Most of Chengdu's local food specialties started out as snacks or Xiaochi (small eats). They originated in little stands or stalls located on sides of the road. Being located in Sichuan Province, Chengdu's local specialties are famous for their delicious spiciness. Sichuan Province is one of the four famous local cuisines in China. There is a Chinese saying "All good foods are found in Chengdu". Chengdu's foods have become famous throughout China and their renown has recently been spreading into Western countries.
Along with the smaller snack-like dishes, hotpot in Chengdu is not to be missed. Although originating in Chongqing, it has become extremely popular in Chengdu. There are many hotpot shops located in the older section of Chengdu near the Chunxi Lu Market, as well as along the river. Big pots filled with hot spicy oil invite passers by to sit down, order dishes of raw meats and vegetables, and cook them in the oil. The pieces of meat and vegetables are sliced very small so they will cook very quickly. In the summer, vegetables are normally eaten in hotpot, and in winter meats and heavier vegetables such as potatoes are used. This type of hotpot is extremely spicy, but wonderfully delicious. Most of the pots used in hotpot are divided into two sections. One half is filled with the spicy oil, and the other is filled with a delicious broth for those who are not a big fan of spicy foods.
Cooked on the side of the road on homemade charcoal grills, Chinese Barbecue is a favorite of Chengdu residents. The stand's owner sets out a large variety of meats, seafood, vegetables, and tofu on wooden skewers. Customers simply pick up a tray or basket and place the desired skewers on them. Then the food is cooked and the customers have the choice to sit on small stools and eat the food there, or take it to go. The skewers cost very little, and are cooked very quickly. Normally pepper and spices are added to the skewers, but if the customer does not like spicy foods, it can be omitted.
Tie Ban Shao (Chengdu Stir-fry, tappasaki)
This is a Chengdu-style stir-fry. It originated in Japan, but has been altered to meet Chengdu people's taste. Customers first pick out skewers of meats and vegetables that they wish to eat, which are then deep fried in oil for a minute or two. After the ingredients are fried, they are removed from the skewers and finely diced. They are then stir fried in a wok and other ingredients chosen by the customer are added. Finally they are served. Rice can usually be added for a small extra charge. It is delicious, and spicy, but again if customers do not like spicy food, peppers will not be added during the cooking process.
Ma La Tang (Tongue Numbing Soup)
This is an excellent way to test your spicy food eating capacity. These restaurants have large bowls of spicy chili peppers and other spices floating in boiling water over a flame. You pick out as many skewers of meat or vegetables as you would like and then cook them in the pot yourself. Normally there will be a bowl of sesame oil, oyster sauce, and diced garlic to dip the food in to deaden the spiciness.
Zhong Shui Jiao (Dumplings)
Another of Chengdu's specialties, this dish was created during the later years of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). These special dumplings are made of pork and vegetables wrapped in dough. The dumplings are boiled and are served with a sauce made of, sugar, garlic, sesame seeds, salt, and soy sauce.
Chao Shou (Chengdu Wonton)
This local specialty is similar to the Zhong Shui Jiao Dumplings. Chao Shou Wontons are also stuffed with pork and vegetables, the difference is that the dough is very thin and the dumplings are served in a soup. There are two kinds of soups available: spicy, or not spicy. Each one makes the dish taste completely different.
Sliced Pig Ears
Although some visitors to Chengdu might find the thought of this dish revolting, they are in fact quite tasty. Carefully chosen pig's ears are sliced and fried. They are salty and sweet with a hint of a vinegar flavor. Once tried, most visitors become hooked on this special dish.
Liaoji (Red Rabbit)
This dish is made with rabbit meat fried in red pepper oil, sugar, spring onions, and peanuts. It is very delicious, and as the name suggests, is red in color due to the red pepper oil that it is cooked in.