The best ways to beat the cold in Chengdu with food:
Winter is here, and the season brings with it a number of particular (and amazing) dishes. Traditional Chinese Medicine is also largely focused on heat and coolness in the body and everything you eat influences this – so there’s a methodol to why some things are better for the season as well. Here’s our list of the best seasonal foods and ways to boost your body temp. But all justifications aside these are the things that keep us looking forward to winter in Chendgu all year round
Sausages and Smoked Meat 香肠，腊肉
Rows of sausages and smoked pork bellies hanging from balconies, trees, and clotheslines are the sign that winter is here in Sichuan. The temperature makes it the appropriate time to hang meat outside to dry and cure, but the timing works perfectly so the meats are ready for the Chinese New Year feast. But, celebrations aside, these spicy, salty, smoked meats are huge in flavor and would be at home on any smoked meat platter or charcuterie board around the world. Most families make their own, but butchers’ stalls throughout the city’s markets are lined with rows and rows of sausages and various meats for those who don’t make their own, or who can’t smoke them (due to urban bylaws). Make no mistake though, even if they’re made by the butcher, they are hung at each home. Don’t forget to check out our how to guide if you want to make your own Sichuan smoked meat.
Lamb/Goat Soup 羊肉汤
If there is anything other than sausages that signals the turning of the seasons it’s the lamb or goat soup places that seem to come out of nowhere. Lamb is considered the ‘king of the warming meats’ in Chengdu and, as soon as the cool weather hits, lamb and goat (same word in Chinese) show up at butcher shops around the city, and their fresh carcasses are proudly displayed outside the lamb soup spots. They cook the rich, milky soup in giant pots with the entire lamb. You order lamb meat or lamb innards (stomach, tongue, intestines, tendons) by the pound which are then served in the soup. Some places serve it hot-pot style where the soup simmers in the middle of your table while others serve it all prepared and piping hot in a large soup bowl. Each person gets their own dipping sauce of chilis, green onions and fermented tofu（ 豆腐乳） which is also a winter specialty. Veggies can be added to the hot pot style ones as well. While lamb soup places spring up across the city, with high concentrations being near the SanGuanTang and XiaoGuanMiao areas, locals and purists all know to find the best you have to go to JianYang – about 40KM South-East of Chengdu. The soup is eaten traditionally on the Winter Solstice in Chengdu and one bite will show you why!
Leshan Beef Soup 跷脚牛肉
QiaoJiao Beef Soup, made famous in Leshan but available across Chengdu, is a perfect winter food. The beautiful, savory beef stock is served in similar fashion to the lamb soup but decidedly lighter and more approachable in taste. Aside from hot pot style, the beef stock can also be ordered bowl by bowl with any part of the cow you should choose – though the thinly sliced beef remains a favorite. Seasonal veggies such as pea shoots or celtuce leaves can also be ordered by the bowl and served in the soup. This is a regional dish but the universality of a good beef soup makes it almost a form of comfort food for the western palate as well. Leshan Beef places also serve up beef in other fashions including steamed (粉蒸牛肉）. Beef is also a warming meat, so enjoy it in soup or not!
Boiled Beer 煮啤酒
Maybe you just want to have a beer, but it doesn’t seem to suit the winter weather… never fear, hot beer is here AND it’s filled with medicine! A local winter specialty, boiled beer comes across more like a mulled beer, spicy and sweet and only slightly boozey. It is usually made by the jug by boiling local lite beer, ginger, rock sugar, goji berries, red dates and a fermented rice porrdige (also around 2-3% alcohol) known as laozao (醪糟). The result is tangy, warm and surprisingly delicious and even better its good for you (because of the ginger and goji right?). Anyone whose spent time here in the winter has been warned away from consuming cold liquids when its cold out, but that should never stop you from having a beer. Look for boiled beer to be served at roast fish, dry pot and chuan chuan places throughout the colder months.
Tibetan Yak Pie 牦牛肉饼
If you’ve had enough of soups and spices and just want something rich, meaty and bready, head over to the Tibetan Quarter and get yourself a Yak Pie. Flaky pastry wrapped around fatty yak meat and served hot, it hits home in a way most Sichuan food can’t. It’s a simple dish, but done well it’s a perfect hearty, warming winter snack. And while you’re at it why not get a pot of yak butter tea to wash it down?
Surou – Deep Fried Fatty Pork 酥肉
SuRou doesn’t so much warm you up as it just tastes damn good and is most available through the winter, and as part of local New Years feasts. Fatty pork is spiced, then deep fried in rapeseed oil – you could say it’s the Sichuanese version of pork rinds. It can be eaten straight as a snack and is commonly served alongside hot pot, or in soup… both of which keep you warm enough as is. Its spicy, deep-fried, delicious, and let’s be honest, probably not that good for you, so let’s say “enjoy in moderation.” SuRou shows up in greater prominence in the winter but truth be told it tastes pretty good all year round.
DouHua – Soft Fresh Tofu 豆花
DouHua is a fresh made un-pressed soft tofu, served hot out of the wok. Usually freshly ground soy bean ‘juice’ is mixed with a congealing agent and some salt and boiled until it starts to firm. It is served with douban (fermented bean paste) or chili sauce. It’s soft and warm and light, like the pillow you lay your head on to sleep away the winter. It’s often served in its own ‘soup’ and is a superbly healthy winter warmup for any meal.
*Fire Wood Chicken is also pretty amazing for the winter, but alas, I can’t write about it in every list I make.
Let us know what you’re favorite winter warming dish is, or check out anyone of these on a city food tour!