Sichuan has historically been known as the Land of Abundance, in reference to the fact that the fertile province produces a vast amount of the country's food. This 'abundance' is reflected in Sichuanese food, which is famous across China for its diversity of flavors and sophistication.
If there's one thing Sichuan people do well, it's food, and nowhere is this more evident than in the province's capital Chengdu, where "a dozen restaurants can be found on every street". Whether you're looking to try some traditional hotpot or a simple noodle lunch, or fancy a break from the local oily fare, there's something for everyone in Chengdu.
You may want to first read more on what Chengdu's typical foods are before you pick a restaurant...
This celebrated restaurant is a popular choice for locals and visitors to Chengdu alike (Ching He Huang and Ken Hom visited it while filming a documentary for the BBC in 2012). First, choose your broth of choice: super spicy chili oil; non-spicy; or a combination of the two, with a smaller non-spicy pot in the middle. Lao Ma Tou offers a bewildering choice of meat and vegetables to cook in your hotpot, as well as plenty of ready-to-eat snacks. The restaurant's reputation speaks for itself: if visiting on a Friday or Saturday, be prepared to join the long line of patrons queuing for a table outside.
There are several branches of this renowned hotpot chain across Chengdu. It's a little pricier than other establishments, but the restaurants are elegantly decorated in a traditional Sichuan style and waitresses wear formal silk attire. After dinner, you can enjoy some Sichuan opera and watch the performers demonstrate 'face changing', a sub-genre of Sichuan opera involving the rapid changing of masks in time to dramatic music.
Another popular choice with locals, the restaurants in this chain offer consistently good quality and tasty food. As with many hotpot restaurants, you can choose very spicy, medium spice or low spice chili oil, or a combination of chili oil and clear broth, which comes in a yin-yang divided cauldron. Things to try include the marinated beef, meatballs with cilantro and shrimp dumplings.
For many visitors to Chengdu, hotpot is top of the list of things to sample. But the local speciality is actually chuanchuan, which involves cooking skewers of meat and vegetables in a shared pot of chili oil. Yulin Chuanchuan Xiang is arguably the most famous place to try it - be prepared to queue if visiting on a weekend. First, choose your broth before visiting the fridges at the back of the restaurant to select from the wide range of skewered meat, vegetables and tofu. After you've finished cooking and eating, a waiter will tot up your skewers and present you with a bill.
This restaurant offers all the classic Sichuan dishes, from mapo tofu to liang fen, as well as some excellent house specials. The whole roasted rabbit is cooked to perfection; its crispy skin is seasoned with Sichuan peppercorns, while the tender flesh falls apart in your mouth. Other dishes to try include the spicy radish salad, duck with buckwheat served alongside steamed buns, and crispy strips of deep-fried potato.
Although Chengdu has seen a rise in the number of Western restaurants opening here, the Lazy Pug remains a popular choice amongst expats. Portions are generous and there's a large range of authentic western food. Brunch is available on Sundays, and the themed Mexican night on a Thursday is well worth a visit.
Billed as a Tex-Mex restaurant, this popular hangout offers an extensive range of affordable western dishes, as well as some local options. It has a number of restaurants across the city, mainly around Tongzilin and near Sichuan University, where the majority of expats are based. The quiet, country style makes Peter's a comfortable place to while away an afternoon.
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If you want to eat at local restaurants and try real Sichuan food, please see our popular Chengdu tours below for inspiration. we will ensure you sample the best Sichuan food on offer at authentic local restaurants, and ensuring your individual dietary requirements and preferences are catered to.
Not interested in the above tours? Just tell us your interests and requirements, and we are more than happy to create a tour for you based on your interests and requirements.