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Chengdu Food 

Our top Chengdu food takes you to eat in Chengdu-Asia’s first city of gastronomy, learn Chengdu Cuisine culture and do a cooking class in Chengdu Cuisine Museum, etc.

In 2010, Chengdu was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. It's not hard to see why, when there are restaurants and street vendors serving mouth-wateringly delicious dishes and snacks on pretty much every street. It really is a place where food is taken seriously and done well.

Chengdu food falls under the banner of Sichuan Cuisine, which is one of the Eight Regional Cuisines of China. Below are some of the more popular dishes on offer in Chengdu.

What is famous Chengdu food really like anyway?

Chengdu is undoubtedly China’s food capital. Local and international connoisseurs alike consider famous Chengdu food the country’s most tantalizing - and with good reason.

Now you could be forgiven for thinking every Chengdu dish is spicy, but this isn’t true. Yes, Chengdu is famous for its liberal use of chili and Sichuan peppercorns that make your lips burn in a way you never thought possible, however fiery flavors are just the beginning. Indeed, the essence of famous Chengdu food is the imaginative ways in which flavors are combined to create a culinary experience.

Think of it this way. An authentic Sichuanese table will be laden with dishes featuring degrees of spice and heat, from mild to explosive, and yet the greatest interest is found in the full spectrum of flavors that combine hot, numbing, sweet, sour, savory, and nutty seasonings.

Locals say ‘each dish has its own style; a hundred dishes have a hundred different flavors and this is true.

Dishes range from incredibly hot, like the numbing-and-hot mix of Sichuan pepper and dried chilies, to dishes that are mildly spicy, such as those with fish-fragrant sauce base of pickled chilies. Others with a sweet-and-sour lychee-flavored sauce run counter to the myth that all Chengdu's famous dishes are hot and spicy. Such dishes are not hot at all and are just part of the reason that Chengdu is truly a melting pot of flavors.

With all that said, let’s get into the details of Chengdu’s most iconic dishes.

Mapo Tofu (Mapo Doufu)

Typically Sichuan (code for hot and spicy), mapo tofu has a story to it in the same way many other Chinese dishes do.
Legend has it that Chen Mapo, owner of a Sichuan province restaurant in Chengdu, is the inspiration for this famous Chinese dish, which was so named because of the distinctive freckles or mazi on Chen Mapo’s face. Originating during the early Qing dynasty around the mid-1600’s, mapo doufu has a long history, yet its popularity continues today with locals and people all over China still enjoying this dish. At ChinaTours.com, mapo tofu is a personal favorite and regular inclusion in CT Family gatherings.
And it’s easy to understand why. It’s hard to go past the fresh and tender tofu drizzled with a spicy chili sauce made of ground meat, wild peppers, and broad bean paste. Each bite of tender tofu and savory minced meat combines to surprise, delight, and even add a tingle to your lips. A definite inclusion on the list of must-eats in China.

Spicy Sichuan Boiled Beef

A classic Sichuan famous dish, the literal translation of shuizhu niurou is water boiled beef, a name which belies just how flavorsome it is.
During preparation, beef slices are marinated with egg, salt, pepper powder, soy sauce, starch, and oil. Vegetables such as bean sprouts and leafy greens are then stir-fried or blanched. In a wok with oil, Sichuan peppercorn, chili, ginger, and garlic are stir-fried with pixian doubanjiang to round out the flavors. Water is then added to create a soup, which is seasoned with salt and pepper. Finally, the fully flavored beef is added to the soup to cook fully. The beef is removed from the soup and placed onto the vegetables in a bowl. The soup is added to the bowl and the dish is finished with chili powder and minced garlic on to which hot oil is poured.
This dish has been co-opted by Sichuanese chefs, who saw fit to create a piscatorial version, shui zhu yu, otherwise known as spicy Sichuan boiled fish.
Consider shuizhu niurou a party for your palate.

Sliced Beef and Beef Offal in Chili Sauce

A classic Sichuan famous dish, the literal translation of shuizhu niurou is water boiled beef, a name which belies just how flavorsome it is.
During preparation, beef slices are marinated with egg, salt, pepper powder, soy sauce, starch, and oil. Vegetables such as bean sprouts and leafy greens are then stir-fried or blanched. In a wok with oil, Sichuan peppercorn, chili, ginger, and garlic are stir-fried with pixian doubanjiang to round out the flavors. Water is then added to create a soup, which is seasoned with salt and pepper. Finally, the fully flavored beef is added to the soup to cook fully. The beef is removed from the soup and placed onto the vegetables in a bowl. The soup is added to the bowl and the dish is finished with chili powder and minced garlic on to which hot oil is poured.
This dish has been co-opted by Sichuanese chefs, who saw fit to create a piscatorial version, shui zhu yu, otherwise known as spicy Sichuan boiled fish. Consider shuizhu niurou a party for your palate.

Sichuan Style Twice-Cooked Pork

Another dish that emerged during the Qing dynasty, hui guo rou or Sichuan style twice cooked pork is perhaps the most beloved Sichuanese dish.
The dish is so-named because the pork belly is first boiled in water with ginger, shallots, and cooking wine before being stir-fried with Sichuan peppercorns, cabbage, and bell peppers.
Now, hui guo rou is popular with Chengdu locals, however its original incarnation occurred when royalty visiting one particular village left them unprepared to provide an appropriately regal feast. Legend has it locals threw together their leftovers to create the very first hui guo rou. Needless to say, the Qianlong Emperor was suitably impressed and the dish lived on to become a favorite.
Hui guo rou is made with chili bean sauce, fermented black beans and green garlic leaves and best served with plain white rice and broth. The red hot chili bean sauce and green peppers used in the dish give the appearance of being hot and spicy, but when cooked right, hui guo rou will impress your taste buds in the same way those villagers did when they cooked for the emperor.

Kung Pao Chicken

Any dish that goes by the name Kung Pao chicken must surely arouse your interest, right? We couldn’t agree more!
Kung Pao chicken, or Gongbao Jiding, is diced chicken sauteed with chili and peanuts. Originating during the Qing dynasty and named after Ding Baozhen, a Sichuan government official, the dish was the result of a meal prepared for Ding by a villager who saved his life. The villager was so delighted with his creation he began making it for other guests. In time, this simple dish became known as gongbao jiding. And although jiding is somewhat unfair in translation - it literally means ‘chicken bits’ - the popularity of the dish usurps many others that have found their way into the hearts and palates of westerners.
Kung pao flavors are distinctive for the unique combination of tangy, sweet, salty, and just a hint of heat. Locals enjoy it with shrimps and beef too, but if you’re in Chengdu, we recommend at least one round of the original version.

Shredded Pork Sauteed in Spicy Garlic Sauce

Okay, so the ChinaTours.com team is totally obsessed with spices and garlic flavored anything, which is exactly why yuxiang rousi - or shredded pork sauteed in spicy garlic sauce - is on our list of must-try Chengdu famous foods.
The base of this dish is a classic sweet and sour ‘fish-fragrant’ sauce made with salt, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, water, and corn starch. Sound wonderful? We agree!
A history of Chinese cooking reveals these flavors have long been integral to traditional seafood dishes, however, this combination of ingredients beautifully enhances meat, poultry, and even eggplant.

