Swimming in Hot Pot and Chiles: Tracy Young’s Guide to Chengdu
For chile lovers and heat seekers, look no further than Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan province in China, for your next adventure.
“It’s a city of spices and flavors,” says Tracy Young, the chef and co-owner of Kings Co Imperial in Brooklyn. “Back in 2014, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage food city, so we got right to it during our last visit.”
Here’s where the chef ate, drank and stayed in Chengdu.
“No trip to Chengdu is complete without a hot pot feast, and there are literally hundreds of places to choose from. Some can be a bit intimidating to step into, with hundreds of locals all hollering for food and beer. You can choose from a super high-end experience to an alfresco down-and-dirty joint. But for an experience with helpful, friendly staff who will give you tips if you need it, seek out this spot. You can choose you own ingredients as well as the spice level of your hot pot."
“Chengdu is experiencing a boom—and you’ll find any big-name hotel here you please. But for a taste of old China, book a room at this seriously charming spot built in the classic Chinese traditional style centered around a courtyard with tiers of gabled rooftops. It can be difficult to find in the labyrinth of pedestrian alleys, but it’s well worth the search. In the evenings, there’s a trained musician who plays the ethereal guzheng in the courtyard. It completes your journey back in time.”
“For a taste of local craft brews, try Hugo’s in a quiet neighborhood of the Gaoxin District. You can sample a variety of beers, like a koji red ale and Guizhou smoked chile porter.”
“You can’t beat a cocktail at Jing inside this stunning hotel. Try the Sichuan Mule with a citrusy tang and kick of Sichuan peppercorn.
Ma’s Kitchen Sichuan Cuisine
“Across from The Temple House Hotel, you’ll find one of the best modern Sichuan restaurants. This stylish and packed little joint serves up delicious riffs on classics. It’s hard to find them online, so just head to this address: 1st Dong Kang Shi Street in the Jing Jing district.”
“If you want to truly experience the Chengdu food scene like a local, give Jordan Porter a shout. He leads amazing guided eating tours into the underbelly of the city, and he’ll take you places that even the most intrepid food adventurers can’t get to on their own. Many spots on the outer-ring roads still cook over wood fires and have no signs, so navigating the language and directions is nearly impossible for visitors, but Jordan will get you there.”
Hole Mouth Old
“One of the best meals we had on this trip was impossible to find. We hired a guide to lead us to this open-air spot on the outskirts of the city. I don’t know what it’s actually called—the name is what my translation app came up with!—but go find it. The food comes from two to three different kitchens, all fired by wood and coal, and is served on carts attached to the backs of bicycles. We ate so many tasty things, like lion’s head meatballs, fragrant river fish, cold poached red chile chicken and fresh peanuts.”
“This bar on top of The Ritz-Carlton offers great views of the city along with interesting cocktails. During chilly winter nights, sit by the heat lamps.”
“Even if you don’t have a hankering for vegetarian cuisine, don’t miss out on the sumptuous fare here. It’s an active temple; gingko trees provide shade to the extensive property and tings (small pavilions) provide places to rest. There are quite a few options for dining here. First, there’s an atmospheric tea house serving excellent coffee and a wide variety of Chinese teas. Next, the restaurant extends to two floors, with the lower floor serving a vegetarian buffet and the upper floor dishing a more elevated à la carte menu with dishes like flowering eggplant and wok-seared wild mushrooms. It’s certainly some of the best vegetarian and vegan food in China."