CHENGDU TRAVEL GUIDE FOR FOODIES
FOOD & DRINK YOU MUST TRY IN CHENGDU
You can’t come to Sichuan without trying hotpot, one of the most famous and most popular meals in China. Huǒ-guō (火锅) in Sichuan starts with a broth filled with chili, chili oil, and local peppercorns. This giant bowl of soup is placed in your table and the rest of the meal is up to you. Order a variety of raw meats and vegetables that are cooked in the soup, dipped in your own sauce, and enjoy! We’ve put together an entire guide just to help you navigate the hotpot scene in Chengdu: Guide to Chengdu Hotpot. Or eliminate the hassle and try traditional Sichuan hotpot where the locals eat on our Chengdu Market, Tea and Hotpot Tour.
Food carts are slowly disappearing in Chengdu but, when you find one, more times than not it will be one of these pancakes that are used to wrap a variety of sweet, salty or spicy ingredients and eaten like a taco. The egg-based batter is poured into a small pan and the filling options are easy to point to on the cart. Popular combinations are potato and chili sauce, peanut butter and hawthorne flakes, or pork floss and pickled veggies. We’ve tried literally hundreds of these and found the absolute best, which is included on our Chengdu Evening Tour!
Chengdu is known in China for its laid-back lifestyle. Visit a local park any day of the week and you’ll find hundreds (or thousands) of locals sipping tea and spending time with friends…sometimes over a game of mahjong or cards. This is a legitimately local way to spend an afternoon, watching life go by and maybe even enjoying an ear-cleaning by the roaming vendors that offer to pick your ear wax out for a small fee. Regardless, the tea culture in Chengdu is alive and strong, and not hard to find. Our Chengdu Market, Tea and Hotpot Tour visits a beautiful traditional courtyard for tea and snacks!
Perhaps you’ve heard of Dandan Noodles Dàn-dàn-miàn (担担面), which are spaghetti-sized noodles topped with ground pork and a spicy chili sauce. Another popular local favorite is Sweet Water Noodles Tián-shuǐ-miàn (甜水面), which are thick chewy noodles mixed with a sweet and spicy peanut chili paste. This is our personal favorite and in our opinion one of the tastiest and most unique noodle dishes you’ll find anywhere in China. Luckily for you, we eat both on our Chengdu Evening Tour!
Yes, we know, dumplings are everywhere in China. But what many people don’t realize is how different they are in each region and how proud locals are of their favorites. Dumplings here are often characterized by a delicate soft skin, like a wonton, and a healthy coat of special chili sauce. They are also on our list because the dumplings included on our Chengdu Evening Tour are the best we’ve had in China. Hands down. Period. Maybe it’s because they are handmade in a local community by a family that’s been doing it for generations, or maybe it’s because all 5 varieties are just seriously delicious. Either way, you’ve got to try these.
Fried Spicy Pancakes
Start looking for glass cases filled with these golden discs of fried dough along the sidewalk and you’ll notice they are everywhere. These Jūn-tún-guō-kuí (军屯锅魁) are a spicy dough filled with spicy beef or pork & Sichuan peppercorn and are Chengdu’s most popular snack. Grab one of these at any time of day to carry you over until your next meal.
Fried Sticky-Rice Balls
OK, maybe we lied. These lightly sweet and chewy treats might also be Chengdu’s favorite snack. We can have more than one favorite, right? Imagine chewy donut holes covered in honey and sesame seeds served on a stick. You can find these scattered around the streets of Chengdu, but they often sell out by mid-late afternoon. If there are any left when our Chengdu Evening Tour starts, we’ll grab the last batch of the day for you to try!
Baked Bread Pockets
Yet another doughy treat, these freshly baked pockets of bread are served one of two ways. The first, Sān-sī-guō-kuī (三丝锅盔), is filled with a sweet brown sugar syrup and baked until it oozes out of every bite. The second, Hóng-táng-guō-kuí (红糖锅魁), is like a sandwich that is filled with a variety of options that you can choose from the stall. We can never decide which one we like best, so we recommend getting both!
Chengdu’s location makes it the largest city in what’s considered the wild west of China. However, roughly 25% of China’s landmass is still further West which brings those people to Chengdu for holiday, shopping and work. A sort of “Little Tibet” has formed in one area of city and is filled with cool Tibetan shops and restaurants. If you aren’t going to Tibet during your trip, it’s definitely worth a stroll through this neighborhood.
Silky chunks of tofu served in a large bowl filled to the brim with a crazy spicy chili sauce and ground pork. We don’t know if we need to say more! Má-pó-dòu-fu (麻婆豆腐) is a staple at every traditional Sichuan restaurant, and a must-try when visiting Chengdu. You’ll try it on our Chengdu Evening Tour.
Twice Cooked Pork
This is China’s answer for bacon lovers, and you won’t be disappointed. Thinly cut slices of pork belly are first boiled until tender and juicy. They are then fried with chili oil and garlic sprouts. As one of Chengdu’s (and China’s) most popular dishes, Huí-guō-ròu (回锅肉) can’t be missed and is also included in our Chengdu Evening Tour.
