Thanksgiving in Chengdu, Sichuan

We’re spending the holiday in Chengdu, China. Thanksgiving lunch at Chen Mapo Tofu Restaurant. No turkey on the menu.

Specialty here is Mapo Tofu. No surprise. Well run clean efficient restaurant. Staff not English speaking, but friendly. I understand there is a picture menu available upon request.

Large pitcher of hot Chrysanthemums tea preset on every table. Much appreciated and needed. We chugged 3 pitchers to “complement” our meal.

The signature Mapo Tofu. Well crafted, not mind numbingly mala. Though even my rice-adverse wife asked to share some of MY plain white rice. Noticed more than a couple of single local women diners enjoying just Mapo Tofu, Rice and tea. Nice simple lunch.

Of course, simple is not in my partner’s vocabulary. More than a couple of the food runners commented that we (she) ordered too much food. From years of training, I wisely kept my damn opinions to myself.

Guqi Fei Pian. Husband and Wife Beef in Chile. I’m fairly certain the meat was tendon. I would have preferred tongue, next time. Delicious nevertheless, way more than we needed.

Pan fried Cauliflower with sliced Twice Cooked Pork. Cute presentation in wok on tea candle. Loved the semi crispy pork.

Dan Dan Mien. Nice, not life changing. Kinda doughy, may be because handmade?

Stir fried Cabbage and Rice Vermicelli. Good smoky wok hei.

Kung Pao Chicken. Succulent tender chicken, crunchy peanuts with flavor far better than we get back home. Not as spicy :hot_pepper: as the plate of red Chiles might suggest.

All in all, perfect first sit down at an off the street restaurant. We both agreed that we wouldn’t go out of our way to return. However, If we were in the vicinity and hungry, would happily revisit.


Beautiful pictures!

Thanks! Are you familiar with Chengdu at all?

First time for us. I’ve had some of the specialties once or thrice, but looking forward to getting more up and personal with the cuisine.

Folks here are quite mellow and easy going. Makes for an enjoyable stay.

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Not at all! Although I marvelled at Fuchsia Dunlop’s experiences there as chronicled in her book, “Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper”. I’m not really a fan of the “ma-la” characteristic of Sichuan cuisine (purely personal), preferring the gentler Huaiyang and Cantonese cuisines.

But i do look forward to more of your experiences there. I’d want to visit Chengdu one day soon.

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Lady selling this fruit on the street. Any idea what it is? If good, we’ll pick up up a bag on way back.


The one place in China I want to return just to eat! Been there 3 times. Unfortunately, in 2006/07/08 we didn’t know much. Ate mostly on street and at places that were busy. No google stranlate app then, saw no tourists in 2006. Things must have changed a lot since.

I did eat Ma Po at Chen. We were early and had the whole place to ourselves. Thing with China is, no matter how fancy the restaurants they never get the toilet situation right.

You can’t possibly have a bad meal in Chengdu, I think.


Our first stop of this trip was at a typical local stand, helmed by a lovely friendly couple. Their humble presentation of two local favorites proved to be irresistible for our very first bites in Chengdu.

Pork Bites were battered and deep fried to our order. What should have been simple fried pork turned out to be a crispy juicy morsel with the touch of spicy mala with a light dusting of cumin.

I’d only experienced Guo Kui through YouTube videos. These delicious meat filled dough pucks are an ubiquitous food here. One taste and instantly knew why.

Huarache (Mexican sandal) shaped dough is filled with meat and spices. The flat dough strip then rolled into a cylinder and then flattened from the top.

The disk is then fried. The end result is croissant-esque, with many distinct layers. Even this naan like creation has the signature regional mala tingle. With the meat filling, the flavors are simple yet complex.

No wonder this is a breakfast staple here, that seems to be also enjoyed all day. In France, dw must have a crepe every morning. Seems she has found another must have. :wink:


Looked real yummy!
Reminds me somewhat of Indian griddle-fried roti bom (pictured below) which we get here in Malaysia/Singapore. I surmise that the bread was introduced to China by the Central Asians (Uighurs, Uzbeks), same as they did to India.


Are the Roti Bom spicy also?

We are actually surprised at the lack of tourists here. We are staying in the central walking district, yet have only seen a couple of non-Chinese each day. No Japanese, Koreans, etc

I suspect the food culture had changed a bit since your visit. Not many street carts and stalls, per se. lots and lots of restaurants, most with close to western standards of sanitation and service.

We did notice the greater variety of foods offered here. Not as homogenized as some of the other China cities we’d recently visited. Ie, you don’t walk pass 20 shops in a row selling the same thing with no variation.

Happy to advise that Chen WC’s have regular toilets, at least in the men’s room. Many department stores sprinkled throughout, with clean facilities. Most even provide tissue and hand towels!!!


No, the breads themselves are plain, like paratha, but will be served with a spicy curry or, more commonly, dhal. In Kuala Lumpur, a dollop of spicy red chili relish or “sambal” will be added besides the dhal.

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Sad that street carts are disappearing. There were so many back in the day and even just walking round checking them out was one of the highlights of visiting Chengdu. On the second return we went looking for the same simple place where we had Dan Dan Mian in 2006 but couldn’t find it. Turned out they had bulldozed the whole neighbourhood! Everything was gone and replaced with new roads and buildings. Completely unrecognisable in the course of 2 years.

