Chengdu’s cuisine is not only renowned abroad but also ranks among the top in China. Every year, many people visit Chengdu for various reasons, such as to see giant pandas or explore popular commercial areas like Taikoo Li. However, there are also numerous foodies who come to Chengdu specifically for its delightful cuisine.
Chengdu’s food is famous for its spiciness and mouthwatering flavors, making you want to indulge from morning to night. You might even gain a few pounds after a trip, haha. The most well-known dishes abroad are probably hot pot, mapo tofu, and kung pao chicken, but Chengdu has many more famous and delicious foods to offer. Let me introduce them to you one by one.
Hot Pot (火锅)
Hot pot is probably the most famous food in Chengdu, known for its spicy and fragrant flavors. Whether it’s the spicy version or the clear broth one, Chengdu offers hot pots to satisfy various tastes. Throughout the streets and alleys, you can find various hot pot restaurants. In the cold winter, a bowl of hot pot not only warms you up but also lets you savor the unique deliciousness of Chengdu.
Chuan Chuan (串串)
Chuan Chuan in Chengdu follows a relatively fixed authentic recipe. First, beef is cut into small pieces and then cooked. Wheat gluten is mixed with starch and flour, boiled, and then pressed into bowls. Special spicy and numbing sauce, peanut sauce, soy sauce, garlic paste, coriander, and sesame are poured over it as condiments. The charm of Chengdu Chuan Chuan lies in its unique aroma and texture – the slight wheat gluten fragrance hits your nose, followed by the lingering taste of chili and peanut sauce, making you want to take another bite.
Spicy Hot Pot (麻辣烫)
Spicy Hot Pot, a distinctive Chengdu snack and a part of Sichuan cuisine. The skewers are prepared with ingredients like Sichuan peppercorns, chili, star anise, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, and more. Various vegetables and meat are boiled in hot water, removed, and then mixed with pre-prepared spicy seasonings. They are served in a spicy broth and sprinkled with chopped coriander.
Instant Boiled Spicy Hot Pot (冒菜)
Instant Boiled Spicy Hot Pot is one of Chengdu’s most distinctive traditional snacks, made primarily with meat, tofu, vegetables, seafood, and mushrooms. It boasts a spicy and fragrant flavor that is both numbing and savory. The key eating method for Instant Boiled Spicy Hot Pot is called “Gan Die,” which involves placing dry chili powder in a small dish and adding salt, MSG, and other seasonings. The cooked ingredients from the pot are lightly dipped into the “Gan Die” before being savored, creating a delicious and spicy sensation in every bite.
Pork Lungs in Chili Sauce (夫妻肺片)
Pork Lungs in Chili Sauce is a must-try delicacy in Chengdu. It mainly consists of beef tripe, beef heart, beef tongue, beef stomach, and beef, which are marinated and then thinly sliced. The dish is served with chili oil, chili powder, and other seasonings, creating a rich, tender, and spicy flavor that is incredibly appetizing.
Kung Pao Chicken (宫保鸡丁)
Kung Pao Chicken is a famous traditional dish both in China and abroad. It’s made by stir-frying diced chicken with peanuts, dried chili, and other seasonings, then seasoned with vinegar and sugar. The result is a flavorful, spicy, and delicious dish that pairs perfectly with rice.
Spicy Rabbit Head (麻辣兔头)
Spicy Rabbit Head is a popular Sichuan specialty snack made from frozen fresh rabbit heads, accompanied by dried chili, spices, and refined oil. When eating, the rabbit head is split in half to reveal the tender meat in the cheeks and tongue, while the jawbone part is consumed as well. The dish includes the eyeballs and the surrounding meat, though some may choose to skip the eyeballs.
Chilled Rabbit (冷吃兔)
Also known as “Spicy and Fragrant Rabbit,” Chilled Rabbit is a traditional Han ethnic delicacy originating from Zigong, Sichuan. It has been enjoyed for over a century. The key to this dish is absolute freshness, as it is stir-fried and served immediately, preserving the best taste and texture of the rabbit meat. The characteristics of this dish include bright color, refreshing and non-greasy texture, a combination of spiciness and sweetness, with firm and chewy meat that leaves a long-lasting aftertaste.
