02 November 2017

Sichuan Street Food Pilgrimage - Chongqing

Our China trip hits peak spicy in Chongqing. A mega post for a mega city.

We are awed and overwhelmed by the dense highrise forest of Chongqing as our bus putters into town.

Chongqing is the third biggest city in China after Guandong and Shanghai. There's 18 million residents, thirty million including outer burbs. The riverside location, highrises and the steep hills of the central area give Chongqing the vibe of an inland Hong Kong, with none of the British nonsense, Chongqing is pure China.

We are welcomed to our hostel by the hardworking manager.

Our hostel for the next couple of nights is located down by the riverside, so we walk up and up and up towards town and find snackage.

We pick this beautiful hole-in-the-wall joint.

We fall instantly in love with Chongqing food, it certainly lives up to it's reputation as being fiery hot and spicy. This classic dish of Chongqing noodles as we call it, or Xiao Mien as all the spruikers yell out as we walk by, is one of our all time favourite dishes. It is simply a mound of noodles in a super spicy broth/sauce. There's a touch of Sichuan pepper and usually loads of garlic giving a real umami kick. The heat comes from dried chili so while it blows your head off at first, the heat doesn't linger in your mouth like it does with fresh chili. We are surprised to find we can eat it for breakfast lunch and dinner. We are also surprised to find this dish near identical to the version we get back home in Sydney.

China's new solution for driverless vehicles.

Another common feature of the Chongqing food landscape is the pick'n'chew cart, we saw various versions of these.

Meat, every snouty, wiggly, wingy bit of it.

Central Chonqing is flashy and vibrant with throngs of folks and all the usual Rolex and Gucci stores.

Among all the flash and bling, the local paper is still up and free to read.

The Chongqing Art Gallery is one of the most spectacular buildings we've seen, especially at night.

As fancy as central Chongqing may be, street food is still alive and well. We pick this roadside joint for dinner.

We order by point'n'pray, ending up with a fiery dry hotpot, it's fantastic.

We heard Chongqing is famous for beer, we don't believe them. It's low in alcohol and taste.

Where the magic happens.

As we waddle back home we see some great looking point'n'cook stalls. We mark these off for later.

Our hostel is excellent, we picked it for the riverside location, which is great, but it's a bitch walking up the hill to town, and the riverside is more about industry than stuff tourists like, but it is great to walk along.

Along the river near our hostel there's industry of wholesale fabric, mountains of gingham and polyester line the footpaths before being loaded onto trucks. If you ever wondered where the fabric comes from that goes into cheap and disposable fashion, it starts here.

Up the hill the wholesale fabric business clicks into higher gear, skinny blokes with no shirts carry inhumanly large loads up and down steep hills, piling them in and out of trucks. It's the type of human powered industry we thought had disappeared long ago, moved into the burbs with slick warehouses and robot forklifts. But no, it's still here.

We sit in a little worker's stall and watch the action of the markets.

We ask for xiao mien and get a smile. The noodles are ok but lack the punch we are looking for, this is a dish best ordered from a specialist.

Up the hill into town...

Halfway up the hill you can get onto the big pretty bridge to take you across the big pretty river.

We cross the bridge and waddle cross country down a hill and find this ye olde village type area. We thought we were extra roughty-toughty explorers stumbling onto somewhere the tourists don't go - turns out to be a major local tourist attraction called Ciqikuo Old Town or Porcelain Village...

...but we were clever in guessing that if you catch the Chongqing cable car from the non-city side of the river you might avoid a hellish queue. For once we were right, we pretty much walked straight onto the cable car, though we lost the sprint for prime position in the corner.

This is the queue on the other (city) side - it stretches out the gates and way down the road. The Chonqing Cable Car is pretty spectacular - we love this dude's post on it.

Chongqing is a VERY Chinese city which is great for cultural immersion but terrible when you are a daggy westerner and want to find a bar for a quiet beer. So we wandered around town and followed the crowds and our sixth beer senses until we found this entertainment complex with a couple of western style bars and a corker of a view of the river and crowds passing by. We ended up here every night. This same bar was featured in the most awesome documentary, Dream Empire, as a spot for hunting rent-a-foreigners to promote shonky real estate developments, many of which are infamous ghost cities. Nobody rented us however. There's a mini-version of the doco here.

For dinner we track down a crap-on-stick cart we spied earlier...

Pick out what you want and the nice folks bbq it for you.

Extreme levels of attention go into the cooking, it's quite a mini industry.

The end result is spicy and perfect, even healthy. We wash it down with another forgettable Chinese beer.

The path from the city centre to our hostel is bright and raucous by day, dark and foreboding by night.  It's spooky but nobody tries to steal our wallet or touch our bottoms, so we did it ourselves.

Down by the river the wholesale fabric merchants are working into the night.

Another day, more fabric.

We grab breakfast from this little riverside resto making a motza from the hoards of construction workers working on a nearby mega-building site. It's also a tour drop-off/pick-up area for the Yangtze river cruises, a lively spot.

A good clear simple noodle soup for breakfast, with the added goodness of mystery meat, most likely piggy innards.

Here's the snazzy new building those construction workers are toiling over - Raffles City - it's gonna be flash.

While the new development is under construction the old development on this prime corner of the river has been pretty much abandoned and left to rot. It's an odd place to wander around.

Why fly just one kite?

