Chengdu is deep in the heart of Sichuan province, which is known the world over for its spicy cuisine. The Sichuan pepper is different from regular black pepper in that it has anesthetizing properties and a pink hue. One of the most popular dishes to utilize this pepper is 马坡豆腐 (mapo doufu), soft squares of fresh tofu swimming in a numbing sauce. Many restaurants serve this quintessential fare, but we wanted to try the best. Lucky for us there was a Chen’s Mapo Doufu restaurant across the street from our hotel, as so-called Pockmarked Granny Chen is the purported originator of the dish.
Chen’s version was certainly delicious, though it lived up to its fiery reputation. After a few bites my mouth was so numb I couldn’t taste anything. It’s best to save this one for the end of the meal so you can enjoy all the other items on offer.
We loved Chen’s take on 宫保既定, which is known in the States as “kung pao chicken'” While certainly spicy, this version had a smooth honey flavor that we really enjoyed. I was especially fond of the savory 担担面 (dan dan mian), whose biting sauce lurks beneath the noodles at the bottom of the bowl.
Thanks to its convenient location and great food, we ate at Granny Chen’s twice during our stay in Chengdu, which enabled us to branch out a little. Among the items we sampled were yummy steamed dumplings stuffed with ground pork and fresh herbs, and a blazing hot plate of sauteed eggplant.
Would you like to try mapo doufu or any of these Sichuan specialties?