Monday, November 03, 2014


Mapo tofu, hot pot and dan dan noodles are some of Chengdu’s most famous dishes. Hailed as UNESCO’s City of Gastronomy, the capital of Sichuan province sets foodies’ imagination and tastebuds alight with its plethora of kick-ass chillies and Sichuan peppercorns. Local dishes run the gamut from fried and stewed to steamed and boiled with strong fiery-hot to sour & spicy flavours.
To spur more Malaysian visitors to visit Chengdu which is also home of the world-famous giant pandas, the Dorsett Grand Chengdu has flown in their chefs: Zhou Xiang Rong, Bill Wang and Harry Chen for a charm offensive; enticing food-loving locals to sample the city’s piquant fare at the Chengdu Can Do Food Festival from 27 October to 16 November.
Topping the hot chart is Beef Shank with Chilli; the slices of flinty meat flecked with bits of red chilli gently scorching the tastebuds amidst the leafy bright freshness of coriander.
Coming in a close second is the ‘ma la’ (tongue-numbingly hot) yet tender Steamed Chicken in Chilli Oil with a rounded nuttiness from the generous sprinkling of sesame seeds in it. Blunt the burning effect with some Papaya with Honey Sauce or refreshing Lettuce with Sesame Paste.
Briny and zingy accents coupled with crunchy texture rule in the Marinated Black Fungus with Chillies and Jellyfish Head in Vinegar with cucumber strips heralded a welcome change of flavour dimension as the appetisers go.
Third winner has to be Double Boiled Duck Soup with Pickled Radish – an appetisingly sour, salty and mildly spicy broth with little yellow chilli padi in it. The faint-hearted may opt for a slightly unctuous but heartwarming Seafood Broth with filigree strands of egg or Assorted Mushroom & Bamboo Pith in Superior Soup – by far, the mildest broth with a peppery edge similar to that of pig’s stomach soup.
Notable mains to look out for include Steamed Fish with Chopped Chilli, Green Peppercorns and Garlic, Kunpao Prawns and Beef Ribs with Green Chilli. We picked the bones clean off the fish; its inherent sweetness amplified by the accompanying piquant topping.
Kungpao Prawns
Cashew nuts, rotund dried baby chillies and diced spring onion lent layers of textural and robust dimensions to the springy prawns coated in some caramelised sticky sauce; effectively reining in a bit of the diminutive chillies' kick-ass hotness.
Interestingly, the chopped green chillies piled atop the beef rib slices tasted more herbaceous than spicy hot; its fresh acidity balancing the meat’s lush richness.
More little round chillies made their presence felt in the Braised Duck with Chillies. Bathed in mildly tangy-sweet tomato sauce, the duck was so fork-tender that we could scoop up the meat with a spoon.
Ramping up the hotness to mega sweat-inducing levels are Braised Sea Cucumber and Braised Abalone with Mapo Tofu. The first offered a plethora of textural contrasts – from the crunchiness of bamboo shoot to slippery succulence of mushroom set against the warming heat of ginger, the smoky zing of diced red bird eye chili, the fresh clean taste of chopped green scallions and the pungency of garlic.
Tart and zesty hot, Chengdu’s famed mapo tofu – diced custard-soft beancurd flavoured with Sichuan peppercorns, red chilli oil and minced pork was given a luxe touch with whole abalones bearing criss-cross patterns.
The Boiled Dumplings with Chilli Sauce were decent too; stretchy wheat skin parcels generously filled with minced chicken with scallions. Again the ubiquitous chilli paste gave them a delicious punch that won’t scorch your tongue too badly.
It would be unthinkable not to try the Poached Noodles with Vegetables in Hot Chilli Oil. Freshly hand-made by the chef in attendance, the rough ribbons of chewy noodles are pleasantly tangy having been tossed in a sourish vinegar-based dressing with black fungus giving extra crunch.
Vegetable dishes are no less intriguing in the Chengdu foodscape. The crunchy and sweet Stir-fried Cabbage with Chillies won us over with its faintly charred overtone.
Spice fiends may prefer the Mixed Vegetables in Chilli Oil – a lethal pool of tart and fiery-red chilli oil brimming with fish cake, fish balls, bamboo shoot, beef balls, squid and sliced lotus root.
Surprisingly, the Boiled Mustard in Mineral Water was better than we had expected; the green’s delicate sweetness enlivened by a dollop of ground chilli paste.
The Chengdu Can Do Festival is held at Checker’s Café and served buffet-style at RM88++ per adult for lunch and RM108++ for dinner.

CHECKER’S CAFÉ, Dorsett Regency KL, Jalan Imbi, KL. Tel: 03-2716 1000

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