Street Food in Chengdu – Venturing Beyond Shaokao
A great way to while away a sunny afternoon and put on some pounds is to take a walking tour of the city, stopping at every food stall you see.
There's food not only on every corner in Chengdu, but also every metre between corners and even flooding off the street sides and into the sidewalks and streets themselves.
Much like how the Americans soak eggs in food colouring and vinegar for Easter, the Chinese soak hard-boiled eggs in tea. The tea not only dyes the shell and egg white a deep tan, it also infuses the egg with a subtle, earthy flavor. Eat as you would any hard-boiled egg, including cutting it up on top of a salad. Deviled tea egg? Tea-egg-salad sandwich? You too can be an avant-garde fusion-food whiz. Tea eggs can often be found in small shops in a rice cooker beside a second rice cooker filled with corn cobs and a third filled with the lotus-leaf-wrapped rice dumplings called zongzi.
fried-egg crepe wrap
Watching this snack being made is almost as fun as eating it. First the crepe master will pour a small amount of batter on the skillet, forming it into an ultra-thin, round disc. Next, he or she fries an egg (or two, as you request) on top of the tortilla and garnishes it with chili oil, fried dough chips, spring onion and spam per your instructions. Finally, he or she wraps up the whole thing like a steaming hot burrito that's gone on a diet, drops it into a plastic bag, collects your RMB1.5 or 2, and sends you on your way.
Softer than the softest silken tofus, douhua's melty, custard-like texture makes it a perfect candidate for desserts — in other parts of China and Asia. Sichuanese douhua, of course, is served not sweet but spicy hot, doused in chili oil, soy sauce, spices, spring onions, and crunchy, dried beans. Vendors often carry a shoulder-pole with a barrel hanging from either end, one containing fresh douhua, and the other holding the condiments; a small plastic bowlful usually costs RMB1 or 2.
One of the most controversial street snacks ("It stinks up the whole street!" "But it tastes so good!") in Sichuan, stinky tofu is a type of fermented tofu with a notoriously pungent odour. Here it's skewered two or three to a stick and fried, resulting in a crispy skin with tender insides. An optional dusting with chili powder is inevitably available.
凉面/凉皮 liángmián liángpì
A good quick meal for hot summer days, these cold-noodle dishes are a combination of spicy and sour and starchy. Liangmian are flour noodles; liangpi are flat rice noodles. Both are pre-cooked and then poured into a bowl to be tossed with chili oil, vinegar, and spices, and finally garnished with bean sprouts. Usually RMB2 per box, you can find window carts selling liangmian at lunch and dinner times.
The name of this deep-fried, meat-filled snack translates to something like "parents-in-law pancake", and we're not quite sure why. Our reviewer said the flavor was "slightly Mexican," a blend of salty and cinnamon tones. Neither crunchy nor soft, it was "edible, not memorable".
A buffet in a soup bowl, maocai is like a watery version of shaokao. Easy enough for the Chinese to point and choose, maocai comprises an assortment of vegetables and fungus ranging from the leafy to the stalky to the starchy. Make your selection, and the boss will put them all in a bowl and boil them up for you. Thin rice noodles (米线) are sometimes added as well.
土豆春卷 tǔdòu chūnjuǎn
Not like the southern-style spring rolls that are served with sweet-and-sour sauce in Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants abroad, Sichuanese spring rolls are big, greasy affairs, the perfect oily antidote to a hangover. Reminiscent of a wimpy burrito in size and shape, the deep-fried rolls are usually filled with spicy potato shreds, although we've had them stuffed with spring onion and dried tofu as well (韭菜春卷).
If you see somebody with a cart containing two tiny, covered grills, a bowl of batter, and an assortment of jars containing jams and sauces, you've scored. It's the tiny pancake cart. The pancakes are one of the best grab-and-go snacks on this list. They're generally sold in pairs and filled with your choice of fruit jam, sugar and black sesame seeds, peanut butter, chocolate sauce, whip cream, etc.
asia! IN A SNAP
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