Monday, December 19, 2011

Back to Shang Palace for Dim Sum

The dim sum scene in Chengdu has changed tons since my last visit to Shang Palace in the Shangri-La hotel, and I had been meaning to get back for a while. When I heard that the Hong Kong Shang Palace had gotten another Michelin star I decided to move Shang Palace up my list.

The menu had changed since we last visited. We tried the steamed beef tripe, which was tasty, but I found it chewy and a little tough to eat. I think it's for tripe lovers only.


These shrimp dumplings had unfortunately sat in the steamer a bit too long. The wrappers were too soft and the bamboo shoot inside had lost its crunch.


This radish cake had fantastic flavour, but was already a little cool by the time it landed on our table.


This was a new dish, peach and shrimp spring rolls.  Light and lovely.


We got some dried scallop and gingko congee, It was very good, though I thought it could have had more scallop flavour.


We had a lull of several minutes between getting some of our dishes. There appears to be a distance between the kitchen and the dining room that introduces some lag into the process. I usually have a lot of patience when dishes take their time coming out of the kitchen. However, waiting a long time for the order does raise one's expectations that freshly and carefully prepared plates will eventually arrive. These expectations are not really met at Shang Palace.

Barbecue pork chang fen, tasty but without the supple smoothness that we associate with really good rice roll:



It's decent dim sum for the price (68 yuan each, plus service charge).

Homestyle in Hongpailou - Jia Wei Can Guan

A friend invited me to eat at one of these small neighbourhood restaurants that always seem to do local food the best. I didn't do the ordering, so the first thing that landed on the table was this dish of pig ears (猪耳朵). I thought they were fantastic, but my table companions judged them a bit too sweet:


One useful way of gauging a kitchen is by the freshness of their greens, and the care with which they are prepared and presented. The restaurant did a very nice job with this plate of you cai:



I didn't catch the name of this fish dish, but it was done well - good, tender fish in spicy broth.


'Eat-by-hand' ribs (手撕排骨) is a dish that we are seeing on more and more menus lately. It's delicious, and spicy, and usually mixed with potatoes, dry pot style.


We also wanted to order twice cooked potatoes - 回锅土豆.


Name in Chinese: 佳味餐馆
Address: 红牌楼北街 23 号 附 1 号

I have a picture menu label on this post, but only the main dishes were illustrated. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Clay Pot Dishes for a Chilly Day

Chengdu is feeling quite wintery this week. If you are chilled and looking for something to warm you up, look for 'sha guo' dishes cooked in these heavy pots over a flame.  There are all kinds of choices for what gets cooked inside. Absorbent stuff like intestines, meatballs, spam, tofu, or crispy fried pork pieces are popular. Veg options are available as well and some places will let you combine two veg in one pot, if you ask. The pots hold enough heat to keep your food warm even if you are eating outside.

Here is a sha guo restaurant at the mouth of the snack street on Guang Hua Village, which is rather famous. We thought the food was below average, unfortunately. We didn't like the tough, fatty pieces of meat. 




This is a very good, and spicy, beef sha guo with the rice mixed in (牛肉砂锅饭), at the snack street by a vocational school outside the east third ring. The rice variation is not one we see often.


Locations in Chinese - 光华村小吃街 for the first picture, 四川长江职业学院 后街 for the second one (so out of the way, many taxis from Chengdu won't even go there unless you negotiate a special rate)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Jinjiang District Police Cafeteria

Office and government cafeterias that are open to the public are sought-after places for sustenance. Although they may have limited hours these places are fast, inexpensive, and many feel the food safety standards are higher than on the street. Recently some very cool friends brought me to the Jinjiang district police canteen for lunch.

The inside is strictly cafeteria style, but it was clean.

Most of the police officers were getting food trays to fill up from the dishes on offer that day, but we chose to order off of the menu. Cops have priority:


I asked the server about the beef shreds (牛肉丝) on the menu and she said we could get them done with celery or green peppers (our choice).

 

This was a pretty unique tasting bear paw tofu (熊掌豆腐). It tasted a little sweet, similar to yuxiang. However, it was fried to a nice crispiness under the sauce and we loved it.


By the time twelve thirty rolled around, most of the staff were cleaning up.

Strange Flavour

There is a quasi-chain of noodle shops in Chengdu called Niu Wang Miao noodles. By that I mean there are several noodle shops with the same name but their menus, prices, and products are very different though many of them have the same sign and it's hard to tell which branches are actually related and which are not. If there were ever an original noodle shop around the Niu Wang Miao area (southeast of downtown) it's a mystery to me.

This bowl of strange flavour noodles is from the branch one on Xing Rong street.


These were too watery for my taste. I like a good slick of the red oil on top.

Address in Chinese: 兴容街 #63

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The House of Red Oil

This mao cai restaurant was named appropriately - Hong You Fang, or red oil house.

