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What Brian Ate In… Chengdu, China

Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan, a province known for it’s spicy food and strong flavors. But it’s not just spicy food that caught my attention; a number of unique delicacies were on display through the streets and alleyways of this city that has some unique charm if you take the time to find it. Here are some of the most memorable dishes I ate while I was there.

1. Huo Guo, hotpot

Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way first. Hotpot consists of a large boiling pot of soup (generally very spicy) served with an array of raw meats and vegetables. You then proceed to cook the raw ingredients in the boiling soup and dip it in a sauce that you have concocted with some provided ingredients. It sounds simple, but a good hotpot has a very intense flavor, which after an hour or two will make a guy like me sweat and have a burning mouth. One thing I noticed is that the spice in Sichuan doesn’t only give a traditional burn, but the hua jiang (flower pepper) also has a numbing effect on your tongue. Locals believe that since Chengdu is a humid place, they need spicy hotpot to sweat and get the humidity out of the body. It also provides a way for family and friends to enjoy a bustling and exciting meal together.

I tried a few hotpots when visiting Chengdu, but the best was by far a place in the University district called Ba Shu Da Zhai Men. You can see from the pic that they don’t go easy on peppers so make sure you order plenty of cold coconut milk to calm the mouth.

2. Rabbit Head

Yep, that’s a rabbit head. Stew that puppy in some spicy sauce for a while, split it half, and eat whatever meat is left. The cheek meat is fairly normal and actually quite nice. However, scooping out the brain with your finger and then eating it feels a bit more barbaric. The best part is that you get a great anatomy lesson in how a jaw works if you’re not too embarrassed to play with your food when after you are finished.

3. Pig Brain

Staying on track with some more weird eats, pig brain is also a common dish here. There isn’t really much to say about it; it’s a brain in a bowl served with spicy sauce and some fresh seasonings. It didn’t actually taste bad at all, but the fact that it looks like a brain and it’s texture is, well, brain-like make it a little difficult to swallow.

4. Mao Cai with Fen, Mini Hotpot with Rice Noodles

Mao Cai is what I call a small noodle dish, but if I said that to a local I would get yelled out while they then try to explain that Fen isn’t noodles at all but can’t explain why in a way that convinces me to understand. Fen are basically rice noodles, and they are delicious and also luckily found in many local dishes. Mao Cai is a dish that takes a number of chosen ingredients and cooked together with a spicy sauce over fen. Essentially it’s a mini version of hotpot with more convenience and all the punch.

5. Street Snacks

The best part about traveling is exploring a city by the food that you find on the street. Chengdu is certainly no exception. I can’t even tell you everything I tried, so the point here is to just go and try everything you can!

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