Power Eating Chengdu: A Street Food Feeding Frenzy

A woman driving a red cart full of baskets of stawberries

Power Eating Chengdu: 32 Street Foods in One Day

 

Was I really going to try and eat 32 different types of Chengdu street food in just one day? A gluttonous marathon to challenge both my stomach and self-control? Why would I risk such a culinary overload? There have got to be more relaxing ways to celebrate my birthday, right?!

Let me explain.

The idea came to me on a chilly January night as I lay wide awake in bed in my Chengdu, China apartment. I’d just spent most the day meandering my way through Sichuan’s capital city, eating as much delicious street food as I could get my hands on. Grilled oysters, freshly steamed dumplings, deep fried rice cake balls – my mind spun as I pondered the unending possibilities amongst the city’s thousands of food carts.

Exotic foods with bold flavors, budget-friendly prices, and ready availability was a combination I just couldn’t find back home. Dreams of an epicurean stroll through the city started forming in my head.

Then it hit me. Chengdu’s street food needed to be celebrated, and I was going to be the one to celebrate it.

On my 32nd birthday. By eating 32 different types of street food. In one day.

I’m writing this two days after that inspired celebration, reflecting back on a birthday that pushed my mind and body to the limits. For 10 hours I prowled the streets of Chengdu, in a flavorful blur of culinary wonder. I was stuffed, exhausted, and overwhelmed at times, but I don’t regret a single one of my 32 decisions that day.

Relive the journey with me as I walk Chengdu’s crowded sidewalks in search of the city’s most enticing and inspiring street food.

A Few Simple Rules…

If I was going to power eat my way through Chengdu’s street food scene, I’d need a little structure first, some rules to keep me honest. Here’s what I came up with:

  • I’d pay for all the street food I ate. I refuse to walk from vendor to vendor, asking for free samples. Freeloading and taking advantage of people’s generosity is strictly against the spirit of travel.
  • I’d be eating as much food as I could handle and taking the rest to-go. I wasn’t going to take one small bite, ditch the rest, and move on. Show the vendors some respect!
  • I’d try some strange things I’d never eaten before. Sure, I would include many of my Chengdu favorites, but I’d also sample food outside of my comfort zone and explore the stranger, less approachable street cuisine.

Those were the only rules, now let’s get started.

Noel’s 32nd Birthday Chengdu Street Food Marathon

My plan was to get an early start to the day. I’d walk out the door at 8:00 a.m, fresh from a full night of sleep, with a camera slung over my shoulder and a healthy appetite.

Well, it didn’t quite happen that way.

I was ready to leave at 8:00, I swear. But I second-guessed myself. I hesitated.

I didn’t get the best sleep last night, I’m tired. And 32 different types of street food is way too much, even for me. Am I crazy? Maybe today’s not my day. Maybe tomorrow’s the day. Yeah, tomorrow sounds nice.

I made excuses like this for nearly three hours before I eventually came to my senses. I’d worked up quite an appetite with all the procrastinating and realized that backing out would only lead to disappointment. Late start or not, I needed to hit the streets.

#1: Steamed Pork Buns

Time Eaten: 11:20 a.m.
Chinese Name: Bāozi
Price: 3 CNY ($0.45 US)
Noel’s Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars 3.5 stars

Eight pork-filled steamed buns in a metal basket

Steamed Pork Buns

 

Hungry as can be, I zoomed out of my apartment and stopped at the first food cart I saw. I smiled and pointed at a small bag of steamed buns filled with pork. I stretched and yawned as the vendor prepared my order. This was going to be a long day.

Steamed buns are hugely popular in Chengdu, but I can’t say they’re my favorite. To me, they don’t have a ton of flavor and serve as only a mild-flavored filler to jump-start the day. Luckily I had an eventful 10 hour street food journey ahead of me.

#2: Fried Meat Bun

Time Eaten: 11:25 a.m.
Chinese Name: Guōkui
Price: 5 CNY ($0.75 US)
Noel’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars 5 stars

Circular fried pastry filled with meat from a street food cart in Chengdu, China.

