It's kind of embarrassing, but I really didn't do any research about Chengdu before touching down on the tarmac. The only reason why I picked Chengdu was because I wanted to eat spicy noodles (not because of the cute pandas) and I kind of just took the path of least resistance from there.
Direct flight from SFO? Check. Located in the Sichuan Province? Check. That is how it went.
I had no idea what treats Chengdu really had in store for me.
When we got to the airport, I knew I had to look for a government operated green and yellow cab. But once we were in, I was ill-prepared. The taxi driver could not make out the address or map of the hotel that I printed out (I thought) diligently before take off. In hindsight, it was probably zoomed in too much. I couldn't pronounce the hotel in Mandarin, so saying the name in my gringo accent was getting us no where. We were furiously rifling through the papers like tourists, and finally found a telephone number... and then were on our way.
A short 20 minutes later in the taxi, we were obviously approaching the the city center. Coming from the Bay Area, Chengdu already looked like a big city. Miles and miles of apartment buildings with curiously large floor-to-ceiling bulbous windows whizzed by the taxi window. But we got closer to the center, I began to see lots of green and trees. And then I began to smell it -- the chili oil. The weather was tropical, humid and perfect for some spicy food. I was getting pumped, even though I hadn't slept in over 24 hours. But as soon as we arrived to our hotel, I zonked out.
One of the first places in Chengdu I will blog about is the Zhanglaowu Bean Jelly Store.
The Zhanglaowu Bean Jelly Store is located near the Culture Park in the Qingyang area of Chengdu. We initially caught sight of it on our first day. Although we were severely jet-lagged, we took note of the swarms of people milling around with the buzzing excitement of a One Direction concert. The oppressive heat and relentless jetlag deterred us from going in that first time.
In China, many noodle and dumpling places show production up front, so it was easy to peer into their windows from the sidewalk and see exactly what they served. It was definitely the opposite of the tiny windows and opaque sliding bamboo doors in Japan that are so hidden and secretive. As soon as we landed I could feel that Chinese food joints were the opposite -- showing pricing and foods up front! It was actually quite refreshing.
A couple days later, we were over our jetlag and knew exactly how to get there (which was a huge deal for us newbies).
After trying a semi-disappointing noodle spot the day before, we were eager to check out this joint. We felt like pros. Until we saw the menu -- no pictures. Life is hard!
Given that 4RMB is $0.65, we weren't really going to beat ourselves up for choosing the wrong thing. We ended up pointing and miming through our order and did end up with the things we wanted. Washi's kanji knowledge was also paying off.
This is the cold noodle. It was simple, with chili oil on the bottom, topped with noodles, bean sprouts, vinegar sesame sauce and a little sprinkle of MSG. This was more like a noodle salad. With the vinegar sauce and slight pepper flavor this was so satisfying to eat in the sticky heat. The noodles were firm and I really loved this dish that really seemed to be in conversation with the climate there.
Here it is after we mixed it up:
Washi's favorite was this noodle soup. This was very light in flavor, and it used the same noodles as the cold noodles. It was topped with strips of konbu, sansai and bean sprouts. I liked how this spicy noodle soup wasn't an assault on your gut. If there was meat, it may have been fried a little bit into the chili oil, but there were no visible chunks. Again, a very light affair.
A photo of Tian Shui Mian on google images is the dish that convinced me to go to Chengdu. This sweet and spicy noodle is comprised of a ropey noodle that is as chewy as it looks. The topping is a mixture of chili oil and sesame paste. The sweet and spicy combination is so satisfying and I will glady fly for 14 hours to get a taste of this again. Some places made their sauce too sweet, but the Zhanglaowu Bean Jelly Store made theirs just right: not too sweet with a spiciness that crept up into your pours.
After some mixing:
We did not order these, but these dishes must be why this place is called Bean Jelly store! I MUST go back for all of these dishes I could not fit into my stomach.
Another bean noodle dish:
By the time we left it was around 4pm and it was like the fourth quarter of a dwindling basketball game. Folks were thrilled and clearing out, others were ordering takeout while some were still watching the game. (FYI: China loves basketball).
Zhanglaowu Bean Jelly Store even has a seal of "being in business for a long-ass time" from the government! They are still showing everyone how it's done.
Addresses and telephone numbers are your lifeline in Chengdu. I will give it to you in English, but the one in Chinese is the one worth gold.
ZHANGLAOWU BEAN JELLY STORE
53 W 2nd Section, 1st Ring Rd
Qingyang, Chengdu, Sichuan
TEL: 028 8775 1247
TEL: 028 8775 1247