The baskets of ingredients simmered away in the spicy soup:


My vegetable version was pretty spicy. I got a bottle of peanut milk (豆奶) on ths side to tame the heat.


Storefront:


Address: 二环路东三段三号新居, on a small street north of the second ring across from Cheng Hua Ito Yokado

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Two Ginkgoes

Among the last things I ate on a recent trip back to the home country were sashimi and a cocktail at Guu. Guu is a very popular Vancouver based family of Japanese izakaya - the kind of restaurant that does small plates to go with drinks.

When I got back to Chengdu and glanced at the business card I'd picked up from Guu, I was fairly stunned to see that Guu has a China location within walking distance from my home in Chengdu, of all places.

I noticed on the card that Guu shares an address and an expensive phone number (nearly all 8s) with Ginkgo Jingge. Ginkgo is a family of restaurants in Chengdu with each branch having its own specialty.  Ginkgo Jingge, near the Rainbow bridge, is best known for dim sum. On arriving, I couldn't find any sign of Guu though the staff assured me I was at the right place and handed me a dim sum menu. A server eventually led me to another section of the restaurant, with very few people, and came up with a menu card which featured some dishes from Guu. When I asked for drinks they only offered me fruit juice.

There were no staff behind the bar and the atmosphere was extremely quiet. The server eventually found an English speaking staff member who explained they do have some dishes from Guu, and the Japanese chef from there visits every few months. However, they do not offer cocktails at the Guu in Ginkgo. Also, the energetic staff greetings and informal buzz of a place like Guu in Vancouver is nothing like the atmosphere in a large, stately, restaurant like Ginkgo. Once we got over expecting a local Guu, we tried a few of the dishes.

Salmon sushi, OK.



This seared fish salad was beautiful, but the dressing was really lacking something.



This beef salad was the only real hit among the dishes we ordered. We both loved the dressing.



This boneless stuffed and grilled chicken wing was tasty and we liked that they provided some vegetation on the side, but the dish came off feeling a bit overdone to us. I mean, it's a chicken wing and I was supposed to be in a bar. 



Since this branch of Ginkgo is best known for its dim sum, which would cost about half the amount we paid per person, we'll ask for the dim sum menu on our next visit.

A couple of weeks later we got to try the dim sum at Ginkgo Chuntian, the newest member of the Ginkgo family at the Guanghua Village branch of Renhe Chuntian department store.

The first thing to land on the table were small bowls of pickles and spicy shredded chicken. They were fantastic, but the chicken was far too assertive of an introduction to delicate Cantonese food. 

Their durian pastry was super simple: fresh durian scooped into a pastry shell. Very nice.


Fish slice congee. Congee is a must order if we go for dim sum and theirs is great.


Shrimp dumplings, nicely steamed and with firm shrimp filling. Liked a lot.


Turnip cake, a little soft to my taste, but a decent rendition.


Firm-skinned dumplings filled with gingery, piping hot soup:


We didn't get to try a lot of the dishes we wanted to, but will be back.

Ginkgo Jingge is absolutely beautiful inside and is a restaurant to impress with.  Their servers are very polished but lack the warm, enthusiastic hospitality that characterizes very good Sichuan style service. Ginkgo Chuntian has the buzz you would expect from a new restaurant, and the servers were obviously not as experienced, but had the local 'reqing' and we felt better taken care of.  They were also enforcing the no smoking policy, while at Jingge customers were puffing away freely. We would go back to Chuntian first.

Ginkgo Jingge:
青羊区锦里中路2号

Ginkgo Chuntian:  
青羊区二环路西二段19号仁和春天A座



Monday, October 31, 2011

Ya'an

This is one of those posts that got lost in the back of the filing cabinet. It's from a trip to Ya'an that I took a couple of months ago.

The South Bridge was great place for an evening stroll.


My destination the next day was Bifengxia, the largest panda base. The day I visited was sweltering hot so there was little activity among the star attractions. However, the keepers did bring a few out to play for us. I would recommend anyone visiting check the forecast and make sure the temperature will not be above 25 degrees C in the area before making the trip, if you are just going to see pandas.


A lot of the locals living near Bifengxia provide homestays for tourists, and I got a few offers for board and lodging on the bus. They also said they could sneak us into the park for free (it's over a hundred yuan to get in.) I chose not to take them up on the offer.

The panda base is in the middle of a nature/cultural park, which I really enjoyed. They even had some hanging coffins which I thought I had to go to Yibin to see (small, black rectangles on the mountainside below).


There was not much available to eat in the park besides these dicey looking roadside food stands. Some of it was good, most not so.



My next destination after Bifengxia part was Shang Li, one of the old towns that surround Chengdu.

Fortune teller (in red):


Shang Li has the typical small shop, tea house, and souvenir combination that you find in the traditional towns.