Sichuan Spicy Chicken Skewers (钵钵鸡)
Sichuan Spicy Chicken Skewers is a traditional Sichuan snack that has been passed down since the Qing Dynasty, with a history of over a century. It is served in a ceramic bowl, mixed with primarily spicy seasonings, boneless chicken slices, and various condiments. The dish offers crispy skin, tender meat, and a unique blend of spiciness and fragrance. The chicken slices and accompanying vegetables are skewered with bamboo sticks, dipped in the meticulously prepared sauce, and eaten together.
Twice-Cooked Pork (回锅肉)
Twice-Cooked Pork is a representative home-cooked dish in Sichuan cuisine. The term “twice-cooked” means the pork belly is boiled and then thinly sliced before being stir-fried again. It holds a significant position in Sichuan cuisine and is considered one of the most essential dishes. While it may not be as famous as Mapo Tofu internationally, if you visit Sichuan, not trying Twice-Cooked Pork would be truly regrettable.
Fish-Flavored Shredded Pork (鱼香肉丝)
Fish-Flavored Shredded Pork is a traditional Sichuan dish originating from Chengdu during the Qing Dynasty. It consists of shredded pork, wood ear mushrooms, carrot strips, garlic sprouts, and other ingredients, seasoned with doubanjiang (broad bean paste), chili oil, and Sichuan peppercorn powder, creating a unique and flavorful dish.
Mapo Tofu (麻婆豆腐)
Mapo Tofu is not only a must-try dish in Chengdu but also captures the taste buds of many overseas food enthusiasts. This Sichuan dish is characterized by its numbing, spicy, hot, aromatic, crispy, tender, fresh, and lively flavors. The main ingredient is tofu, complemented with garlic sprouts, minced beef or pork, and seasoned with doubanjiang, chili powder, Sichuan peppercorn powder, soy sauce, and sugar. Despite being a simple home-cooked dish, it has gained international fame and remains a must-eat food for both locals and visitors.
Fried-burnt Crispy Potatos (锅巴土豆)
On the streets of Chengdu, especially in night markets, you can always find vendors selling this street food. It features crunchy and golden guoba (crust) on the outside and piping hot and soft potatoes on the inside. The addition of small hot peppers on top adds to its irresistible allure. This snack is adored by people of all ages, even those on diets can’t resist its deliciousness.
Zhong Dumplings (钟水饺)
Zhong Dumplings are a well-known traditional snack in Chengdu with a history of over a century. These dumplings are made with fresh minced pork without any added vegetables, unlike other dumplings that usually include vegetables to enhance softness. The dumplings are served with a layer of red chili oil on top. When eating, you mix the dumplings with the chili oil, creating a mouthful of dumplings and soup that tastes far beyond your imagination.
Long Chao Shou/Wontons (龙抄手)
Long Chao Shou is a specialty street food of Chengdu known for its tender skin and rich fillings. Whether it’s pork, chicken, or shrimp fillings, you can find them in Long Chao Shou. What sets Long Chao Shou apart is its cooking method – the wontons are boiled and then mixed with various seasonings to enhance their deliciousness.
Dan Dan Noodles (担担面)
Dan Dan Noodles are a widely popular and uniquely flavored snack in Sichuan’s folk culture. It is named after the vendors who carry the noodles on a pole. These noodles have a bright red color and are both fresh and not greasy, with a balanced spiciness that sets them apart as a top-notch Sichuan-style noodle dish. The noodles are smooth, and the main toppings include red chili oil, minced meat, Sichuan preserved vegetables, bean sprouts, Sichuan peppercorn powder, red soy sauce, minced garlic, snow pea shoots, and green onions, creating a delightful combination of flavors, rich with oil and spiciness, making them quite appetizing.
