Chengdu’s restaurants sizzle with Sichuanese barbecue and fascinating street fare
Try the dry-fried rabbit, red-sauce dumplings or chicken gizzards with pickled vegetables in the city’s colourful north side
You are never more than a stone’s throw away from great food in Chengdu. Two decades of headlong development has led to entire neighbourhoods being overhauled, especially in the south side of the city, and that has led to the loss of some traditional wet markets, street vendors, and venerable locales. However, there are still thousands of good restaurants in Chengdu offering classic Sichuan fare.
At the moment, the north side of the city is doing the best job of maintaining the traditional feel of a local restaurant. The north side is not as gentrified as other parts of Chengdu, so it is still possible to get street-side barbecue as well as slip into a tiny hole in the wall restaurant serving noodles and snacks in the old style.
Other parts of the city may be more modernised and developed than the north side, but that does not mean they don’t have hundreds of restaurants to choose from. All across the city, food stalls and restaurants line the streets, serving everything from traditional Sichuanese barbecue, chuanchuan, to hot pot, fried food, snacks, and high-end dishes from around Sichuan.
Anywhere in Sichuan, and especially in Chengdu, everything is so connected to its source.
Wet markets are constantly changing and people are basing their purchase decisions on what’s fresh, local and seasonal.
People in Chengdu will go out of their way to eat seasonal food, not only for its flavour, but also for its medicinal benefits, and to stay in touch with their environment. Chengdu people appreciate balance: when it’s hot in the summer, they seek foods that can expel heat and cool them down; in the winter they want food that can expel moisture and warm the body.
A great seasonal ingredient is the famous Sichuan peppercorn. People believe it is spicy and get worked up about its numbing feeling, but the Sichuan peppercorn is not a peppercorn and it’s not that spicy.
It’s actually a seed in the citrus family. Good fresh peppercorn have a bright, citrusy fragrance and are often very floral.
Another key component of Sichuan cuisine that is often overlooked or misunderstood is the pickled vegetables that can be found in many great dishes. Having chicken gizzards or cow stomach with pickled vegetables or red peppers is a great way to experience the true diversity of Sichuan cuisine, including the texture, spice, flavour, and complexity of a complete dish.
One particular must-have is roast rabbit, which can be hard to get in other parts of China. Chengdu people really love their rabbit, and it can be served dry fried, with pickled peppers, or roasted Sichuan barbecue style.
A great standby for any visitor to Chengdu are the red sauce dumplings, or hongyou chaoshou.
The sauce and the simple pork dumplings or won tons are a staple of the Chengdu snack scene and they can be found in most any neighbourhood of the city.