{street food} Sichuan Street Food in Chengdu, China

Chengdu has the BEST street food in the world. Yep, I said it. I mean, they’re famous for it, so it makes perfect sense. There is so much variety, and there are so many things to look at. When you happen upon a market street, set up with overflowing fruit stalls, butchers hacking away at sides of meat, towers of steamed buns, itty bitty coal grills, noodles, candy, pig snouts, dumplings, rice bowls, rabbit heads, skewers, you name it- well, it just kind of comes alive and fills me with joy and delight.

Even the stuff that doesn’t actually, empirically taste good is still fun. Plus, it’s pretty much no risk from a money standpoint. Most things are 1 or 2 yuan- 10 to 20 cents- so you can feel free to try a whole bunch of things, take a bite, and reject or accept them without feeling too badly about the investment.

Mmm bacon, it’s smoky, because he’s smoking, ha ha- plus a big ol’ pile of smooshed pig heads- a popular snack.

If you don’t speak Chinese as I don’t, then you will most likely not be able to figure out what is in stuff or what stuff is made of. If you are a vegetarian this might be tricky for you. If not, just go for it with pointing and smiling and taking a bite. It is also extremely helpful to learn the words and hand signals for the numbers 1 through 10 (they have funny hand signals for 6-10) because pretty much nothing will cost more than 10 so you should be ok with just that. Without the numbers and the hand gestures I would have had a great deal more trouble in these many transactions. Here is a helpful tutorial on the number gestures for you.

All the kids on Jinli Road beg for one of these caramelized sugar dragons.

This cat (spotted under the cooking pot on the Tibetan Street) is probably warm, but that’s got to be against the health code, right?

Aside from eating prepared food, or buying raw food to cook at home, there is a plethora of services for you to take advantage of. It’s a full-service deal. For example:

You can get your handbag repaired while-u-wait by someone who uses the most anachronistic sewing contraption I have ever seen!

You can buy a fish and watch her gut it for you on the sidewalk!

Not in the mood for fish? Grab a live chicken off the hook and he’ll hack it up on a wooden block for you with a cleaver!

You can get your knives sharpened too- he carries all the equipment on his bike!

There are many areas where you can find great street food scenes- the ones we had the most fun at were:

  • Wadancang Street right near the Tibet Hotel, (which by the way was a fantastic bargain hotel, very fancy for the price and with a lot of fun stuff in the hotel, including a bowling alley! Woo hoo!) So if you are facing the Tibet Hotel, go to your right, and Wadancang Street will be off to your left in about a block. Its proximity is also a big plus of staying at that hotel.
  • The area near the Wenshu Monastery had a lot going on, especially candy and sweets vendors- but we weren’t sure if it was a festival type thing or a permanent thing, because it sort of seemed like a festival type thing.
  • Sichuan University Area, near the intersection of KeHua Jie and Guo Jia Qiao Bei Jie. The good stuff is on Guo Jia Qiao Bei Jie. Pick up a rabbit head here, if you’re interested, because it seems to be the nexus of that well-loved snack, and they were harder to find in other areas. Don’t worry, there’s a stall with pictures of little bunny heads on it to guide you. Go for the cheeks. Mmmm.
  • Jinli Road has a kind of sanitized set of tourist-friendly stalls, with English translations of what they’re selling, but we didn’t eat anything there, it didn’t seem as fun. A better option would be…
  • Shuhan Dongjie, near Jinli Road and the Tibetan Street (Wuhouci Cross St.) If you are at Jinli Road gate, and facing out towards Wuhouci Street, the Wuhouci Cross St. is just across the street and forking to the right. Walk down Wuhouci Cross Street for a few blocks, and make a right on Shuhan Dongjie. The street is good in and of itself, but there is also a covered marketplace with old folks playing intense mah-jongg, and some impressive spice and meat products for sale.

The mah-jongg tables at the indoor market on Shuhan Dongjie are plentiful, and deadly serious. But it beats playing poker behind this raw meat and sausage curtain, I guess…

Sharing every food we sampled would be too exhaustive, since we tried like 5 or 10 things a day, but here are some highlights…

Skewers and beer on the street at 11 PM


This was one of our best and most fun meals- a full dinner for 15 yuan including 2 huge Tsing Taos. So, about 2 bucks US for dinner. A lot of times street food is kind of gross-seeming, but this guy had a mobile cart with a coal grill and some of the cleanest looking food I have ever seen. He’s got a bunch of raw skewers, of meat, seafood, and vegetables, lined up like a total Type-A, anal retentive clean freak. He gives you a little tray to fill with raw stuff and then when it’s your turn (there could be a couple people ahead of you, and the grill is pretty tiny) he’ll smack it on the grill and brush it, squirt it, shake stuff on it, until it’s perfectly cooked and super spicy. We had little pieces of beef, chicken on the bone, beans, cauliflower, thin potatoes, and some other stuff. The best were the thinly sliced potatoes (he had them skewered up, but raw in cold water so they wouldn’t get brown) because they tasted like the best spicy potato chip you ever had.

