In Chengdu, meals fall into one of two categories: "formal" sit-down meals (usually with multiple courses) and "little eats," a more casual dining experience with many small dishes for sharing.
Original chili bean paste factory
Chili bean paste (or douban) is the cornerstone of Sichuan cuisine. At this factory in Pixian (about an hour outside of Chengdu), the paste is still handmade, dried in the sun, and aged for at least one year.
Mapo tofu at Chengdu's famous Chen Mapo Bean Curd Restaurant.
Chen Mapo Bean Curd: No.19 Qinghua Road, Chengdu, China
Sichuan cuisine is as much about vinegar as it is about chiles.
Pumpkin and Sticky Rice Pancakes
One of many delicious sweet treats at the local Chengdu market.
The Family Business
A duck butcher (and her apprentice) at a morning market in Chengdu.
These crispy little guys are all over street food stalls, including the famous stretch known as Jinli Street.
One of my most favorite noodle preparations, these wide, chewy, springy noodles are shaved to order from a wad of thick dough. Fantastic.
Sweet Potato Leaves
One of several greens I'd never tasted before, these ultra-flavorful, tender greens were stir-fried like peapod stems or morning glory. One of my favorite bites of the trip.
Cabbage and Bean Thread Noodles with Vinegar
One of several fantastic dishes we tried at Yang Yang, a restaurant in Chengdu's Wu Hou District that I read about on blogger Robyn Eckhardt's blog EatingAsia. Crisp cabbage and slippery bean thread noodles, made punchy with vinegar.
Yang Yang: 32号 Jinyuan Alley Wuhou, Chengdu, Sichuan, China
Green Beans with Meat and Pickled Vegetables
I never caught the name of this dish, but the dry-fried beans with crispy ground meat and salty pickled vegetables reminded me of the Kan Shue String Beans I love at Fuloon in Malden, Massachusetts.
Bitter Buckwheat Tea
Toasted buckwheat grains "brewed" in hot water. It's sold, and steeped, all over Chengdu.
Hot Barley Water with Lychee
The first thing I ingested post-16-hour-flight to Hong Kong. Soothing, sweet, and toasty with barley.
I never expected to eat eggs and toast for breakfast in Asia, but at Australia Dairy Co., a Kowloon institution in Hong Kong, they made some of the best I'd ever had. A typical "Breakfast Set" includes rich, ultra-fluffy scrambled eggs; slices of well-buttered billowy white toast; a bowl of clean, full-flavored chicken broth with strips of ham and macaroni; and coffee or tea. Steamed, flan-like egg custards are available separately, and worth every calorie.
Australia Dairy Co.: 47 Parkes Street, Kowloon, Hong Kong, China
Hairy Crab with Pan-Fried Noodles
Pretty sure it wasn't hairy crab season in Hong Kong, but the sweet, tender (likely flash-frozen) meat that came with these crispy noodle cakes could've fooled anyone.
Pan-Fried Soup Dumplings (Shengjianbao)
The thicker-skinned, crispy-fried sibling to xiaolongbao, these dumplings are browned in a slick cast-iron skillet and are bursting with porky broth.
My best street food find of the trip: swaths of flaky, scallion-flecked shao bing bread being rolled and griddled on a side street in Shanghai. Hot, crispy, and slathered with chili paste, this is breakfast of the Gods. (They also made an eggier, equally delicious crepe-like version.)
Just a small section of the bright green, crunchy crop that was available at a morning market in Hong Kong.
The Steam Room at Din Tai Fung
This chain originated in Taiwan, but now does big business in Shanghai (and several other cities around the world). As you can see, they take soup dumplings seriously.
Din Tai Fung: multiple locations
Green Tea Leaves
Freshly picked green tea leaves (it's green tea season now) being dry-toasted in a wok.