewarm. The vegetables were cabbage and a few pieces of winter melon.

And one liang of the noodles. The bowl that came was easily the equal of two-liang servings elsewhere. Their default noodles also come with meat on top, which I didn't quite expect. But they tasted fine, and paying 4.5 yuan for two bowls of soup felt like quite a bargain. The noodles at Dai's are good enough to be worth the trip out there though, and Dai's is cleaner.

Name in Chinese: 邛崃清汤面
Address: 武侯区广福桥北街8-23号

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Amaranth - Han Cai

When I first arrived in Chengdu it was really strange to order spinach out of season, but now we can eat it all year. Amaranth remains a vegetable with seasonal availability,and is just starting to pop up on menus. The red and green leaves have a flavor similar to spinach but pack in far more nutrition, from what I've read. Because it stains everything it touches red, usually it's eaten simply stir fried rather than put in soups or combinations of other ingredients.

In Mandarin it's called 苋菜, xian cai, but locally I've never heard it called anything other than han cai.

Lunch earlier this week, an order of amaranth with dou tang fan. Delicious.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Spice Market

Today I wandered into the wholesale spice market near the north train station.

There were enormous bags of Sichuan peppercorns, taller than a person. The red milder variety was there in abundance, as well as the more pungent dark green kind. (I've noticed in grocery stores the red kind is often labelled 花椒 while the green kind is 麻椒)

You could choose many grinds and types of hot pepper powder (辣椒面 or 辣椒粉)

While red pepper, Sichuan pepper, and dried spices were mostly on offer you could also find pickled peppers (泡椒):

The spices were gorgeous and very fresh smelling. Star anise (八角), fennel (小茴香), not sure, lotus seeds (莲子)

These were only a small selection of the spices there. They also had many kinds of dried mushrooms and dried seafood in the back corner.

Hai jiao:

Hot pepper is 辣椒, pronounced 'la jiao' in Mandarin. In Sichuanese, hot pepper is 'hai jiao'. This gets transliterated with the ocean character into '海椒'. So, this place is called Chengdu Haijiao Cheng, or Hot Pepper City (海椒城) :

Location: Wukuaishi
Location in Chinese: 五块石

Rabbit Stomach Noodles

Update: This place is now a different restaurant.

Today I went by the west gate of the Nationalities University specifically to get fried spicy potatoes from the potato lady. Sadly she wasn't there so I ended up in this noodle shop. It's the kind of place that is furnished with mismatched tables and stacking stools, but looks reasonably clean inside. The bowl of noodle water they gave me tasted like the freshly ground flour we used to make from our own wheat at home.

Table setting, with little crocks of soy sauce and vinegar:

I asked the server for fragrant spicy diced rabbit noodles (香辣兔丁面) from their list of dry mixed noodles. She said they were out, so that left me with my second choice: rabbit stomach noodles (兔肚面). She was a little worried. "Those are pretty hot, can you handle it?"

The noodles were spicy as promised, from both hot pepper oil, pickled, and dry peppers. (This combination gives you an initial hit of spice, then it develops, then there is an afterburn. At no point is it overwhelmingly hot, however.) There were large chunks of cooked garlic as well. The little pieces of rabbit stomach had a mild flavour very similar to rabbit meat but were chewier and tender at the same time. Delicious. They cooked the noodles a bit too soft though, and I would ask for less oil next time. My one liang serving of noodles, bowl of well-trimmed boiled lettuce, and gratis noodle water came to 4.5 yuan.

Not sure of complete name; I couldn't read the first character. It's __ 姐面馆, around the corner from Leanna's Bakery. Address is #10-11 Shuhan Jie.

Address in Chinese: 蜀汉街 10号 -11

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Afternoon at People's Park

My friend and I were at People's Park this afternoon. We stopped for you cha, which translates to 'oil tea' and is like a bowl of thick gravy topped with crunchy soybeans and crispy fried strips of dough. You cha fixings:

They were also selling san da pao, a sweet snack whose name translates to 'three big cannons'. The name refers to the preparation method. San da pao is three rice dumplings rolled by hand, then thrown against a wide basket filled with soybean powder. Each dumpling makes a boom as it hits the basket. They are then doused with sweet syrup and sesame seeds. Kids waiting for their san da pao:

These were some of the best san da pao I've had. The syrup wasn't burned and the sesame seeds smelled freshly toasted and nutty:

My friend thoughtfully ordered my you cha without any hot pepper (hai jiao). I like spicy things, but have discovered that ordering things not spicy is one way to avoid getting a slick of oil poured over whatever you are eating. The you cha was pretty good without it anyway:

These are matchmaking ads, which I've heard about but never noticed in Chengdu before. They are usually brought and perused by parents seeking mates for their children. A typical ad read something like: Young girl, 26, bachelor degree, 1.57 m, attractive, working at ------. Seeking 35 or younger, bachelor degree or higher, 1.7 m or taller, man with employment.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Braised Pork Noodles - 卤肉面

At home we had a great Chinese cookbook whose author insisted on transliterating the 卤 into 'looo', and devoted a whole chapter to describing the technique and the tradition. This 'lu' refers to slow simmering in a flavoured stock. Much attention is paid to the seasonings and the stock is often kept and reused repeatedly. The pork in these noodles, while rather crowded out by the bamboo shoot, tasted really strongly of star anise (八角).

The Tea Museum at Emei Mountain City

Emei Mountain is one of the main tea growing areas in the province and Zhuyeqing is a large local producer. There are Zhuyeqing shops all over Chengdu and you can buy the tea everywhere. They have a tea park and museum in Emeishan city. Visitors to the museum are greeted with a small cup of green tea and invited to see a tea demonstration. They have a couple of girls do a graceful gong fu ceremony and then a man shows off his skills with the long-spouted tea pot.

Behind the park area was a field with rows of tea bushes. Workers were picking the new young leaves. Tea harvested before Tomb Sweeping Day (this coming Monday) is supposed to be the best.

Inside her basket:

The fresh leaves being weighed: