Regional variety is the spice of life

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 April, 2011, 12:00am


Sichuan is known across China for having some of the spiciest and most delicious dishes in the country.

The cuisine has become almost legendary and various dishes from the countryside gather for attention in the side streets and alleys of the capital city, Chengdu.

There are many exemplary dishes that are the crown jewels of a region's cuisine, such as Ya'an fish hotpot, Yibin spicy noodles or Leshan crispy duck.

Food vendors in Chengdu have a chance to showcase what each region of Sichuan has to offer, while making a few yuan from their tasty offerings.

So, Chengdu can actually be considered a repository, or a living museum, of Sichuan's snacks and dishes.

One of the great things about Chengdu is its easy-going attitude to street food and night markets. The barbecues, noodles, fried rice and other dishes are just so delicious and such an important part of the area's culture.

There are several great night food markets right in the centre of the city, just a few streets from the Chunxi Road shopping district.

The Qingshi Bridge seafood barbecue market has plenty of seafood, of course, but the whole street is also full of little stalls and holes in the wall serving hotpot and noodles, cold rice noodles and red sauce dumplings.

Much of the seafood is imported from the east coast, but there are also local delicacies such as spicy snails and fried crayfish. It is sometimes possible to get bullfrog, so keep your eyes open.

The south side of the city - around the Yulin and Shaojiahe districts - has excellent street food as well. Shaojiahe, just west of Yongfeng Road, has roast rabbit, Leshan duck and chicken stalls, spicy Chengdu hot pot and several little restaurants that are open 24 hours.

Yulin has several Chongqing-style hotpot restaurants and they are always full at weekends. The Yulin Life Plaza on Yulin Road South and Second Ring Road has a dozen different restaurants and stalls serving all sorts of dishes.

Another great location is the South Gate of Sichuan University. You could hang out here all night, eating non-stop. There is iron pot chicken, Xinjiang barbecue and sweet skin duck, plus several small hotpot stands and at least a dozen Sichuan restaurants serving classic dishes and small snacks.

The Jinli Snack Street, right next to Wu Hou Temple, has the highest concentration of mouthwatering snacks.

Every single region of Sichuan is represented. Classic snacks that might have fallen by the wayside in modern times are allowed to flourish and delight the palates of people from all over the world.

Some notable snacks are kaka tofu, which is deep-fried tofu on a stick, left to cool and served with pickled vegetables; and dandan noodles, a simple but delicious noodle dish with a savory meat sauce.

Also mouthwatering and spicy is a snack called zhujiao niu rou, which is basically minced beef served in a bamboo leaf with chilli and onions.

There are dozens of other snacks available, including Sichuan-style ribs, red sauce dumplings and many others.

Another area with some good snacks is found at the Kuan and Zhai alleys just around the corner from People's Park.

The refurbished and renovated alleys were once home to quiet teahouses, and that was pretty much it.

However, there are now several Sichuan-style snack houses in the area serving spicy cold noodles, steamed beef and a delicious dessert called san he pao, which blends sesame and sugar into a ball of sweet goodness.