Chengdu is famous for three things in the realm of cuisine, and are probably my three favorite Chinese foods. The first is the style: Sichuan. Hot and spicy, and I’ve already discussed the cooking class that was offered from my hostel. The second is hot pot: a large pot of hot broth, filled with Sichuan noodles, for cooking of individually ordered meats, vegetables, and other food. The third is “snack” menus: an inexpensive and horribly under described mainstay of the culture.
While in Chengdu, if the topic of food is brought up with a local, the three previous items will be discussed vehemently by all locals. The conversation will include a few “you must order from a snack menu” along the way. Not you should, you must. So being a good foodie, I found my way into a restaurant that had a snack menu.
From my original comprehension of snack menus, I thought of something of similar extent to Spanish tapas: small plates of snacks used to sample a little of a lot of foods. The problem I ran into? The menu was in Chinese for prix fix menu, which cost 20, 28, and 32 yuan respectively. Just going with the flow, I opted for the 32 yuan menu and waited for my food.
First, 7 plates came out.
Then, 6 more.
Finally, 4 more on top of that.
17 plates of food. One person. The mind was boggled at this point, because 32 yuan translates into roughly $4.71 US, cheaper than almost every meal I’ve had at a fancy sit down restaurant in China. Not to mention the fact that there were 17 small sized plates sitting in front of me.
At this point there was no going back, so it was best to sample them all. The food ranged from normal looking (gyoza in hot chili sauce) to abysmal (sweet and savory bean paste, deep fried sardines). But like most things in China, the things that looked normal (noodles topped with peanuts) turned out to be the most foul, while the deep fried fish and previously chewed looking bean paste were quite tasty.
All things said, I failed at eating the entire 17 plates of food. My rough count was 8 entirely consumed, 5 half consumed, and 4 discarded after one bite. Those that were done well include any of the meat based dishes (pork on bone, sliced beef, gyoza, bean paste, and veggie based dishes). So-so dishes were entirely of the wonton in soup variety, which are really only mediocre due to the fact that there is hardly any flavor. The abysmal dishes included the previously mentioned firm noodles without sauce and all of the fried treats that were brought out as “dessert” for comparable lack of flavor.
Will we be recreating the entire 17 tray ensemble at home? Heck no, but the gyoza in Sichuan chili sauce was a clear winner as well as most of the meat based dishes primarily because of the common Sichuan sauce as well. Those flavors will most certainly come into normal rotation in the future.