Monday, March 28, 2011

Wu Gu Liang Cang

The name Wu Gu Liang Cang  means something like 'five-grain granary'. The menu could not be simpler – congee, cold dishes, and dou hua (soft tofu). They also had baozi (steamed buns with filling) and wowo tou (steamed nest shaped buns). They had pumpkin congee, one made from preserved egg, several types of mixed grain congee, and one very good congee made from soy milk.

The servers seemed very well trained and were good at explaining the ingredients, flavours, and health benefits of each dish. There is no English menu but the cold dishes are arranged in a way that makes it very easy to choose by pointing, and the congee is self-serve all you can eat. The congee bases and other grains were also for sale from bins down the centre of the dining room. Many of the sidewalk passersby were also stopping to to look inside, which meant it hadn't been open long. A server confirmed they were only a month old. 


I picked out a colourful dish of tiny 'silver needle' fish that had been fried and mixed with potato shreds, onions, cilanto, and peppers in a spicy dressing. There was not a great deal of fish on the plate, but everything else tasted so good I didn't care. Others were eating cucumbers, black bean fish, mixed tofu skins, eggplant, zhe er gen, and other small plates – all very simple stuff, but with obvious care taken in preparing and displaying the dishes. This place costs two to three times what you would spend on a bowl of congee and plate of cool dishes at other places, but the quality and location makes it well worth it. I hope this place catches on.  They open at seven for breakfast.


Name in Chinese: 五谷粮仓 
Address: 桐梓林南路 9号 36

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Rui Tai Feng Yunnan Cuisine

Yunnan cuisine is most often represented in Chengdu by humbler dishes such as crossing the bridge noodles and the chicken steamed in a pot. Rui Tai Feng is a new, high end restaurant that presents a fascinating and bewildering variety of Yunnan dishes.

The elaborate place settings are very much in 'modern business dining' fashion.

The dining area is beautifully decorated with great light. We hoped the food would be worthy of the setting.

We usually associate Yunnan cuisine with pineapple, wild mushrooms, ham, potato dishes, rice noodles, and worms and insects. This menu had all that and more, with gorgeous pictures of each dish. If you can read Chinese, the menu's flavour descriptions are helpful. We asked lots of questions like "What is the best dish?", and "What dishes are most popular?" After some prompting the servers realized we needed some help ordering and told us which dishes were awesome (满不错).

The sweet dish we ordered came first - osmanthus tapioca (桂花西米露)。 We didn't eat it until we finished everything else. We are in love with anything osmanthus, so really enjoyed it.

The cold dish was long sprouts, which in most local restaurants are served in a very spicy and vinegary dressing. This one had garlic and pineapple juice with the hot peppers. Very nice. 


Savoury, rich, foil baked mixed mushrooms. (瑞泰纸包菌)

Pineapple cowboy ribs (菠萝牛仔骨), delicious and juicy. Have never had pineapple cooked like this before.

The goose liver eggplant (鹅肝酱香茄) on the menu looked much nicer than what was served. I often order eggplant to get a sense of the kitchen's skill, and this dish was pretty greasy. The goose liver sauce was heavy too and the herbs on top couldn't save it.

(Goose intestine is so popular in hot pot restaurants I've often wondered what happens to the rest of the bird, but goose liver is something we're seeing on the menus of a lot of higher end restaurants lately. I think it is because of the French  foie gras connection, but the 'gras' part has been a bit lost in translation and it's just ordinary liver from un-fattened birds. )

This was our favourite dish of the day, Lugu Lake roast lamb. 泸沽湖炭烤羊腿。 It seemed like it had been cooked, then shredded and cooked again. The pieces were chewy but not too dry, and came with a sauce and a mix of veg on the side. The menu described the flavour as xiang la, which means fragrant and spicy. It was one of the more unique lamb dishes we've tried.

We want to come back and sample a few more of the dishes that aroused our curiosity on the menu, but we'll have to save up a bit first.

Name in Chinese: 瑞泰丰餐饮
Location:  龙湖三千集 3楼 

Third floor of new Paradise Walk shopping center, which is a short stroll away from SM Square.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Back to Yang Yang

Always one of the best-known local restaurants among Chengdu's laowai crowd, Yang Yang  has gotten quite a bit of English language press during the past year. I hadn't been for a very long time and recently stopped back in.

Clockwise from bottom:

Iron plate Japanese tofu (must order, this is one of the dishes that packs in the locals).

Dry fried green beans. Dry fried green beans are sadly disappearing off of Chengdu menus; many newer homestyle restaurants no longer offer them. I always order this dish if I can and Yang Yang's version is decent.

Upper right, a plate of you cai.

On the right, potato twice-cooked pork. I was looking on both the English and Chinese menu and they only had plain twice cooked pork. I asked the server why there was only that version and she said "Oh, we can add stuff. Green peppers, potato..." I immediately asked for potato twice cooked pork (土豆回锅肉). It was fantastic.

This is one of the more popular dishes among the foreigner crowd, their dry fried potatoes. They were....deep fried. The menu had both dry fried and deep fried potatoes. I asked the server what was up and she said "Oh, they are the same thing." I didn't love them but they are a nice side to a dish with a tangy sauce, like the tofu.

The shredded cabbage and bean threads:


Even in the smallest alley restaurants, the cabbage in this dish is usually in thin shreds that blend nicely with the bean threads.  The knife work on this dish was highly unimpressive. They also gave us a dish of stir-fried pea shoots that were overgrown and a bit woody.

