Hint: It’s not the Buddha
People from all over China and the World travel to Leshan to take in the Big Buddha, and yeah it’s pretty cool. But this is why people from Chengdu go to Leshan, and the real reason you should too: the food.
I’m not saying you have to skip the buddha altogether, it’s pretty neat. And there’s a cute/convenient story about how the Buddha was built to oversee the safe passage of boats through the turbulent waters where 3 rivers collide. So much stone was carved off the cliff and fell into the river that they actually did (incidentally?) create a channel where boats could pass more safely.
There’s also the not so cute/convenient story about the monk, Hai Tong, who oversaw the project. He said he’d rather carve his eyes out than take money form local gangsters who were strong-arming him. Long story short, he carved his own eyes out and never got to see the final product of his life’s work
But really, the food is worth the trip alone. Leshan is an ancient Sichuanese city and has a largely ‘pre-chili pepper’ cuisine, focused primarily on beef. Dare I say it? It’s better to go for lunch and miss the Buddha park (and the lines, and tour groups etc.) than vice versa.
Where’s the beef?
QiaoJiao Beef is the chief representative of Leshan food. It is a rich, yet delicate savory slow cooked beef broth, made from pretty much all parts of the cow. You order by the bowl, and the cut of beef – from tripe, to tendon, to stomach, to tongue – or seasonal greens and they are served in the hot broth with a not-so-optional crushed chili dipping spice on the side. If you are in-it-to-win-it, you can also order up a big pot of the broth, hot pot style, and cook your own selections inside.
Small pieces or beef are coated in ground rice and spices, then steamed in little bamboo baskets. Uber-tender, they are covered in garlic and cilantro and crushed Sichuan peppercorn and usually served up alongside your soups.
This is a local version of ‘mala tang’, where skewers of meat and veg are cooked and served in a spicy and numbing, flavorful soup. This is the kind of soup you don’t drink. It imparts its flavor during cooking and coats the skewers with its fragrant heat. Very different from Chuan Chuan however, boboji is usually cooked ahead and served cold with a big bowl resident on each table. You take what you want, they count the sticks, you pay for what you ate, and you move on while, while the bowl stays at the table. Most skewers are veg, and you ask for the ‘ji’ or chicken when you arrive and they cook it up fresh.
Snacks on snacks.
While I could eat QiaoJiao beef all day everyday (at least in the winter) Leshan is full of amazing snacks as well.
KaBing is the aforementioned steamed beef, or similarly prepared pig intestines, served in a steamed bun. You might be tempted to call it a bao, but the locals wouldn’t.
DouFuNao, or tofu brain, is a sticky gooey mix of starch and fresh tofu flower. It is topped with chili oil, spices, peanuts, crispy noodles, and you guessed it, beef.
BaoBing is a simple crepe filled with julienned carrots and radishes and served with a tangy, sweet, peanuty dipping sauce. Variations on this also include serving it inside a piece of fried tofu.
Blood ‘pudding’ topped with chili oil, garlic and crunchy soy nuts? Also AMAZING!
And this is just the start – there’s still Leshan’s local dumplings, ShaoMai, crispy sweet-skin-duck and lots more!
Drop us a line for more info on what and where to eat while you are in Leshan.