Sichuan Hotpot

We’ve already written about Sichuan hotpot (you can jump in here and learn about Haidilao hotpot), but here are just a few more fun facts to stash in your Chengdu cuisine storehouse.
Let’s face it, any visitor to Chengdu has to try a traditional Sichuan hotpot, but if the mere thought of chili brings on a sweat, don’t feel there are no options other than hot and spicy because there are.
With food - and the sharing of food - such a vitally important aspect of life in China, it’s no wonder that Sichuan hotpot is so popular. It is indeed a ritual, one that draws family and friends together around bubbling basins of broth, with each individual able to select and cook their own food.
As with every Chinese dish, there is a story.
It is said that the Sichuan hotpot emerged as a specialty of Chongqing, where laborers and fishermen working on the Yangtze River devised the hot pot using offal, poaching it in spicy oil to disguise the pungent odors. Thankfully, hotpot evolved from its origins, with the original version enhanced with enriching ingredients (think cinnamon, ginger, garlic, fragrant spices, and Sichuan bean paste).
Recognizing we can’t all endure the hottest of spicy hotpots, Chengdu restaurateurs adapted, with most offering a divided hotpot, allowing diners to cook their food in either (or both) a spicy or mildly flavored broth. Traditionally, locals will choose beef tripe and other offal, but in Chengdu, you will find western palates well catered for with meats, poultry, vegetables, and tofu also available. Expect an array of flavors too: mild, moderate, and super hot. And for the adventurous? Why not try a fish head hotpot or medical herbs hotpot?

Local snacks and Chengdu street food

Now that we’ve covered famous Chengdu dishes, it’s time to move onto another Chengdu food destination - famous local snacks and street food from the many hole-in-the-wall venues in alleys to be found winding through the lively Sichuan capital.

Lai’s Glutinous Rice Balls

ang yuan is Chinese for ‘round balls in the soup’ (don’t you love the literal descriptions given to all things Chinese?) and lai tang yuan is a popular traditional dessert that emerged back in the 1890s when Lai started serving them from a small stand in Zongfu Road.
These glutinous rice balls are stuffed with various sweet fillings - black sesame is the original - are cooked in boiling water and served with a sesame dipping sauce.
So famous are lai tang yuan that the government acknowledged them as a ‘Time Honoured Food Brand’ in China. And if black sesame is not your thing, tang yuan is available in other flavors. Try tang yuan stuffed with walnuts, osmanthus flowers, rose petals, red bean paste, and jubes for an authentic experience of local Chengdu street food.

Chengdu-style Wontons

Now, who doesn’t love wonton? If you’re visiting Chengdu, then you’re in for a total wonton treat.
Local Sichuanese call wontons chao shou and long chao shou - or Dragon’s Wontons - are a signature Chengdu snack. First created in the 1940s, long chao shou have a thin skin (or wrapper), abundant, flavorsome fillings that are predominantly pork mince, and are served with a delicious heartwarming clear or red chili oil soup. It’s easy to understand why they have become popular with locals and visitors alike and why the original restaurant has expanded into a popular chain where local Chengdu residents can enjoy their favorite snacks and food.
With the making of wontons a veritable art form, we defy you to be satisfied with just one serve while visiting this city of fabulous food.

Zhong’s Pork Dumplings with Spicy Sauce

While just about every conceivable corner of China lays claim to a version of dumplings, it’s only in Sichuan you’ll experience the life-altering zhong shui jiao - Zhong’s pork dumplings with spicy sauce.
Arising through the creativity of one street food vendor Zhong more than 110 years ago, the crescent-shaped boiled pork dumplings blend spicy, salty, tangy, and sweet flavors after being dipped and coated in an unctuous sauce of red chili oil, (a special) soy sauce, minced garlic, sesame oil, and oh-so-secret spices.
Thankfully, zhong shui jiao is affectionately referred to as Sichuan’s ‘little eats’ or xiao chi. Consider it a license to indulge in more than one serve.

Hotpot skewers(Chuan Chuan Xiang)

It seems there is no end of hotpot-like options in Chengdu, at least you could be forgiven for thinking as much when you tuck into chuan chuan xiang. This is an easier version of a hotpot, with all ingredients (virtually anything goes) self-selected from a refrigerated buffet.
Ingredients are on bamboo skewers and these are dropped into a hotpot and removed immediately after they are cooked. Eat straight from the hotpot (no chopstick skills are necessary) or enjoy one of the myriad dipping sauces. Diners are charged according to the total number or weight of the bamboo skewers. Tuck in!

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