When one thinks of Sichuan cuisine, the city of Chengdu comes to mind. This idyllic destination is known for having some of the most notoriously spicy foods in the world, spiked with Sichuan peppercorns and spices.
All of these delights are borne from an age-old street food culture in Chengdu, revolving around what’s affectionately termed “fly restaurants”. The rather unappetising name refers to the crowds that congregate around food stalls like flies, eager to snap up the delicious eats whipped up by the cooks.
In contrast to this food frenzy are Chengdu’s beautiful teahouses, where one can enjoy a cup of freshly brewed tea, play mahjong and enjoy the city’s natural landscapes. Wherever you go, it is undeniable that food and socialising come hand in hand.
If you’re looking for a taste of this gastronomic culture, check out these food streets in Chengdu for the most authentic bites – after all, you’re in a UNESCO City of Gastronomy.
Jinli Street is one of China’s oldest trading zones, with a storied history dating all the way back to the Qin dynasty. After a massive renovation project in 2004, Jinli Street was restored to its former glory with a mix of old and new buildings reminiscent of Qin dynasty-style architecture. Walking through this 350 metre-long street is almost like going back in time, though one might find some unexpectedly amusing sights like a Starbucks cafe operating within an ancient courtyard house.
For foodies, the real attraction is at the end of the street where one will find a plethora of traditional street food hawkers. Look out for Li Zhang Qing San Dapao (李长清三大炮), a stall known for its famous san dapao (三大炮), which are glutinous rice balls dressed in brown sugar syrup. Nearby, Zhang Fei Beef (张飞牛肉) is another popular stall for mala beef strips and noodle bowls.
Directions: Take Bus 57, 82 or335,and get off at Wu Hou Ci (Wuhou Shrine) bus stop.
Address: 231 Wuhouci Street, Wuhou District, Chengdu
(Image credit: Wemedia)
Kuanzhai Alley is really an abbreviation of three ancient alleyways: Wide Alley (Kuan Xiangzi), Narrow Alley (Zhai Xiangzi) and Well Alley (Jing Xiangzi). Like Jinli Street, the area was historically significant in the Qin dynasty as a military stronghold. Now gentrified, Kuanzhai Alley has become a tourist hotspot with street entertainment and nightlife activities. The area spans over 40 old courtyards, and each section offers a different experience befitting the ancient architecture all around.
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Expect to find teahouses offering traditional Chinese teas in quaint surroundings too. One of the best teahouses in this area is the Gu Jing Teahouse, an elegant spot with modern fixtures and traditional vibes. For street food, head towards Narrow Alley and Well Alley instead. Hawker stalls don’t often have signboards, but their freshly-cooked fare is enticing enough.
There, visitors will find liang mian (spicy cold noodles), dumplings, steamed buns and meat-stuffed pancakes. Chengdu Chike (成都吃客) is highly raved among locals for their mala skewers of meat and vegetables. If the food adventure here proves too spicy, head over to Juanshu (眷蜀冰社) for traditional bingfen, a jelly dessert topped with brown sugar syrup, fermented glutinous rice and fruits.
Directions: Take metro line 4 to the Kuanzai Alley station.
Address: 127 Changshun Upper Street, Qingyang District, Chengdu
Huaxing Food Street
(Image credit: Douguo)
Huaxing Street is home to some old and legendary eateries whose signature dishes have existed for centuries. This area is especially famous for fried egg noodles -- a street dish that has been around since the 1900s. The dish features a simple fried egg in a bowl of noodles with tomato soup, and is said to have originated from an eatery named Huaxing Street Fried Egg Noodles. This humble eatery might no longer exists, but many restaurants continue to serve this signature dish the traditional way with copper pots and copper spoons.
Besides noodles, Huaxing Street is also famous for tofu puddings. Xiao Tan Dou Hua (小谭豆花) is one of the most famous spots for this, offering soft silken tofu with a choice of sweet or savoury toppings. This stall also sells some of the best hand-pulled noodles, served with Sichuan peppers, red chilli oil and tofu cubes.
Directions: Take the metro line 3 or 4 to the 2nd Chengdu People’s Hospital station
Address: Huaxing Zheng Street, Jinjiang District, Chengdu
(Image credit: Dui Tang)
Yangxixian Street is one of Chengdu’s most famous food destinations with a comprehensive range of stalls. Chengdu’s cuisine may be infamously spicy, but not all dishes here offer the same fiery experience. Here, diners can explore a wide spectrum, from grilled fish to mala hotpots. Yan San Niang (杨三孃跷脚牛肉) is one such popular eatery here, offering traditional beef soup replete with slices of radish and herbs -- the perfect treat on a cold winter's night. The restaurant also offers other traditional eats, such as pig’s blood stew, mapo tofu and preserved vegetables.
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For hotpot, head to Huijianghu Hotpot Restaurant (混江湖市井火锅). Like Chongqing’s mala hotpots, the ones served here are mind-numbingly hot. What’s unique here is that the Chengdu specialities, such as meat skewers, are also added to the spicy soups. Huijianghu also has a milk tea ‘hotpot’ with ingredients like red beans, cereal, and boba pearls – serving as a sweet twist to their signature fare.
Directions: Take buses 59 and 163 and alight at fuqin nan bus stop
Address: Yongling Road, Jinniu District, Chengdu
(Image credit: NAIC)
Next to Wenshu Monastery -- one of Chengdu’s most famous temples -- is the Wenshuyuan food block that’s filled with authentic Sichuan snacks. Wenshuyuan is not quite as commercialised as Jinli Street and Kuangzai Alley. However, it is a favourite food haunt amongst the locals.
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Dongzi Kouzhang (洞子口张老二凉粉) is a simple food stall nearby which specialises in noodles. While the eatery has a large menu of dandan mian and dumplings, most people come here for its tianshui mian (sweet water noodles) –a variant of the spicy Sichuan noodles with a good sprinkling of sugary toppings. Also in the vicinity is Ya Tai Po (严太婆锅魁) which offers guokui, a pancake that’s stuffed with meat, vegetables and noodles -- great for snacking on the go.
(Image credit: Qunar)
Directions: Take Metro line 1 and alight at Wenshuyuan Station.
Address: Wenshuyuan Street, Qingyang District, Chengdu