River:



I liked that it feels more like a place where real people live than a theme park. Some women were gathering and washing a reddish tree fungus that you could make into a tea to cool you off in the summer. Corn and red peppers were spread out to dry on roads, sidewalks, courtyards, and almost any available flat surface.



I found a guest house run by the Chen family (there are a few Chen family guest houses along the river) and asked for a room for about 50 yuan per night. They gave me a room with two beds, a TV, a fan, and a tiny bathroom about two feet square. There was no towel - I guess most guests bring their own - but they found one for me. I was a little worried about my laptop since there were no locks on the windows, but they assured me it was very safe. The next day I asked them to keep it for me and they just set it behind the front desk.

In the evening they invited me to share their family meal, since I was travelling solo. It was really delicious homestyle Sichuan food - dry fried eggplant, pork and green peppers, and deep fried small fish right from the river. New to me were the boiled chicken feet - they were hard, not pickled or steamed soft like the chicken feet we are used to, so they were a little complicated to eat. My hosts were cracking the feet apart and snapping the tendons with obvious enjoyment, so I just managed as well as I could.



Another Yaan specialty I tried on this trip was da rou mian - 'big meat noodles'. Fatty, spicy, and delicious. I know of a Ya'an noodle shop or two in Chengdu. These would be worth seeking out.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Another visit to Shu Jiu Xiang

One of my top recs for Chengdu is always Shu Jiu Xiang hot pot, but I hadn't eaten there in over a year. It was time for a return.

We asked for the yuanyang hot pot, medium spicy (鸳鸯锅、 中辣). Like many upscale hot pot places, they now mix the oil and the soup at the table. This proves they are using fresh oil.


For snacks, we ordered their flatbread (飞饼). We noticed a snack called 猫猫鱼, or 'cat cat fish', a menu item so new that the server wasn't even sure what it was. We ordered it out of curiosity and got crispy fried small fish covered with the typical ma la seasoning. We liked it so much we got another plate.


Some of the order. We really liked the shrimp dumplings (虾饺) and the crispy pork (酥肉):


This was another new item on the menu, extra-thin 'kung fu' potato slices (功夫土豆片). The way they soaked up the excellent Shu Jiu Xiang spicy broth made them worthy of the name.


Since the oil scandal last year, the costs of hot pot have gone up everywhere and Shu Jiu Xiang is definitely more expensive than I remember. However, it is still one of the top hot pot experiences in town.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Twice-Cooked Pork Noodles

Chengdu has so many great noodle shops that you can afford to be choosy. I tend to avoid places where you can't get greens on the side, or which only offer large servings, or use the easily stained plastic bowls. This little place in Xiao Jia He would be ruled out on any of these counts, but I was intrigued by how popular it seemed. Customers were pulling up in vehicles, a sign that the noodle shop's draw extends far beyond the neighbourhood.


Another sign of popularity was the amount of overflow seating, with customers pulling up small stools and digging into bowls of noodles perched on top of larger stools.

The most popular order was twice-cooked pork noodles (回锅肉面). They cost a whopping nine yuan, but came in a generous serving. As spicy and oily as you could wish.


 

I would definitely come back and try the spicy stomach noodles (红肚面) or rabbit noodles (红烧仔兔面).

Address in Chinese: 肖家河环二巷路口. Area is a maze of alleys so this one is a bit tougher to find than most.

Fresh Milk Tea

Bubble tea vendors are all over town, but finding a cup of tea that is not made from artificially coloured and flavoured powder is tough. I recently learned that you need to ask for tea made from fresh milk (鲜奶茶) to get the real deal.  It costs about double the regular kinds of tea, but is worth it.



This vendor on Jian She Nan Xin Lu is popular on sunny days.



Location in Chinese: 建设南新路 83 号

Friday, June 24, 2011

Chengdu's Best Dan Hong Gao

This is one of those places that is so good, and so small and perfect, that I hesitate to spread the word. However they are already on dianping so the secret is out. It's just off Cao Jia Alley, where I had great spring rolls last week.

Dan hong gao is more of a winter than a summer snack, but I still had to wait several minutes to make an order in the middle of the afternoon on one of the hottest days so far. They were also selling bing fen (cool clear jelly with sugar syrup on top) and a lot of customers were ordering that on the side.

They have a menu of several kinds of dan hong gao, many of which you would not find anywhere else. By far the most popular is 'guai wei', strange flavour. I also ordered a 'san xian'. I don't usually go for meat-filled dan hong gao, but these were so, so good. The outsides were unusually crisp and the fillings were amazing. I also asked the vendor to make my usual peanut butter and strawberry jam but I didn't like the peanut butter. 


Sweet, spicy, and savoury insides for the guai wei:


Stepping into Cao Jia Alley is like stepping into the past. While I was there a delivery man with big milk cans on his bike came by, and people came out with their containers to get milk from him.

 

Location: 曹家内巷