The food was really spicy with lots of numbing spice. Best part: deliciousness of eating experience? Yeah. 2nd best part: Food was US$1.10. 2 giant beers were US$1. So dinner for 2 people, including giant beers, was $2.10 To clarify, GOOD dinner, including 2 GOOD giant beers (Tsing Tao), was $2. You have to get the beers at the little shop across the street. They are 3.5 yuan (50 cents) each. Also, there is a crazy “seating area” comprised of children’s stools and tiny short tables, with toilet paper for napkins. Important note, this guy was at Wadancang Street, and is only there late night though, when most of the other vendors have gone home- seems to be a stop for late night partiers coming home tipsy and hungry. You can definitely get the skewer action from others during the day, but it’s not the same setup with the stools and the old guys playing poker and all so it’s not quite as exciting.

Haw Flakes

Haw flakes are a candy of my childhood, probably because I went to school in SF in a Chinese neighborhood with lots of Chinese kids and Chinese-owned stores. Most (non-Chinese) people I know have never heard of them. My sister and I LOVED them as kids and still do. But in Chengdu, they make them fresh, not packaged, and they taste even better. The other candies we tried- not so much. The haw flakes are the pink discs in the front right of the photo. A big handful was a couple yuan. They didn’t last long! I wished my sister was there to eat them with me. The candy vendors have gorgeous arrays, even if not all of their offerings are delicious to my palate.

Steamed Cabbage Bun

I know, cabbage dumpling does not sound so  exciting, but we tried a bunch of kinds and it was the clear standout. The cabbage was very fresh and tasted sort of flash-cooked and then stuffed in the center of a soft doughy bun that comes out of these giant stacked steamers. If I remember correctly this was essentially free. Like, I think we got 6 or 8 buns for 2 yuan which is like 25 cents or so. We tried a bunch, so of course, some were gross. Actually the worst ones were the ones with NO filling. The cabbage ones usually have a little green thing on top, since you’ll have to point. BUT sometimes you can get tricked- we got one that had a green thing on top and then inside there were mushrooms. The ones with a red thing on top have pork that’s pretty good if you like sweet, star anise-flavored pork. The twisty ones that look cool have nothing inside so don’t be tempted just because they’re the prettiest, unless you are planning to get a smoked duck tongue or pig snout from the guy across the street to wrap up in your plain dumpling.

“American Corn”

We had this in a restaurant but were told it’s really a street food. As far as I can tell they make it by taking a can of corn (“American” corn, so they say- they give us no credit for the whole maize thing!) that is kind of fried and then tossed with big granules of sugar. It’s like an unholy union between a piece of kettle corn and a corn nut. And it’s hella good.


Yeah, and I don’t even like fruit that much. But how can you not love and support the type of ad hoc marketplace that offers you lettuce from a Vespa, or grapefruits from a bicycle? The bounty that can be found on people’s bicycles or vespas (or batterycycles or horse carts or whatever) is staggering.

Also, the fruit is really fresh and counteracts all of the greasy stuff you are otherwise eating, and plus there are fruits that I have never even seen before which are fun to try. And so very many delicious and affordable  lychees and longans for the taking and the snacking.

Plus it’s fun because when you buy something, they whip out this antique abacus-lookin’ gizmo to weigh it.

Waffle Cone

These guys are just like a waffle cone but thinner. When they’re warm, they’re a good crunchy semi-sweet treat. The going rate is 1 yuan for 2, I believe.

Scallion bread or pancake

I ate a bunch of these and sometimes they were really good and sometimes they were too greasy or didn’t have enough salt. When it’s good, it’s like a salty piece of pizza dough with a lot of scallions baked into it. Some of them are so thin they are almost like a crepe, and I didn’t have the best luck with that type. The best one was this one, which I got on Shuhan Dongjie and cost 1 yuan.

-> For Chengdu eats you can enjoy while sitting down, check out this post.

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1 Response

  1. Mohnwaffeln says:

    Hmm Flavorsome! :-). Thank you for sharing