After over 15 hours on planes eating less than palatable airplane “meals,” our tastebuds were in desperate need of some stimulation! Our second day in Changchun, and we marched ourselves over to Sān Yú Zhú Yuàn Restaurant (三俞竹苑), one of the more popular Sichuan restaurants (川菜) in the city. I’ve taken Mr. S there 3 years ago, and it left a big impression, so we revisited. With our group of 9, we were able to try more dishes this time.
Sichuan cuisine is best known for its spicy dishes – spicy hot pot most often comes to mind. But to assign such a broad label would be doing a great disservice to undoubtedly the most popular of the 8 major cuisines of China. Sichuan dishes, in fact, showcase a wide range of flavors including sour, sweet, smoky, umami, spicy, fragrant, and numbing. In northeastern China, Sichuan restaurants have enjoyed a steady popularity amongst locals because the traditional cuisine of the region lacks the same bold flavors and physically-stimulating affects of Sichuan ingredients. Take the Sichuan peppercorn, which is the responsible party behind the “mouth numbing” (麻辣) affect that many have described as intense and highly addictive. Paired with smoky wokked chilis and garlic, the trifecta can clearly rouse the most apathetic of palates.
First up, Braised Pork Belly over Pickled, Dried Vegetables. This dish is similar to another famous dish (with Hakka origins) called braised pork belly with pickled mustard greens (梅菜扣肉). The vegetables here did not have a mustard taste, but were still tasty all the same. The pork belly is undeniably the star – melt in your mouth tender and saturated with soy and other aromatics.
We also ordered Shuǐ Zhǔ Yú (水煮鱼) which is a spicy, mouth numbing hot pot of fresh fish filets. Literally fresh, since within minutes, our server came tableside to show us our fish (from their tank) that would soon be swimming in a soup of hot chili oil. Best be warned, this dish is large and will comfortably feed a hungry group of 6. The fish typically is a freshwater fish, so the flesh tends to be delicate and mild, with lots of bones. It is served in its own fish broth, and a heavy top layer of red chili and Sichuan peppercorn oil and bean sprouts.
For some variety, some non spicy dishes were ordered, including Steamed Pork Spareribs with Sticky Rice (糯米排骨/ Nuò Mǐ Pái Gǔ). Glutinous (sticky) rice is often associated with comfort food in Chinese cuisine, and this did not disappoint.
Another sticky rice dish was a vegetarian version with soft hunks of steamed pumpkin and roasted peanuts, topped with goji berries.
And back to the spice. Dry stir-fried green beans with minced pork and chilis (干煸四季豆/ Gān Biān Sì Jì Dòu). You can find some version of this popular dish in most Sichuan restaurants (as well as general Chinese takeout) in the U.S. but discerning palates will agree that the quality varies greatly. It’s often hard to find a well executed version: crisp and tender green beans with blistered skin (i.e., from very high heat), green beans should be green and not charred black, visible pieces of garlic and minced pork, and the dish should be “dry” yet flavorful (i.e., not covered in soy or other liquid sauce). The flavor should come from the heat of the wok, and just a minimal amount of ingredients. These were a bit over-fried, but still flavorful.
Another famous dish from the Sichuan region is Fried Chicken with Chilis and Peppercorn (辣子鸡/ Là Zǐ Jī). Fried chicken pieces (wing, thigh, drumstick) are coated in cornstarch, flash fried, and then wok fried with chili and peppercorn, chili oil, and garlic. It is an unGodly amount of chilis, so be prepared to “fish around” in there for the chicken! Mcnuggets ain’t got nothin’ on this chicken.
Then there were the noodles. First, Dàndàn miàn–Thin Wheat Noodles with preserved vegetables, chili oil, Sichuan pepper, minced pork, and scallions (擔擔麵). Each serving comes in a small bowl, as a side, not as an entree.
Another noodle dish was a spicy noodle with minced beef, peanuts, scallions, and preserved vegetable. Compared to the Dàndàn miàn, this one was had almost no broth.
The prices here are very reasonable for tourists. Also located on the top floor in one of the posh malls in Changchun, you can go take a long walk after your meal. The menu is tourist-friendly, as each dish is shown with the name in english along with a picture (which can be dangerous!).2222 Tongzhi Street, Chaoyang, Changchun, Jilin, China