Salt must be a precious commodity in the Sichuan province. It’s so surprisingly to see vibrant, vivid colours of the food served and finding out that it tasted absolutely different from its appearance.
We landed in Chengdu airport at 12.30 am the night before and was whisked to our hotel immediately. Our guide for the 5D4N Air Asia X Media Familiarisation trip was Zu, a very affable and knowledgeable guide that I took an instant liking to.
Our itinerary the next day began with a panda farm visit (more on that later) and then lunch. I was SO LOOKING FORWARD to lunch. Finally Sichuan food in the heart of Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan province. Finally, authentic Sichuan food.
Now I can add “have eaten authentic Sichuan food in Chengdu” in my foodie portfolio. For a food blogger, having had authentic cuisine in its original country does reinforces your credibility. LOL.
And so with the stomach rumbling and high expectations I walked into Wei Tian Restaurant in the Kuan Zhai Xiang Zi area.
I loved the restaurant immediately; open see-through ceilings with the clear skies visible above, natural sunlight streaming through and green plants on one side of the wall. Definitely my type of place.
One main attraction here is the “open” kitchen where you can catch the chefs in action. We lingered for a while and took some pictures.
Our lunch was served in a private dining room with air conditioning. I very much preferred the outer courtyard but I know that not many people are like me. 😉
We started every meal with some cold dishes. These were laid out ready on the table for us even before we stepped into the dining room.
Since this is my first post on Chengdu, I’ll label and describe each dish. For the next few posts I’ll probably just skim through the majority of the side dishes.
Like I said I was overly excited at the thought of eating authentic Sichuan food and everything looked good that I had no hesitation of popping a full portion of everything into my mouth.
Bad decision. I had to transfer some from my mouth into my serviette as they were either too salty, weird tasting or smelled foul.
This is some cured lamb. Salty. That’s expected of cured meats yes, but this was beyond the average acceptable level of saltiness.
With a layer of oil and its red hue, this is easily identified as a Sichuan dish. Taste? Spicy but nothing memorable.
I love anything that remotely looks like ribs. This was sweetish-salty, dry and chewy. I didn’t finish the tiny piece I took.
BELOW: On the most right are slices of beancurd that had (to me at least) a weird, almost foul smell. The long green beans were alright and for me the most edible of them all. The one right at the bottom of the group is a type of bamboo shoot (a popular ingredient here) which I think is pickled.
Cold appetisers aside we were served a selection of “small eats” before and during the main meal. The long sticks you see below are cold boiled rice jelly (texture similar to jelly as well) in something akin to soy sauce but sweeter. The noodles hid the chilli oil dressing beneath, which when eaten tossed together did impart a bit of flavour.
Since this is our first meal in Chengdu we were quite perplexed with the manner the dishes are served. Plate after plate crowded the table and while some are clearly “main” dishes, we were served both hot and cold individual dishes as well. And we got lost of how it should be eaten after a while. What comes first and what is next? Is this supposed to be a dessert? Is it supposed to be eaten together with the mains?
I supposed I would have enjoyed it all better if I knew. Everything I eat something I wondered if it could have tasted better if paired with this or that. Well, you know, being a foodie we want to know everything about the food we consume.
Point in case, when you’re served a chewy mochi as pictured below, all the while with 10 main hot dishes still coming out from the kitchen, you would wonder what the heck is this doing on your table right? Am I supposed to eat it now??
Moving on, we got distracted with the mains. This dish was served twice during our trip so I assumed this must be quite a staple. It is served tableside and is essentially crisped rice with assorted vegetables and meat swimming in starchy gravy poured over it. And no this picture is not blur but looked blurry due to the smoke arising from the pouring action.
Here’s a prettier photograph once the smoke dissipated. The rice crisps were hard, the gravy tasteless and the meat soft.
This pork bacon-like dish draws its flavour from the smoky pork. I believe this is the famous Twice Cooked Pork dish of Sichuan cuisine.
If you think you saw Kung Pao chicken below you’re not far off. Kung Pao chicken is actually a popular Sichuan dish. But if this is how the original Kung Pao chicken is supposed to taste like, we are so much better off with our Malaysian version. On the right is a dish of shrimps, fish and pork with some preserved vegetables. This wasn’t too bad.
Even the sweet and sour pork here could be better. It could be sweeter and more sour as this was bordering on bland. But hey, if I wanted Malaysian sweet and sour pork I should have just stayed in Malaysia right? I don’t mean to complain about every dish, but I’m just describing it as a comparison. On the right is stir-fried beef with onions.
These small sides were served to us simultaneously while all the mains are coming out of the kitchen. From top left, clockwise: Sesame tong yuan (glutinous rice balls) in plain water (I kid you not, the tang yuan here is served in plain water), dumpling in tasteless soup, another small noodle dish with a minced meat on top, the peanut flour ball, and another dumpling in some soy sauce, chilli oil combination.
From the looks and taste of it I’m guessing it’s beef.
This came as a pair and the noodles were ok.
Oh in case you’re wondering why am I making so many guesses of the names of the dishes, it’s because everyone in the restaurant speaks Mandarin and the menu is only in Mandarin. While the rest of our media group did try asking the waiters for explanation, it was difficult to translate and note down everything at the rate and confusion of having all the dishes being served at one time.
So let me continue my review. The steamed fish had a strong muddy aftertaste and the soup was bland.
Out of nowhere we were each served another dumpling, this time a pan-fried one.
And another fatter dumpling.
Last was this steamed round, well, dumplings. At this stage I just couldn’t take another bite of anything.
In the end there were a lot of leftovers. A waste yes but there were just too much food.
There were all together 8 of us and the bill came up to approximately 100 yuan per pax. 100 yuan would be equivalent to RM50.
Venue: Wei Tian Restaurant at Kuan Zhai Xiang Zi (also known as Kuan Zhai Alley).
Kuan Zhai Xiang is one of the top 3 historic preserve districts in Chengdu City. It is formed by three alleys called Kuan Alley (Wide Alley), Zhai Alley (Narrow Alley), and Jing Alley. The major buildings in this site are courtyards and ancient style streets.
Address: in the east side of Tongren Road and the west side of Changshun Road, Qingyang District in Chengdu.
My personal honest opinions above are well, my personal honest opinions. I will always encourage everyone to keep an open mind and to try everything local (food, sights, shopping, etc) whenever you’re in a foreign country; and I understand that some of us may like what others may not.
After 5 days in Chengdu I won’t lie and say that their cuisine knocked my socks off, but I respect their cuisine and culture, and I understand that we can’t expect all cuisine to be how we like them; which is back to the point of why we travel – to experience different cultures and lifestyle. If all cuisines around the world are similar to our diversified Malaysian cuisine then that wouldn’t make our Malaysian food particularly outstanding right?
Cuisines are unique to each country and I’m glad I sampled the authentic Sichuan cuisine in Chengdu, right here in China. Now I can say I had “real” Sichuan food before and would know what to expect if I’m ever in some Sichuan restaurants elsewhere in the world, KL or beyond. 😀
AirAsia X flies to Chengdu from KUL 7 times a week.
The timetable of the flights are as follows:
|Kuala Lumpur to Chengdu||1815||2240||4 hours 25 mins||Mon – Fri|
|Chengdu to Kuala Lumpur||2355||0430||4 hours 25 mins||Mon – Fri|
|Kuala Lumpur to Chengdu||0915||1340||4 hours 25 mins||Sat – Sun|
|Chengdu to Kuala Lumpur||1455||1930||4 hours 25 mins||Sat – Sun|
* This wonderful trip is a media familiarization program by AirAsia X.