Fried Meat Bun

 

Next, I bee-lined straight to my favorite street food vendor and ordered the guōkui. I can’t imagine ever getting tired of guōkui. It’s that good.

To prepare guōkui, thin strips of dough are rolled out on a counter and packed with meat, Sichuan chilis, and numbing pepper. Next, the dough and meat are rolled into discs and fried in a wok. The result is crispy, flaky, flavorful, and delicious.

I thought I’d only eat a few bites and take the rest home, but I ended up eating the whole thing. I couldn’t help myself.

#3: Pickled Lotus Root

Time Eaten: 11:32 a.m.
Chinese Name: Ǒu
Price: 2 CNY ($0.30 US)
Noel’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 4 stars

Three pickled lotus root slices on top of a plastic bag

Pickled Lotus Root

 

After starting the day with two very rich and filling street foods, it was time to pump the brakes a bit. I made my way over to a familiar pickled vegetable stand and ordered a few slices of pickled ǒu, or lotus root.

Lotus root, a fairly exotic food by western standards, is everywhere on the streets of Chengdu, and it’s consistently delicious. The pickling imparts a spicy vinegar flavor to the crisp and crunchy ǒu that serves as a perfect palate cleanser.

#4: Pineapple on a Stick

Time Eaten: 11:40 a.m.
Chinese NameBōluó
Price: 3 CNY ($0.45 US)
Noel’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars 5 stars

A quarter of a pineapple on a skewer

Pineapple on a Stick

 

I hadn’t gone but a few feet from the pickled vegetable stand when I spotted fresh, juicy skewered quarters of pineapple for sale. They were calling my name. I bought one and promptly inhaled it. Damn, that was refreshing.

When people think of Chinese street food, their minds don’t immediately jump to pineapple. But pineapple is everywhere on the streets of Chengdu, and it’s always cheap, fresh, and delicious. At peak season, truckloads of pineapple are everywhere, and I’m close behind to take full advantage.

#5: Spiral Pastry Bites

p>Time Eaten: 11:47 a.m.
Chinese Name Pending 
Price: 5 CNY ($0.75 US)
Noel’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars 3 stars

A plastic container full of spiral shaped light brown pastries

Spiral Pastry Bites

 

In an attempt to mix it up, I made my way to a small pastry stand and ordered a container full of these odd looking things.

They had the texture of a hard pretzel and all the flavor of a watery graham cracker. I didn’t find them memorable or enticing, but that’s how life is, right? Not everything is going to blow you away. My girlfriend Keri tells me that I bought the wrong variety; there are better bites out there somewhere. Duly noted.

#6: Spicy Sichuan Noodles

Time Eaten: 11:59 a.m.
Chinese Name Pending
Price: 7 CNY ($1.05 US)
Noel’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 4 stars

A plastic container full of Sichuan noodles, a popular street food in Chengdu

Spicy Sichuan Noodles

 

At this point, my palate whispered, “bring on the heat.” So I found a familiar aluminum food cart and ordered the spicy Sichuan noodles. The smiling vendor added a handful of fresh garlic, red chili peppers, green onions, and peanuts to a spicy oil base over clear rice noodles.

A couple of minutes later and my mouth was ablaze. The spongey noodles had soaked up the chili oil and the peppers had begun to release their heat. Spicy Sichuan noodles are a fixture in the streets of Chengdu and highlight the local’s love of mouth-scorching food. As a spicy food aficionado, I’m definitely living in the right corner of the world.

#7: Steamed Pork Dumplings

Time Eaten: 2:12 p.m.
Chinese NameJiăozi
Price: 5 CNY ($0.75 US)
Noel’s Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars 3.5 stars

Eight pork steamed dumplings in a metal basket

Steamed Pork Dumplings

 

After the noodles, I retreated to my apartment to catch my breath. I was starting to feel full, yet was only a fraction of the way into my food journey.

Pace yourself, Noel.

So I rested up in my apartment, then hopped a bus to explore another favorite part of town.

A basket of steamed dumplings was next on the circuit. The dumplings, much like the steamed buns, were filled with minced pork and chopped vegetables. They’re a fixture of the Chinese street food scene, but don’t exactly excite my palate. Good, not great.