This part of the river is the leaping off point for river tours, sadly we didn't have the time or energy for a tour, it would have been an eye popper. Next time.

A street snack of Dragon Beard candy, it's like artisan fairy floss. We wonder if they still sell this in Sydney's Friday night Chinatown market?

We waddle back up that mother of a hill...

Random side street, random side street wallets and things you don't need.

We have to get in on a bit of this...

Delicious but so filling. Sticky rice with cooked pumpkin with a side order of pickled ginger and noodles. Dinner and dessert in one plate.

This vendo dude is pulling a crowd.

Chongqing is crazy-arse busy on a Sunday afternoon, everybody comes out from everywhere to hang out, eat and gawk.

We cross one of the big pretty bridges to get a breather from the crowds, following this fine hound.

It seems like the whole city is under re-construction.

We head back to our favourite street-side resto for dinner.

We see a lady cooking whole fish over hot coals on the side of the road - we'll have a crack at that.

Some hot coals and warm beer are delivered to our table.

The fish has been cooked and covered in vegetables - a feast!

We get a side order of veggies, what is it with corn in Asia?

We like the look of this salubrious spot by the river for breakfast.

It's a mobile bainmarie-of-love, and it's awesome.


Restaurant security.

Shawn kindly shared his man-flu with Alison so we are now both sick as dogs, seriously, this was THE WORST FLU WE'VE EVER HAD. We check out of our hostel and into the Hilton for a couple of nights of Western-ness to recover. The Hilton is a little out from the city centre, the area seems a little boring at first, there's no bright-lights-big-city here, but we enjoy wandering around and poking our noses into real life.

Right by the Hilton is a fantastic little eating strip...

We pick this joint at random.

Turns out we get the best Chongqing noodles we've ever had. A deep, rich and super spicy broth, and bonus mystery meat.

Every Chonqing noodle dish we try is a little different, but this joint does our favourite.

We wander off the main road and find a tranquil park, China sure does parks well.

and overpasses...

Alison the dog stalker in action.

For dinner we wander the side streets and pick this upmarket-ish looking joint.

It's a corker.

Oh man, this is cooking - so nuanced. Small triangles of tofu mixed with chives.

A bowl of dry fried meat, chewy and sweet.

Greem beans coated with potato starch, kind of like they are sprinkled with Deb instant mashed potato.

We brunch at the little spot behind the Hilton, we follow the crowd of office workers to this joint.

It's a help-yourself bainmarie of love, the best kind.

The tops boss auntie pretty much tells us what we want, and she is right.

This humble and healthy style of Chinese food is our favourite, often found around lunchtime anywhere there are workers.

Nearly every dish has a ladle full of pickled green beans, a must have side dish.

The light is this dining tent is no good for photos, but it sure is fun.

We wander down the hill to the bus station to organise some tickets, earmarking this awesome looking strip for dinner later.

Serving suggestion.

We see this dish of tofu soaking in something around a fair bit. We earmark this too.

Popcorn flavoured ice cream from Maccas.

We walk along the river from the bus station back towards our old hostel. Folks are hanging out, taking it easy, very pleasant.

The path gets a bit thin in places, and you have to walk around a bit of industry now and again.

Mahjong hound.

At this Mongolian themed restaurant you can dine in your own private yurt. Why are yurts funny?

Cut price riverside parking, get in for the early fish discount.

In this part of China they love some cards and Mahjong, folks are playing it everywhere, on the side of the roads and in fancy joints like this.

Back in town we find the JiaoChangKou nightmarket.

But it's a bit flash for our likings, we like our night markets shonky. Plus its still only daytime, it hasn't opened up to its full wonderfulness.

More modernity in central Chongqing.

We sniff around for a bar and a local points us to this lovely little cafe/resto/pub. Two Heinekins please!

For our final Chonqing dinner we head downhill to this spot we earmarked earlier.

We dine alfresco with a romantic view of the Chonqing Railway Station. Just like Paris.

Make your choice on the form, a little difficult somewhat for us.

Pickles are presented first..

...then garlic dippy sauce...

Toohey's Old.

Ah, hotpot time!

Auntie gets things cooking for us.

Prawns, veggies and manufactured mystery meat - in the hotpot it goes!

Does our waiter deserve a tip? He doesn't mind a prawnhead.

We farewell Chonqing out of a taxi window, and get a high speed train back to Chengdu.


  1. Love your food adventures! Extra extra love how you eat whatever you come across without questioning what mystery meat it is. That first stall after you moved to the Hilton (one with the thick clear noodles) is called fat sister!

    1. What a great name for a food stall, love it!

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, it takes us a while to do these but we get there eventually!

  3. Great post! Leaving for Chongqing in 2 days...like the look of that noodle place near The Hliton!

    1. There are quite a few there. Most are lunchtime only so get in early! We want to repeat this trip, so very envious you are heading there soon.

    2. Ok, i'll keep my eyes peeled! Have 4 nights in CQ and 6 in Chengdu - will be posting all the food on Instagram if you want to relive it! :) instagram.com/marksound

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Thanks for your comment joy - please keep your musings happy - if you want to complain about a restaurant please do it on a restaurant review site (or your own blog) - we're all about celebrating cultural diversity and the great eats that come along with it :-)

Our ethics: We pay for all our own meals and travel (though sometimes Mum shouts us).