Thursday, May 20, 2010

See Food and Eat It

Last weekend I went with some friends for a late night dinner at the da pai dangs* across from the Qingshiqiao seafood market. The plan of action was to arrive late, when the fresh seafood comes in off of the planes, buy items from the market and take them across the street to be cooked. Crates of sea creatures were being unloaded when we arrived.

We ended up buying scallops from the market. (We tried to haggle for salmon which the proprietor said was from Iceland. We were dubious.) We then went across the street to one of the smaller establishments. The vendor had a bewildering variety of seafood available including abalone, a few kinds of shrimp, crabs, and clams. The shrimp were jumping out of their tray.

We ordered shrimp done up spicy as well as not spicy, oysters and scallops on the grill, and stir fried squid.

Empty food trays and shells piled up beside our bowls as we laid waste to everything. Beer, broccoli, mao dou, and egg fried rice rounded out the order. Since the group included expert seafood choosers and people who could haggle in Sichuanese, we ended up paying only about 30 rmb per head. You can end up paying much more especially if you order the more expensive items.

At about one am, as we were finishing, the chengguan who had been watching the street left. (Chengguan are thug cops who keep the city presentable by throwing shopkeepers' wares off the sidewalks and harassing the three wheeled cab drivers.) The block was then transformed, as tables were brought out to the street and began to fill with customers seeking sustenance after a night out singing or clubbing. We concluded that we had come about two hours too early.

The next day when we ran into some of the same friends, we all greeted each other with, 'stomach ok'? Most of us were.

Name in Chinese: 青石桥夜市

*A da pai dang is a modest restaurant set up on the street. They are mostly associated with Guangdong and its neighbour Hong Kong, and tend to have a seafood theme though this is not strictly necessary. Xiamen seems to have scads of them.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Homestyle in an Old Town

We went out to one of the old style towns that make for a nice day trip outside of Chengdu. There were quite a few likely looking places to eat but in the end we went into this homestyle restaurant overlooking the square. View from inside:

There is no menu; you look over the kitchen stocks and decide with the cook and the server what you want to eat and how you want it prepared.

We wanted to try the crisp skinned soft tofu ( 脆皮豆花), since it's not something you see on too many Chengdu menus. It came in a spicy and sweet sauce that was made with bean paste. Delicious.

One of the local special foods is the Sichuan style bacon 老腊肉. They asked if we wanted it pan fried or stir fried, and I asked which was the best tasting. "Stir fried!" replied the cook and the server in unison. Nothing was on the plate besides the bacon and onions. The fat, which turned translucent but didn't melt, was the best part.

Am I sick of eating amaranth? No, I am not.

As we were finishing the staff sat down to eat their lunch.

I walked over to pay and saw they were eating from a large plate of thick, white strips. I asked what it was and they said 肉皮. That's right, pig skin. They assured me it was delicious.

Another Visit to Xi Da Dou Tang Fan

This dou tang restaurant has become a regular haunt of mine. Went back recently with a friend in tow to try a few of their homestyle dishes. It was lunch time and the place was packed with some folding tables set up outside. The boss was clearly in his element, taking and running orders and greeting regulars. We ordered a bowl of dou tang each and some dry fried eggplant (干煸 茄子):

The eggplant came out properly smoky. Whoever is wielding the wok here knows their trade well.

Tiger-skin green peppers (虎皮青椒). I like these a little darker, but no complaints:

Gong bao chicken (宫暴鸡丁). Within a few seconds of this hitting the table our chopsticks were a blur picking out the tender chunks of chicken and leek and crunchy peanuts. Really beautiful and the peanuts' freshly toasted flavour added to the dish without making it too much about the peanuts.

We found that with the good but very filling soup it was a bit too much food for two of us, one meat and one veg dish would have been enough.

Mu Dian Ren Jia Noodle House

Ever been hopelessly lost and really hungry in a strange place and then found a little place to eat that made everything feel all right? I got really lost last week between the west 1st and 2nd rings, trying to find my way back to Huanhuaxi Park, and ended up almost at Metro. I ran into this noodle shop on my way. The menu was really unusual - squid noodles? In Chengdu?

An order of ba ba cai (boiled cabbage):

I ordered a liang of their specialty, yu xiang rib noodles (鱼香排骨面). Stirring the noodles revealed a stowaway dumpling in the bowl, which met the same fate it was trying to escape by hiding in the noodles.

They also have jiaozi, chao shou, and a few other types of noodles such as hot pepper beef noodles (生椒 牛肉面), wild shiitake mushroom noodles (野生香菇面), and spicy eel noodles (鳝鱼面). A few of the items are pictured on the walls. You can add a fried egg to any of the soups, for an extra charge, or get a bowl of congee or a stewed egg to round out your lunch. They also have snacks like sesame stuffed rice dumplings in soup (汤圆).


Address is 13-14 mu dian lu, but don't ask me how to get there.

Address in chinese: 牧电路 13 14