#8: Chinese Taco

Time Eaten: 2:26 p.m.
Chinese Name Pending
Price: 8 CNY ($1.20 US)
Noel’s Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars 2.5 stars

Steamed bread filled with meet being held in a hand

Chinese Taco

 

I’d heard a lot about these ‘Chinese tacos’ but never actually seen them in person. As I wandered the sunny streets, I was excited to discover a cart offering such tacos. I was ready to try something completely new.

They were a bit of a letdown. A steamed bread taco filled with chopped meat and vegetables sounds good on paper, but this particular vendor got it wrong. The bread was stale and the meat and vegetables were lukewarm. After a few bites, I accidentally dropped it on the ground, which came as a bit of a relief. I still had a lot of food ahead that day.

#9Cold-Marinated Quail Egg Skewer

Time Eaten: 2:32 p.m.
Chinese Name: Ānchún dàn lěng chuàn chuàn
Price: 2 CNY ($0.30 US)
Noel’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars 3 stars

Four quail eggs on a skewer covered in red marinade

Cold-Marinated Quail Egg Skewer

 

It was time for another spin of the food cart roulette wheel. This time it brought me to a chuàn chuàn cart full of rows and rows of different types of skewers, cold marinating in a dark broth. I pulled out a few that I’d never tried before.

Quail eggs are widely available in Chengdu, so I figured I’d give a skewer a shot. The cold, spicy marinade made the eggs quite flavorful, but I wasn’t blown away. They’re cooked completely through which is okay, but I always prefer my eggs with a runny yolk.

#10: Cold-Marinated Pork Skin Skewer

Time Eaten: 2:34 p.m.
Chinese NameZhūpí lěng chuàn chuàn
Price: 2 CNY ($0.30 US)
Noel’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 4 stars

Pork skin on a skewer covered in red marinade

Cold-Marinated Pork Skin Skewer

 

The next cold-marinated skewer I tried was the pork skin. I didn’t know what I was ordering at the time, all I knew is that it was something I’d never tried before.

The skin was firm, salty, and flavorful, packing a bit of a crunch, and the marinade added a delicious spicy zest. Maybe next time I would get creative and wrap the pork skin around the quail egg. It’s now on my street food to-do list.

#11: Cold-Marinated Oyster Mushroom Skewer

Time Eaten: 2:36 p.m.
Chinese Name: Jùn lěng chuàn chuàn
Price: 1 CNY ($0.15 US)
Noel’s Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars 4.5 stars

An oyster mushroom on a skewer covered in red marinade

Cold-Marinated Oyster Mushroom Skewer

 

I’m a huge fan of mushrooms, so I knew I’d love this skewer the moment I picked it out. The spongy oyster mushrooms did a great job of soaking up the robust and flavorful marinade and were a great way to finish out my skewer trio.

I was tempted to walk right back to the chuàn chuàn cart and order more, but I held back. Today was supposed to be about variety, and I still had a hell of a lot of food to get through.

#12: Rice Cake Sesame Ball

Time Eaten: 3:14 p.m.
Chinese Name: Jiānduī
Price: 2 CNY ($0.30 US)
Noel’s Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars 4.5 stars

A rice cake ball that has been fried and rolled in sesame seeds being held in a hand

Rice Cake Sesame Ball

 

After the skewers, I walked towards the Wenshu Monastery Neighborhood, my favorite area for street food in Chengdu. On the way, I came across yet another street snack I’d yet to try, the jiānduī.

It won me over instantly. Essentially, it’s a ball of rice cake that’s fried, coated in sesame seeds, and served at room temperature. The outer cake shell is crispy and mildly sweet, while the inside is dense, chewy, and savory. It was absolutely delicious and will forever be on my street food radar.

#13: Custard Tart

Time Eaten: 3:22 p.m.
Chinese Name: Dàn tǎ
Price: 3 CNY ($0.45 US)
Noel’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars 5 stars

A hand holding a custard tart in a tin, a popular street food in Chengdu, China

Custard Tart

 

The rice cake sesame ball had activated my sweet tooth and promptly led me straight to a nearby pastry cart. I quickly spotted something new and unfamiliar and pointed at a curious little pastry in an aluminum tin.