Toasted Rice with Stew
This classic dish starts with crispy rice crackers that are covered with a thick, sour soup filled with pork and veggies. Good restaurants will bring the crackers out first and pour the stew over them in front of you, so it’s fun for the eyes and the belly. You can find this dish at a restaurant in our Chengdu Restaurant Guide.
OUR FAVORITE RESTAURANTS IN CHENGDU
Pan Can Shi (盘飧市)
One of the best spots in the city to get some of the most traditional Sichuan dishes, this place has been going for decades and is often frequented by aging locals. Located on a busy local street behind the CBD’s most fancy shops, their stylish restaurant offers a huge menu with photos, and their sister store outside specializes in authentic marinated meats. All ingredients are fresh the same day, which is proven by the queue it often draws from locals. Menu includes photos and English translations. Click Here for more info.
Sichuan Dazhaimen Hotpot
Test your love for chili at this classic Sichuan hotpot joint. This place stands the test of time, which in China means you are King. They have been going strong for over a dozen years and seem to get more popular every year due to their excellent flavor and quality. Make sure you get their Brown Sugar Cakes to ease the chili pain! Click Here for more info.
Xiao Tan Douhua (小谭豆花)
It’s not uncommon for us to rock up to this noodle house and order 6-8 different dishes for 2 people…there are just too many excellent options to choose from! Dumplings, Dandan Noodles, Sweet Water Noodles, Silky Tofu, the list goes on and you can’t go wrong. Order at the counter and select what looks good by pointing at the wall of photos behind the counter. Go crazy, we won’t tell! Click Here for more info.
THINGS YOU MUST DO IN CHENGDU
Join a Lost Plate Tour!
You have probably already have signed up for one of our Chengdu Food Tours, but if you haven’t you should. Don’t take our word for it, we’ve had thousands of happy customers choose us because our private tuktuks will get you off the beaten path to eat the best food in the city, not just one street. The food we’ve chosen for you is out of this world, so let us take you around town for an evening without worrying about where to go or what to order. We are local insiders who grew up in Chengdu and know all about the food and the families who make it. Discounts are available if you book more than one tour with us around China!
See the Pandas
Wild pandas are only found in the mountain ranges of three Chinese provinces with Sichuan having the largest population. The Panda Research Base, just a few miles from the center of Chengdu, is a 92 acre facility designed to imitate to the natural habitat of the Giant Panda. It’s basically a huge, beautiful zoo just for pandas! They are most active in the morning when getting fed, and you can easily spend a few hours strolling through the bamboo shaded paths that wind through the park with plenty of panda viewing opportunities.
One of the most ancient games in the world is still played by millions of people every day in China, and Sichuanese have arguably made this game part of their daily life more than anyone else. The rules aren’t too complex once you get the hang of it. One of the best ways to spend an afternoon in Chengdu is to head down to People’s Park with three friends to play mahjong and sip tea, just like the locals do!
Visit Leshan’s Giant Buddha
The giant Buddha in the nearby town of Leshan was carved into a cliff-face over 1000 years ago and at 71 meters tall is the world’s largest stone Buddha. Sitting at the confluence of three major rivers, it was initiated by a monk to control the “bad spirits” that were thought to have haunted the area causing many boat and water accidents. Today you can visit by boat to get a view from the river, or by foot by starting at the Buddha’s head and climbing down the exposed staircase all the way to her feet.
Go to the Mountains
Chengdu sits in a basin surrounded by mountains that make up the foothills of the Himalayas. The further you go, the higher they get and there are some pretty impressive views to be seen. The most popular mountains to conquer are Emei Mountain and Qingcheng Mountain. Emei (3079 meters) is more popular with tourists due to its religious significance as it is known as the birthplace of Buddhism in the Yangtze Valley. Sightseeing busses and cable cars are available all over the mountain and its temples, and the area is absolutely stunning. Equally beautiful and somewhat less busy, Qingcheng Mountain (1296 meters) is also covered with ancient temples, caves and beautiful scenery.
Stroll Through an Antique Market
Escape the skyscrapers and malls and wander along the banks of a river to see what treasures can be found this week. The Chengdu Antique Market is a long stretch of vendors selling anything from jewelry to old propaganda books & posters to handmade paintings. Although not everything here may actually be an antique, we always have a good time seeing what we can find and it’s a great place to grab some unique souvenirs for friends back home. If you decide to buy, don’t forget to bargain!
You can’t go far in Chengdu without running into an open green space. Wander around long enough and you’re guaranteed to walk through dozens of them. In almost every large park you will find tea houses that offer different varieties of tea along with Mahjong tiles or playing cards. Be sure to check out People’s Park for excellent people watching all times of day, Huanhuaxi Park that has its own Thatched Cottage, and Culture Park. Additionally, paved tree-lined pathways that often turn into parks can be found along all of Chengdu’s rivers and canals that weave their way around the city.