So we had a few hits and a few misses here. It's still one of the places I usually recommend to visitors since there is an English menu and the staff is very used to dealing with foreigners - they don't even blink if you ask for no msg. However, except for the tofu you can find equally good or better versions of these dishes elsewhere.

Name: 杨杨 餐馆
Address: 武侯区锦苑巷24号

The Ming Ting

Fly restaurants are usually neighbourhood spots, but Chengdu has a few that transcend their locales to become destination dining. The Ming Ting is one of these. The cab driver who took me there was pretty surprised to hear where I was going though; he thought I should be dining at some grand place.

The location, inside the Cao Jia Alley market, is even more modest than most fly restaurants.

Their most famous dish we saw on nearly every table - the pig brains and tofu (豆腐脑花). We loved this dish, which tasted quite a bit like the saucy kind of mapo tofu but which had quite a bit more going on.  When a friend of mine recently mentioned her memory had been bad lately and she should eat some brains, I knew the place to recommend.

The pickles (泡菜) came in large, crunchy shreds.

Another can't-miss dish, the lotus leaf steamed pork belly (荷叶酱肉).

From the veg listed by the server, we asked for a plate of pea shoots. Nice and tender, and a good sized serving. 

We also got a dish of sliced potatoes from the bowls out front. They were excellent. 

We now understand why the Ming Ting is known as a five-star fly restaurant.

Name in Chinese:  明婷饭店
Location: 曹家巷 菜市场

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Noodle Shop in Pingle

Pingle is one of the small old towns that surround Chengdu. It's very close to Qionglai, so we had to try the nai tang mian (奶汤面) - noodles in a plain, milky white broth.

The menu had another kind of noodle we'd never seen before - jiu mian (揪面). They were pieces of noodle dough pulled off in chunks in a similar style to the 'mian pian' you get at the Lanzhou noodle shops. The texture was a bit rougher, though, which picked up the spicy oil nicely when we mixed them together. We loved them. Note the ground pork and lard on top:

The noodle shop had self-serve pao cai (pickles), and an enormous pair of chopsticks to fish them out of the jar.

You could also snack on some spicy marinated chicken feet.

Sign outside the shop:

We loved Pingle and took tons of photos of the old buildings, though discovered it was a bit too far out to make a good day trip. We'll stay longer and take in more of the local attractions next time.

Noodle shop name in Chinese - 面大王
Address: 平乐古镇,  台子街 47 号

Mianyang Street Snack - Yu Ji Beef Pastry

One evening in Mianyang I came across this little shop front selling beef pastries. They looked a little like fried-style guo kui and were being cooked on the same kind of round, shallow pan, but were much thicker.  What really made me take note was the lineup of people outside. I had just eaten, but decided to join the line.

The workers were going very quickly. A sign recommended exact change. The guy standing two people in front of me ordered ten of them.

The outside pastry was tender without falling apart and the filling was dense, quite salty, seasoned ground beef. It tasted amazing and stayed hot for several minutes, making a nice hand warmer on a chilly evening. I loved it.  I've never seen this snack in Chengdu, but can find online rumours of it in Deyang (a city between Mianyang and Chengdu.)

Another day my taxi happened to go by the same spot, but at four thirty in the afternoon. There was the same lineup of people. I am going to make a point of stopping here whenever I am in Mianyang. The pastries are two yuan each.

Name in Chinese: 愚记 牛肉饼
Location: Not sure of exact address, near  Huoju (火炬) area.

Beichuan Bacon in Mianyang

Mianyang is the second largest city in Sichuan province, about two hours by bus or train from Chengdu. I was up there for work recently and stopped at this little restaurant by the bus station which was advertising Guanghan twice cooked pork ( 广汉回锅肉, which comes in enormous slices) and Beichuan bacon (北川 老腊肉).

Beichuan is best known as one of the places that sustained a great deal of damage in the 2008 earthquake. One good rule of thumb for cold weather eating anywhere in Sichuan  is 'try the bacon' so that is what I ordered:


Liked it a lot. Chewy and not too salty and made really simply with the garlic stems.

Location: alley by the Mianyang bus station.

Tea at Huang Cheng Lao Ma

This south location of the city's most famous hot pot restaurant has a tea house on the fourth floor.

They had a small but well-chosen selection of teas, including the big names like Long Jing, Tie Guan Yin and Red Robe and also a nice group of local teas. We decided to try a local tea from Guang An.  The leaves were a beautiful emerald colour and tasted very fresh.

From the snacks menu we tried chao shou, which came only in clear (not spicy) soup, and zhong shui jiao.

Classic chao shou - mild, tender, and delicate, in a fantastic soup.

The zhong shui jiao dumplings were very good too. I was really impressed with the just-chewy-enough wrappers and the filling tasted like real meat, which is getting disturbingly rare in town lately.

The building that houses this branch of Huang Cheng Lao Ma is like a museum, and it felt like we were eating museum specimens of these traditional snacks.  Besides dumplings and noodles they have a small selection of set meals and snacks, at prices that reflect the prestige of the place but are not out of line with the quality we have come to expect from their kitchen.

Name in Chinese: 皇城老妈
Address: 二环路南三段 20 号

Thursday, March 3, 2011

China Travel Interview

China Travel has been doing a series called Blogger Spotlight on their own very cool blog. Food and Drink Chengdu was recently honoured to be featured. You can read the article here.