I was expecting this snack to be a bit eggy and possibly filled with meat, but I was dead wrong. My curiosity was rewarded with a moist and sweet custard wrapped in a flaky croissant-like dough. The dàn tǎ was excellent and I’ll have trouble ever passing one up again.

#14: Chinese Pizza

Time Eaten: 3:53 p.m.
Chinese Name Pending
Price: 4.5 CNY ($0.68 US)
Noel’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars 5 stars

A hand holding a pile of thinly sliced cooked dough

Chinese Pizza

 

After my successful foray into Chinese pastries, I ambled into the bustling outdoor food market in the Wenshu Monastery neighborhood. I still had a solid appetite. Completing the challenge didn’t feel like a far-fetched dream anymore.

The Chinese pizza called my name and I decided to try it for the very first time. Sesame seeds are added to a dense dough which is then pounded out thin, cooked on a griddle, and served with a light chili sauce. While I struggle to see why this is referred to as Chinese pizza — no cheese, sauce, toppings — I found it to be absolutely delicious. Chewy, fresh, and lightly spicy.

#15: Báijiŭ

Time Purchased: 4:01 p.m.
Chinese Name: Báijiŭ
Price: 30 CNY ($4.50 US)
Noel’s Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars 4.5 stars

A hand pulling down on a nozzle and filling a water bottle full of red liquid

Baijiu

 

I know, I know. This is supposed to be an exploration of Chengdu’s street food. But I couldn’t resist a pull from a jug of China’s favorite grain alcohol, báijiŭ.

A friendly middle-aged man with an ear-to-ear smile treated me to a few different samples of báijiŭ, each served from its own dusty glass jug. I fell in love with a dark red concoction that was soaking up the flavor of goji berries, plus some other stuff I couldn’t identify. The man filled me up half a repurposed water bottle and I was on my way. I have no idea what percent of this particular báijiŭ is alcohol, but I can tell you that it is STRONG, and I love it.

#16: Sichuan Mandarin Orange

Time Eaten: 4:12 p.m.
Chinese NameJúzi
Price: 1 CNY ($0.15 US)
Noel’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars 5 stars

A hand holding an orange with a stem and leaves still attached

Sichuan Mandarin Orange

 

It’s impossible to walk the Wenshu Monastery neighborhood market without encountering heaping piles of fresh Sichuan mandarin oranges. It was halfway through my journey that a truck bed full of these vibrant beauties caught my eye.

The orange I chose appeared at the perfect moment. I was parched, tired, and completely weighed down by the vast amount of food that I’d already ingested. The sweet and juicy fruit instantly injected life and energy into my body. The people of Sichuan are extremely proud of their oranges and I definitely understand why.

#17: Preserved Duck Egg

Time Purchased: 4:24 (but eaten at home later that evening)
Chinese Name: Cáo méi táng hú lu
Price: 2 CNY ($0.30 US)
Noel’s Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars 4.5 stars

A hand holding a cooked egg with half it's shell removed and the other half coated in ash

Preserved Duck Egg

 

Revived by my juicy orange, I squinted across the market and saw a woman selling a basket of rough-textured oval spheres. Upon inspection, I saw that she was selling a type of egg, which lay beneath the grey and yellow coating. That’s all I knew. I bought one and put it in my bag for later. It was something I needed to tackle with a knife and a cutting board.

Later that night I decided to take on the egg. I had prepared myself to be grossed out and lowered my already faint expectations. I carved and peeled off the sandy outer layer, sliced into the egg, and put it on toast with salt and pepper. Delicious. Buttery. Savory. I added another new street food to my Chengdu repertoire.

Keri told me later that I’d eaten a preserved duck egg. The rough coating came from the egg being covered in ash, lime, and salt. The egg is then wrapped and preserved, which usually takes about a month.

#18: Tiny Fried Fish

Time Eaten: 4:32 p.m.
Chinese NameZhà yú
Price: 3 CNY ($0.45 US)
Noel’s Rating: 1 out of 5 stars 1 star

A hand holding four small deep fried fish

Tiny Fried Fish

 

Next, I wandered over to a woman sitting on a stool, peddling a basket of tiny fried fish. I wasn’t really interested in trying the fish, but I made eye contact with her and smiled. She took this as an invitation to sell me some fish and, well, I bought a bag. This was my first big mistake of the day.