Sweet-Chili Sauced Noodles (甜水面)
In Chengdu, Sichuan Sweet-Chili Sauced Noodles are a traditional noodle dish available throughout the streets and alleys. The fermented noodles are cut into chopstick-thick strands, resulting in a chewier texture compared to regular noodles. When mixed with crunchy peanut pieces and thoroughly stirred, the noodles emit a rich aroma, offering a slightly sweet taste followed by a subtle spiciness that leaves a lasting impression.
Liangfen is a type of street food made primarily from Chinese jellygrass, rice, sweet potatoes, and peas. It is seasoned with soy sauce, vinegar, and chili oil, delivering a refreshing and smooth texture, making it a popular summer delicacy. Chengdu’s Liangfen captivates food enthusiasts with its chili oil – it is vibrant, aromatic, and numbing, leaving a long-lasting aftertaste. When thoroughly mixed with Liangfen, it instantly stimulates your appetite, making you crave for more.
Cold Rice Cake (凉糕)
If you visit Chengdu in the scorching summer, there’s no better match than having a serving of Cold Rice Cake. It is a traditional Chinese street snack known for its delightful taste and soft texture. It is believed to have detoxifying and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as providing heat relief and promoting digestion. Made from rice milk and paired with brown sugar water, more and more women regard Cold Rice Cakes a summer delicacy for its beauty-enhancing and thirst-quenching benefits.
Sugar-oil Fried Glutinous Rice Balls (糖油果子)
Sugar-oil Fried Glutinous Rice Balls is a famous street snack in Chengdu, Sichuan. Its yellow and shiny appearance, crispy outside, and sweet and delicious inside make it a delightful treat. Made from glutinous rice, brown sugar, and sesame seeds, the dough is fried in oil and coated with white sesame seeds using bamboo sticks, forming a string of four or five pieces. Each piece of Sugar-oil Fried Glutinous Rice Balls is round and shiny with a reddish-brown color, exuding a caramel aroma, and covered with fragrant white sesame seeds, providing a crispy yet soft texture with every bite.
Recommended Food Streets in Chengdu
The bustling Chunxi Road is a landmark attraction in Chengdu. Although it houses nearly a hundred restaurants, the most authentic Chengdu cuisine can be found hidden in the old streets behind it. Below are some strongly recommended food streets:
Located behind the University of Electronic Science and Technology, this perennially popular snack street offers a wide variety of delicious treats. From street-side barbecues to elegant Western restaurants and exquisite Japanese cuisine, you can indulge in a culinary fusion from dawn till dusk.
An authentic old street area in Chengdu, this residential quarter allows you to experience the genuine Chengdu flavor. It boasts numerous specialty restaurants, with hotpot restaurants, Japanese cuisine, Sichuan dishes, cafés, and various unique shops lining both sides of the street.
A trendy spot for street photography, Wangping Street is frequented by many fashionable individuals all year round. With an array of stylish and distinctive dining and entertainment options, it provides a fully immersive experience of urban life that is both grounded and trendy. Here, you can enjoy steaming hotpot, delectable Southeast Asian cuisine, and artsy, internet-famous cafés.
Yulin Street consists of five streets and ten alleys, forming a famous food street in Chengdu where you can find everything you desire for eating, drinking, and having fun. Yulin West Road is known for its lively bar scene, while Yulin Middle Road is the oldest hotpot street in Chengdu. Each street is a treasure trove of gastronomic delights.
Located just a few minutes away from Chunxi Road, Sansheng Street is one of the few remaining old streets in the heart of Chengdu. Here, you can savor authentic Chengdu cuisine at long-standing local restaurants offering wontons, bobo chicken, spicy beef tendons, Sichuan dishes, and more, all of which have earned excellent reputation over generations.
Explore Chengdu’s Culinary Delights – From iconic hotpot and delectable Gong Bao Chicken to mouthwatering Ma Po Tofu, Chengdu’s top 20 must-try dishes are sure to captivate your taste buds. Embark on a gastronomic journey through the city’s famous food streets, savoring the flavors of Jianshe Lane, Tangba Street, Wangping, Yulin Street, and Sansheng Street. Immerse yourself in the rich blend of traditional and trendy cuisines, making your Chengdu trip an unforgettable feast of Sichuan delights!