Ma Po tofu and tea smoked duck at Chen: open gif

I would go back to Chengdu on the next flight if they scrap visa hassles and customs clearance hassles! These days I shun most countries like this.

Don’t miss the tea experience at the most popular temple in town (I think it’s Wenshu temple but I’m not sure). I ate a vegetarian meal there every time. It’s probably too cold to be sitting outside for tea now. Eating is inside, the restaurant is separate from the tea garden. There’s a middle-aged man who cleans ears in the tea garden. Finally, in 2008, we both got ours cleaned. It was terrifying to have something sharp near your ear drum!

(Re toilet situation, much of Asia can’t seem to get the plumbing right.)


My ideal meal is simple. A whole fish, some chicken, vegetable and rice. Enjoyed this exact meal last night.

Poached Chicken. Since we are in Sichuan, bird’s Eye Chiles with a sprig of green Sichuan Peppercorns as garnish.

Steamed Barramundi with a bit of peppercorn paste. Baby Bok Choy a nice touch.

DW claims the Baby Napa Cabbage is special to the region, so had it again with Pork slices.

Choy Sum Soy Sauce. Small bowl of Westlake Soup. Maximum comfort food.

We arrived late, a few minutes before closing (9pm???) and they graciously invited us in. Will definitely return to explore the more interesting items in their menu when we can take more time.


Coincidentally, this essay showed up in the NYT. (Might be behind a paywall.)


Answering my own question. These neon fluorescent colored fruit turned out to be some kind if processed candied plum.

A bit crunchy, very sweet, almost like candy. Not particularly pricey, but definitely not cheap. We asked our room attendant what they were and gave her a bunch. She confirmed they were a candied plum and not very good for health.

Oh well. These really catches one’s eye. So bright and pretty.


Probably because the fruit was cured using some dodgy chemical. Do be careful!

Having fun going through old photos. Chengdu was the first place in China I visited. I had wanted to do a Tran-Sib train trip to or end in Peking but the visa hassle for the countries I would be travelling through put me off. Dunlop’s first book brought me to Chengdu, and from there I moved on to Tibet where I stayed for 12 wonderful, albeit cold, days.

My first dinner in Chengdu. It was across the street from my guesthouse, in a residential area. The grand total was 10 yuan. We ate it on the pavement in near total darkness. I still remember how much we enjoyed the meal and the kind family who ran the “restaurant”. It was so dark I couldn’t even see what other people were eating (usually I would walk up to them and look). The owner made an enthusiastic gesture pointing at a dark room and I followed him inside. It was also nearly completely dark like outside. I took 2 photos with flash, that’s the only way I could see the tiny room. I picked out some vegs in this darkness and the cook made us a meal. When we paid, my jaw dropped.

10 yuan dinner for 2 of us. (I had to brighten the photos to the max, you can see the grains clearly. The original photos are black).

My street. I ate the meal above on the pavement to my left, and my guesthouse is directly to my right. Last pic is an example of the good and relaxed life seen every day in the neighbourhood of my lodging.

You’ll probably recognise this busy intersection. At peak hours you don’t see the asphalt. Also 2 pics of tea house’s garden. The ear cleaner saw me! (Click to see photos)

I never saw the sun (with a brief reprieve in Tibet but it was already too late. See next sentence). I was very sick from the pollution it was terrible. Only got sicker with every trip, my doctor freaked out saying I could have died. Indeed I could have, from the pollution. Had a few close calls on the first and second trip. Jealous of people who are not affected by bad air quality!


@Presunto, it’s inspirational folks like you and @klyeoh that has us reaching for different experiences and insights.

For breakfast this morning, we had the best beef bun in this short first trip. Super beefy, and baked in a tandoor like oven.

Lunch at a quintessential Hole in the Wall. Lady sticking her lunch table as we walked by. Picked 6 delicious items, 2x rice and a 500ml local beer. USD$7.50.

Dinner splurge at a AYCE seafood place. Fantastic!! Will post about it later.

All You Can Eat. All You Can Drink. Three hours limit. Mind blown.


Wow. Thank you for documenting your culinary journey in SiChuan in words and pictures in such loving detail. This is making me seriously hungry!

I lived for a year in ChangSha, the capital of HuNan Province. We took a week’s vacation in ChengDu, and I so fell in love with the food scene there that I planned an extra week’s travel there during the New Year break, just to eat there. I had a number of magnificent meals there, but my favorite thing might have been eating SiChuan hot pot. You paid by the stake of raw ingredients, picked out what you wanted, bought a beer, plunged the stakes into a cauldron of bubbling broth, filled with chili sauce, Sichuan peppercorns, and any number of other wonderful spices, and people watched while sipping your beer as the food cooked. Sadly, I have no photographs that survive of eating hotpot there (and the experience at least in Boston hasn’t been the same).

For those who don’t know, the story goes that there was a pockmarked grandmother who ran a food pushcart. She was running out of beef, and decided to stretch it out by burying it in piles of bean curd in a spicy ma-la sauce. The dish was such a colossal hit that she was able to trade in the pushcart for a bricks-and-mortar restaurant. Signs in the restaurant claim that Chen MaPo DouFu is the chain directly descended from the original pockmarked grandmother’s stand. I went there with very little previous experience in SiChuan food, and even having had my tongue burned off repeatedly in HuNan, I was still blown away by the heat and the numbing there. Though the balance got me to a nirvana-like state, that I have been chasing for two decades since.