In October legendary chef writer and tv personality Anthony Bourdain brought his award winning CNN show to Chengdu to show off the amazing food this city has to offer. Accompanied by his friend, 3 star Michelin chef Eric Ripert, they sweat and cursed and reveled in the spice and in doing so shed light on a number of local restaurants.
So where exactly did they go and are those places any good? We sent our food correspondent and local food expert, Jordan Porter from Chengdu Food Tours, out on the street to sample the 5 main places he went in the city. He weighs in on if these places are any good and whether or not you should check them out as well:
小名堂担担甜水面 80 Hong Xing Road, Section 2
Tony and Eric’s first stop was a small ‘famous snacks’ shop that takes its name from two of Chengdu’s most famous noodles dishes. Dan Dan Tian Shui Mian is a a mini-chain with 7 locations around the city and they do a decent job of serving up a variety of classic Chengdu noodley snacks in small ‘sample a handful’ portions. Popular with domestic tourists as well as locals it’s a good place to get your snack on and familiarize yourself with the local noodle repertoire, but not a MUST got to for any of the dishes in particular.
The Tian Shui (sweet water) noodles are sweet and peanuty like they were made by Reese’s, and while delicious, they lack the depth and complexity of say Zhang Lao Er (which is the place to go for Tian Shui Mian).
Verdict: Great place to sample a series of snacks, and get to know the lay of the land.
天添饭店, 16 Yulin Street East
In his ‘quest to set Eric’s perfect hair on fire’ Tony enlists the help of the man who runs the Sichuan Cuisine museum (whose name he can’t pronounce) who takes them to Tian Tian – a classic fly restaurant in Yulin, which has been around for many years and seems to make a series of local lists by default. Tian Tian is good but not great – they do a perfectly fine version of most of the classic family style dishes, but the gold table clothes, and purple seat covers make it feel like a farmer dressed up for a ball.
Most of all, it’s just not that spicy – the pickled chicken feet and the chicken in chilis hit lower on the spice meter than dijon mustard. Come one Eric, you got ham it up for TV I know, but still. All in all its too many things trying to be something they’re not.
Verdict: It’s decent family style, with a large selection and all the classics, but not any better than your favorite neighborhood spot.
重庆两路口老火锅 12 Ni Jia Qiao Road
Discussion about the best pot pot can be a divisive thing, and given there are thousands of hot pots in Chengdu a consensus is rarely reached. But it’s safe to say on the scale from bad to good, Liang LuKou is good hot pot. It is known as well for being spicy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the local musicians who took them there asked for an extra spicy pot. So their sweating is justified here.
Liang Lukou has a good bustling atmosphere, decent décor, huge portions and very reasonable prices. I eat there myself from time to time, but as with any popular hot pot in the city be prepared to wait in line for a bit before you dine.
Verdict: If you’re into hot pot, and you’re into spice or punishing your friends, it’s definitely worth a go.
Sheng Jiao Beef Noodles
生椒牛肉面 QunZhong Lu Market
In one of the most candid and ‘classic Tony’ scenes of the show Bourdain grabs a beer and pulls up a stool outside the ShanJiao Beef Noodle shop, located behind the vegetable market down the street from the music conservatory.
As it is meant to be, this is just a typical local spicy noodle shop, and he slurps them down with it. And this place is just that – a typical local noodle shop. It serves its role, and is the backdrop to one of the better scenes of the show, but it’s not winning any awards.
Verdict: They do a good job of making those spicy Chengdu street noodles Bourdain loves. Would I travel across town for it? No
玉芝兰 24 Chang Fa Street
Served kaiseiki style (dozens of mini courses) it is a culinary revelation and a unique dining experience that is relatively new to Chengdu. But at 800RMB a head, it comes with a hefty price tag as well and not everyone is prepared to pull out that kind of cash for a meal in Chengdu, when you can get a pretty amazing feast for a tenth of the price. That being said, Yuzhilan’s food is on another level, and if that intrigues you it’s not that expensive by international standards. His execution is exquisite, and flavors aside, the presentation and design of the restaurant are worth experiencing on their own.
Verdict: It depends on the value you place on food, but if fine-dining is your thing it’s a wonderful and unqiue experience that sets a new standard for both SIchuan and Chinese food.
To check out my full review of the show, and hear what I really thought about their coverage of our beloved city, click here.
About Jordan Porter
Founder of Chengdu Food Tours and Sichuan’s leading expert on local food and is a regular contributor to Chengdu-Expat.com
To discover more about food in Sichuan and learn more about Chengdu Food Tours please contact [email protected] or visit www.ChengduFoodTours.com