The fish simply didn’t do it for me. They were heavily battered, over-fried, and had an intense flavor. Nothing I wanted to lug around, so I sneakily set the bag of fish down on the seat of a nearby scooter and walked away. There were better street food options in Chengdu and I was going to find them.

#19: Creme-Filled Puff Pastry

Time Eaten: 4:56 p.m.
Chinese Name: Pào fú
Price: 1.5 CNY ($0.23 US)
Noel’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars 5 stars

A half-eaten puff golden brown pastry filled with creme

Creme-Filled Puff Pastry

 

The fried fish had left a bad taste in my mouth and I was beginning to feel full again. It was time to go home for another breather, so I started to walk towards the bus stop where I would catch the trusty #15 back towards my apartment. A couple of blocks before I arrived, I came across another pastry cart and decided to add another street food to my list.

I ordered an old favorite of mine, the creme-filled puff pastry, and promptly devoured it in a few bites. How can you go wrong with whipped cream inside a coating of sweet, lightly crunchy pastry dough? (Hint: You can’t.)

#20: Candied Strawberries

Time Eaten: 5:22 p.m.
Chinese Name: Cǎoméi táng hú lu
Price: 6 CNY ($0.90 US)
Noel’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars 5 stars

A skewer of strawberries coated in a clear candy layer

Candied Strawberries

 

Before I could even reach the bus stop, I once again froze dead in my tracks. A young man walked down the sidewalk, selling candied strawberries, which I already knew were insanely delicious. I had to have them. I needed them.

The skewered strawberries were coated in a glass-like layer of sugar, giving them a mouthwatering sweet and crunchy coating. These strawberries have been a serious weakness of mine ever since I moved to Chengdu. They’re one of my favorite street foods around, hands down.

#21: Spicy Grilled Pork Belly Skewer

Time Eaten: 6:23 p.m.
Chinese Name: Péigēn shāo kǎo
Price: 1 CNY ($0.15 US)
Noel’s Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars 4.5 stars

A hand holding a skewer with generously seasoned and cooked slices of pork belly

Spicy Grilled Pork Belly Skewer

 

After taking the bus back into my neighborhood and giving my stomach an hour of rest, it was time to get serious about finishing this marathon.

I walked straight over to my all-time favorite shāo kǎo (grilled skewer) street food stand. I carefully sorted through a wide variety of skewers and handed a few over to the chef. He brushed my selections with chili oil, coated them in a spicy dry seasoning, and put them on the low flame of his gas grill.

I started with a skewer of pork belly, which the chef cooked to perfection. My appetite was non-existent, but that didn’t stop me. I devoured the tender, salty, and spicy pork skewers without hesitation.

#22: Spicy Grilled Squid Skewer

Chinese Name: Wūzéi shāo kǎo
Time Eaten: 6:25 p.m.
Price: 2 CNY ($0.30 US)
Noel’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars 5 stars

A skewer of generously seasoned grilled squid

Spicy Grilled Squid Skewer

 

Next up: Squid. My favorite. It’s nearly impossible for me to walk past this particular shāo kǎo cart without indulging in its spicy grilled squid skewers. They’re fresh, tender, and perfectly seasoned. Writing about them and staring at their picture is painful, especially since I’m doing so at dinner time of a new day, and I’m once again ready to eat.

#23: Spicy Grilled Shrimp Dumpling Skewer

Time Consumed: 6:27 p.m.
Chinese Name: Xiājiǎo shāo kǎo
Price: 1 CNY ($0.15 US)
Noel’s Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars 4.5 stars

A grilled skewer of generously season shrimp dumplings

Spicy Grilled Shrimp Dumpling Skewer

 

I never had any idea what these skewers were until I finally asked the chef in my broken Chinese. Through the translator app on my phone, he told me that they were xiājiǎo (shrimp dumplings). The dumpling skin is thick and chewy and the shrimp paste filling is tender and flavorful. These delicious skewers will always be a ‘go-to’ item of mine when exploring Chengdu’s boundless trove of street food.