Wind Your Way Through the Narrow Wide Alleys
We normally don’t like to recommend popular tourist attractions, but this is one exception. Get a glimpse at what ancient Chengdu was like in this renovated area of the city that has existed since the Qing Dynasty. Three parallel alleys are ready for you to explore and offer loads of different shops, street foods and over 40 different courtyards filled with beautiful restaurants, cafes and bars. It’s a good idea to combine some time here with nearby People’s Park and our Chengdu Market, Tea and Hotpot Tour which meets nearby.
Shop till you Drop
You can shop anywhere in China, but Chengdu’s shopping scene is quite unique and convenient. Start in the pedestrian lanes of Chunxi Road to scour local and international brands. Then head to bordering IFS Mall to window shop for luxury brands, ice skate, or indulge in the Singapore-style food court. Don’t forget to check out their outdoor courtyard and sculpture garden with up close views of the giant panda climbing up the side of the building! Right next door you’ll find Tai-koo-li, a brand new and super hip outdoor mall complete with many familiar brands, international restaurants & bars, and one of the nicest Starbucks we’ve ever seen. Make sure you head downstairs to check out the gigantic bookstore and an upscale cinema.
WHERE TO STAY IN CHENGDU
The Temple House
Everything about this boutique hotel screams luxury and convenience, all while boasting one of the most traditionally beautiful grounds we’ve seen for a hotel anywhere. Built as part of Chengdu’s Tai-koo-li hip shopping district in the heart of Chengdu, the hotel also offers 3 authentic restaurants and a classic Chinese teahouse. Plus great views of the city can be seen from every room. Click Here for more info.
Buddha Zen Hotel
This is one of the most popular places to stay for our guests in Chengdu. Located in a redeveloped traditional courtyard area near the Wenshu Monastery, the hotel has beautiful architecture and will leave you romanticizing about what life was like as an emperor in ancient times. While its location is within minutes walk to the monastery, and one of our favorite noodle joints, it is a subway/taxi ride away from the downtown area. It also means it’s a bit more quiet than the bustling city center. Click Here for more info.
This is one of four properties locally run by Mix Hotels, each specializing in a range of rooms for the budget to mid-range traveler including private ensuite rooms. Their newest property, Lazybones Poshpacker, is reminiscent of a hip and trendy guesthouse and is located near the Wenshu Monestary. Their Flip Flop location is steps away from Chengdu’s Chunxi Road pedestrian shopping area. Click Here for more info.
TIPS FOR CHENGDU
Prep for your Food Tour
Plan for the basics: arrive hungry, dress for the weather, and don’t bring any large bags/purses to ensure a comfortable ride with less hassle. Read our full FAQ Page for more insider info and tips!
China Travel Tips
Our co-founder is a foreigner in China, and over the years he has learned a lot about what makes traveling in China different than anywhere else. Click Here to read our complete guide and tips for traveling in China.
Questions? Ask Us!
All of our guides are locals from Chengdu, which means we have a ton of insider information to share. We’re happy to help our customers with any questions you have, even if it’s not about food. Get started by taking a look at some of our Chengdu Guide’s Recommendations, or feel free to contact us at any time.
LAY OF THE LAND
The city surprises many due to its cosmopolitan center and unique culture that the locals embrace. These are both thanks to the isolation that has occurred in Chengdu’s history, primarily due to its location. As one of only the three major cities in the West part of China, Chengdu has offices from over half of all Fortune 500 companies, has an airport that ranks one of the 30 busiest in the world, and has 12 different embassies or consulates. Chengdu’s location has also allowed a noticeably more chilled and alternative culture because of its distanced location compared to other major Chinese cities. People here strongly emphasize a favorable work-life balance, including lots of tea breaks, and an open mind with respect toward everyone.
You may not notice due to the “haze,” but the mountains just miles outside of Chengdu reach all the way into Tibet and boast some of the highest peaks in China and the world. The terrain has segregated different cultures for hundreds of years and makes Sichuan not only stunning, but an incredibly interesting place to explore. Head North/Northwest and you’ll find Tibetans before you enter Tibet. Head South/Southwest and you’ll find a variety of minority groups from village to village as you approach Yunnan province. Head East to another major cosmopolitan center of Chongqing and the famous convergence of the Jialing and Yangtze Rivers. Of course this land of abundance is also know for its spice ever since the first chilies were delivered to the province a few hundred years ago, but before that it was home to many other flavors that you’ll discover on our Chengdu Food Tours!
Climate & Weather
Chengdu lies in the middle of a large basin surrounded by hills and mountains. While this does create some beautiful views on a clear day, it also means there aren’t many clear days. Clouds and humid air are often trapped in the basin which creates mild winters with temperatures rarely dropping below zero. It also means warm and humid summers, but not crazy hot. The most important factor is the humidity which can make the cold feel colder and hot feel warmer. Rainfall is common all year long, but occurs most frequently in the summer months.