Spicy feast

By Li Jingjing Source:Global Times Published: 2016/1/15 9:41:38

Photo: Li Jingjing

Photo: Li Jingjing

I always feel a bit bad for people who can't eat spicy food whenever they visit Sichuan Province since they really are missing out on the best part of the region: the spicy, yet incredibly, delicious food.

Personally I believe Sichuan Province can beat any place that claims they have the best food in the world. Every time I head to the province I spend my days constantly thinking about what I'm going to eat for my next meal.

Below are some of the best dishes and snacks that I feel are really worth trying, even if it means dealing with a bit of heartburn the next day.

Normally, many people will tell travelers to visit tourist sites like Kuanzhai Xiangzi, or Jinli, because those alleys are surrounded by traditional Chinese-style buildings and sell all kinds of snacks.

While these are great places, and make you feel like you've time-traveled back to ancient China, the one problem is that only tourists go there. The food is not as authentic as that which you can find in the cities throughout the province. If you think the food at these tourist spots is already pretty good, then the below restaurants hidden throughout Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, will totally rock your world.

More than a dash of pepper

The name is weird, but Couple Sliced Beef in Chili Sauce is one of the most famous Sichuan dishes. The Chinese name is actually much weirder, fuqi feipian, which literally means husband and wife lung slices.

This name confuses many Chinese as well, leaving many wondering if they would be committing cannibalism if they ate this dish.

Fortunately, the ingredients in this dish only include sliced beef, sliced ox stomach, sliced ox heart and sliced ox tongue.

For some I imagine that sounds even worse than the name. That's why I recommend adhering to one rule when eating authentic Chinese food: Don't ask "What's this made from?" - just eat. As long as it tastes good, that's all that really matters, right?

The best part of this dish is the sauce. All the different slices of meat are soaked in a red chili sauce made from various ingredients.

It's said that during the 1930s, a local couple made and sold this dish, which made them famous and that's how the dish's name came to be.

The best place to get this dish is at the Couple Beef Cooking Restaurant. As the name implies, they serve the most authentic version of the dish.

There are several branches throughout Chengdu, but if you plan to tour around the city center, there's one at Zongfu Road.

Putting the 'hot' in hotpot

Sichuan's spicy hotpot, in which the soup is totally red and covered in a layer of red oil, has become prevalent across the nation. You won't have any difficulty finding a restaurant in other cities from the far north all the way to the south.

However, in order to cater to the tastes of people in other provinces who can't handle spicy food like the people of Sichuan can, these restaurants have had to change their recipes.

For this reason it's definitely worth it to try authentic Sichuan hotpot at least once in your life. Basically, almost all the hotpot restaurants in Chengdu are good, because all the bad ones have already closed, but how do you distinguish between the merely good ones and the really great ones?

One tip: Before sitting down, listen to people that are already eating in the restaurant. Are they speaking Putonghua (Standard Chinese) or the Sichuan dialect? If most of the people there are speaking perfect Putonghua, run. That restaurant only serves ordinary tasting food at higher prices to tourists.

Chengdu's Qintai Road gathers several of the best known hotpot restaurants such as Huangcheng Laoma and Longsen Yuan. It's normal to see long lines of customers, most of them locals.

Once you get in, you need to think about how to eat hotpot just like a local.

For starters, don't order the pot that is divided into spicy and non-spice sides, which we call yuanyang guo.

In other provinces, most people order yuanyang guo, so people can choose to eat from the spicy side or not and everyone can enjoy the meal. But you'll be looked down upon by locals if you order that in Sichuan.

For your dipping sauce, only one is right: minced garlic in sesame oil. Forget all other sauces that you've seen in other provinces, sesame sauce, barbeque sauce, or whatever. Garlic in sesame oil is the only way to get the most flavor out of your meat.

Local snacks

When sitting in a Sichuan restaurant, I always struggle with what to order. Too many choices, too many things I want to try make me start to panic.

Dandan noodles are something you shouldn't miss. One of the Sichuan's most iconic dishes, the noodles are covered in minced pork, crushed peanuts and mixed with spicy ingredients.

Spicy and sour tofu is another delicious treat. Tender tofu is covered with a sauce made from soy sauce, vinegar, pepper and sesame oil.

The oily red sauce plays an important role in Sichuan cuisine. It makes everything incredibly delicious, no matter if it's noodles, dumplings, wontons or tofu.

If you really like the sauce, don't forget to buy a few bottles before you leave. Simply adding a few spoonfuls to your noodles or dumplings will make your meal taste like it was made in Sichuan.

Besides spicy food, there are also several desserts you should try.

Glue pudding in rice wine is my favorite. The rice wine is not that strong. Some alcohol is produced during fermentation, but it won't make you drunk.

Bingfen is a dessert consisting of clear jelly in a sweet soup. I have no idea what it is made from, but it definitely tastes great. When served cold it's a great dessert for summer.

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