#24: White Frosting Wafer

Time Eaten: 6:33 p.m.
Chinese Name Pending
Price: 1 CNY ($0.15 US)
Noel’s Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars 3.5 stars

A cylindrical wafer cookie covered in nuts and frosting

White Frosting Wafer

 

At this point, I was starting to get really full.

I waddled over to yet another pastry cart and decided to indulge my sweet tooth yet again. No matter how full I am, I always have room for sweets. I grabbed a couple of treats I’d never seen before and sat down for a snack.

The ‘white frosting wafer’ was neither disappointing nor delicious. It was average, about what I expected – crispy, crunchy, and sweet. Meh. Maybe I’ll try it again someday. Or maybe I won’t.

#25: Dense and Strange Tasting Pastry

Time Eaten: 6:34 p.m.
Chinese Name Pending
Price: 1 CNY ($0.15 US)
Noel’s Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars 1.5 stars

A small flaky pastry being held by a hand with the street food carts of chengdu in the background

Dense and Strange Tasting Pastry

 

I don’t know what the hell this thing was or what it was filled with, but I didn’t enjoy it at all. It appeared to promise a light, flaky and delicious experience, but the reality was much different.

The inside was filled with some sort of sickly sweet, dense, green paste. The overall flavor was strange and hard to describe, not like anything I’d ever had before. I took one bite and threw the rest away. This deceiving little snack deserved no second chances.

#26: Chicken Foot

Time Eaten: 6:57 p.m.
Chinese Name: Fèngzhuǎ
Price: 1 CNY ($0.15 US)
Noel’s Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars 1.5 stars

A slimy, moist cooked chicken foot

Chicken Foot

 

Chicken feet. I knew I’d eventually give them a shot during my challenge but was dreading the inevitable first bite. I’d meant to set aside any cultural biases, but it proved really difficult not to form a dreadful opinion about eating chicken feet. Damn western upbringing.

I slowly approached a sidewalk cart that had a large plastic crate full of chicken feet soaking in a clear liquid. With a half smile, I ordered one scrawny foot, then disappeared behind a nearby tree. I didn’t want an audience. I gnawed and sucked at the “meat” of the foot, but was met with instant disappointment. The little skin I managed to extract was cold, slimy, and weirdly spicy. Nope. Sorry. No thanks.

#27: Fried Fish Balls

Time Eaten: 7:08 p.m.
Chinese Name: Zhá yú wán
Price: 1 CNY ($0.15 US)
Noel’s Rating: 1 out of 5 stars 1 stars

A hand holding a skewer of seven small orange puffs

Fried Fish Balls

 

After my failed attempt at enjoying chicken feet, I decided to try my luck at a different sidewalk vendor. I happened upon one who offered curious looking orange balls on a skewer. Why not?

Never again.

I enjoyed these even less than the chicken feet. They were perhaps my least favorite street food I’d ever sampled in Chengdu. Crispy and light in texture, but intense, pungent, and foul-flavored — like mackerel-flavored Cheeto Puffs. Keri, informed me later that these are known simply as ‘fish balls.’ I love eating most fish, but these flunked big time.

#28: Hand Grabbed Pancake

Time Eaten: 7:30 p.m.
Chinese Name: Shǒu zhuā bìng
Price: 3 CNY ($0.45 US)
Noel’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 4 stars

A hand holding a greasy folded sheet of dough with cars in the background

Hand Grabbed Pancake

 

Reeling from three straight bad choices, I walked over to a food cart I knew I’d enjoy. I needed something to erase my recent flavor disasters.

I waited in a short line at the shǒu zhuā bìng (hand grabbed pancake) stand, happy to give my stomach a little time to recover. Within a few minutes, I was handed a thin and fresh sheet of crispy dough wrapped around a medley of cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, chicken, and chili paste. Typically, the shǒu zhuā bìng is known as a breakfast food in the streets of Chengdu, but that didn’t matter. I took a few bites and staggered home to drop off my collection of leftovers.

#29: Stinky Purple Tofu

Time Eaten: 8:45 p.m.
Chinese Name: Chòudòufu
Price: 5 CNY ($0.75 US)
Noel’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 4 stars

A paper bowl full of purple tofu covered in chili and green onions

Stinky Purple Tofu

 

After an hour of rest, I re-entered the streets in search of more delicious food to wrap-up my challenge. I made my way to the well-known ‘stinky tofu’ cart, which you can smell from a block away. This purple tofu treat emits a pungent aroma as it’s prepared. No searching needed, just follow your nose.

The tofu is served in a robust broth, with a generous helping of diced Sichuan chilis, garlic, and green onions. And the result is wonderful. I ate about half of the tofu as I sat on a curb, while my taste buds sizzled. This purple tofu was the stinkiest and the spiciest food I’d eaten all night.

#30: Spicy Grilled Beef Skewer

Time Eaten: 9:08 p.m.
Chinese Name: Niúròu shāo kǎo
Price: 2.5 CNY ($0.38 US)
Noel’s Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars 4.5 stars

A skewered of grilled beef generously coated in spices

Spicy Grilled Beef Skewer

 

Now the shops in the neighborhood were beginning to shut down. I stopped at my favorite shāo kǎo cart one last time to get another pair of spicy grilled skewers.

This time I opted for a couple of beef skewers. Well, I think they were beef, but I never asked. You can never be 100% sure in China until you ask. As expected, they were delicious – hot, tender, spicy, and perfectly cooked. I think it’s safe to say that shāo kǎo is my favorite type of street food in Chengdu. It has never let me down.

#31: Mini-Crepe With Chocolate and Creme

Time Eaten: 9:16 p.m.
Chinese Name: Qiǎokèlì hé nǎiyóu zhòushā
Price: 3 CNY ($0.45 US)
Noel’s Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars 4.5 stars

A hand holding a small crepe filled with creme and chocolate sauce

Mini-Crepe With Chocolate and Creme

 

I’d walked past the mini-crepe stand four or five times earlier in the night, but it never felt like the right moment. I guess I was unconsciously saving it for the end. Well, the end was near and I was finally ready.

A short woman in a maroon apron prepared my crepe in a miniature skillet and we exchanged smiles. She’d seen me pacing up and down the sidewalk all night long and was thrilled that I’d finally stopped by. A simple creme and whipped chocolate topping made my crepe utterly delicious. My sweet tooth was activated once more.

#32: Chocolate Donut With Sprinkles

Time Eaten: 9:23 p.m.
Chinese Name: Qiǎokèlì tián tián quān
Price: 5 CNY ($0.75 US)
Noel’s Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars 4.5 stars

A hand holding up a chocolate donut with sprinkles

Chocolate Donut With Sprinkles

 

It came as a huge relief when I spotted a glass case full of donuts as I walked back towards my apartment. I knew that once I laid eyes on those glimmering chocolate-covered circles, I’d found the perfect end to my long day of food exploration.

Chengdu isn’t exactly known for its donuts, but this particular donut was the crown jewel moment of my exhausting street food marathon. I gratefully devoured the entire thing and waddled home, happy with the day and excited to sleep it all off.

Chengdu’s Street Food is World-Class

As stuffed as I was after my power eating bender, I can only render one opinion: Chengdu’s street food is a world-class force to be reckoned with.

Sure, my marathon food journey was full of highs and lows, that’s undeniable. The gelatinous chicken foot and foul-flavored fish balls didn’t grab me, but so what? I discovered a plethora of Chengdu’s wonderful street food that I would’ve never thought to try. Preserved duck eggs? Stinky tofu? Cold-marinated pork skin? Sign me up.

And there’s so much more food out there! I’ve barely scratched the surface. I only explored three different neighborhoods during my culinary journey through a city of 16 million people. Chengdu has countless unglimpsed varieties of street food out there just waiting to be discovered. The culinary pool here is vast and fascinating, and I can’t wait to take a deeper dive.

Come see for yourself what delicious foods are being cooked on the lively streets of Chengdu. This region’s world-famous Sichuan cuisine is bold, inspiring, and very affordable.

And if you can’t make it to Chengdu, then find your own streets to explore. Hit the pavement, rub elbows with the locals, step outside your culinary comfort zone, and challenge your taste buds.

And no, you don’t need to go on a 10-hour binge-eating bender to enjoy yourself.

That won’t be necessary.

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Book Your Flight

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Use Booking.com — my personal favorite booking website– to reserve hotels and hostels in Chengdu. Search Hostelworld to browse a gigantic database of affordable hostel options. Book with Airbnb to rent apartments, houses, or rooms from locals.

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Other Chengdu Street Food Resources I Recommend

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Power Eating Chengdu: 32 Street Foods in One Day


Have you had a chance to sample some of Chengdu’s world-class street food? Which delicious snack did I miss out on? Let me know by leaving a comment below!

16 Comments

  1. Amazing! I enjoyed reading about your journey. I have tried 0 of these items! I am a bit sad that my part of Canada doesn’t really have a lot of street food. The closest we get is during a festival they have food trucks around – but nothing is on a stick. I would really like to just enjoy more foods on sticks! Sounds like you had a fantastic birthday! What a unique thing to do for your 32nd – I hope you try this again when you turn 50!

    1. Well, sounds like you gotta get your butt to China. Every single city I’ve visited here has been full of cheap and delicious street food. It’s everywhere. Yeah, it’s hard to find good, affordable street food back home (Colorado, U.S.). The options are so limited. China knows what they’re doing. So glad you enjoyed the post and thanks so much for the feedback. I previously promised myself that I wouldn’t do this challenge again, but who am I kidding? It was too fun not to repeat. We’ll see what happens next year.

  2. Thank you for a mouthwatering tour of a city I can’t wait to visit. I will skip the chicken balls and fish feet. Can’t wait to try the rest.

    Wonderful writing. You really make it come alive!

    1. Yep, sometimes you gotta sort through all the chicken balls until you find a winner! Keri and I would love to have you come visit someday. She just signed another contract! Let’s chat about it when I’m back home this summer.

  3. The Chinese Pizza, Squid Skewer, and Shrimp Dumplings sound wonderful. However, the Chocolate Donut with Sprinkles is a turnoff, perhaps because I live up the street from a Winchell’s!

    I’m amazed at the amount of food you packed away in 10 hours. Are you bulimic? 😉

    1. Oh, but the donut was delicious! They really take their food seriously out here in China. No, not bulimic, just a guy that really likes to eat until he’s uncomfortable.

  4. Noel – this was fascinating! It’s lunchtime and the photos made my mouth water! Even the fish balls ( I LOVE mackerel so I need to try those!). I had never heard of many of these foods – thanks for your intrepid attitude and willingness to go for broke. I look forward to reading more of your blog as you follow your bliss!

    1. Mary, thanks for the feedback! I’m really glad you enjoyed the post and I promise to always go for broke. I love mackerel too, but the fish balls just weren’t doing it for me. At all. There are so many street foods I have yet to try in Chengdu, so stay tuned for a possible ‘part 2’ in the future. I’m in Hong Kong now and the food scene here is fantastic as well. The Chinese really take their food seriously!

    1. Hey, Stefan! The cold street food was actually quite approachable, aside from the chicken feet. Those were no bueno. Maybe I need to try those served hot and with some sort of sauce next time. Thanks for checking out the post! May you forever eat well.

      1. Definitely try it hot! It’s usually offered during dim sum but the hot chicken feet tastes so much better as it’s steamed/cooked with chilli and black beans. I love it like that, I hate cold chicken feet. Well done for trying! 🙂

        1. Yeah, I need to give chicken feet another chance. I made a mistake by trying the cold, slimy ones first. I’ll always give food three chances. If I don’t like it after the third chance, then I can comfortably say that I don’t enjoy it. I had a similar sauce with razor clams in Hong Kong. Absolutely delicious! Thanks for pumping me up to try chicken feet again, I’ll let you know when that day comes.

    1. I love your bold statement! Thank you. The challenge was a mixture of joy, perseverance, exhaustion, and being extremely uncomfortable. I wish I had started earlier than 11:00 a.m. Life would have been much easier. Glad you got to come along for the experience. Looking forward to the next one.

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