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Street Food in Chengdu, China (成都小吃)

Street Food in Chengdu
Street Food in Chengdu pictures (1 of 19)

Here is the photo gallery of some of the street food I tried in Chengdu, China.

Other than the mala Sichuan cuisine, Chengdu is famed for “small eats” or 小吃. As a die-hard fan of local street food, I have to say that I was rather disappointed–and underwhelmed–with the street food in Chengdu. Don’t get me wrong, I did like a few dishes there, especially the mala ones, but I expected more.

While there are lots of eye-catching and pretty looking small eats available in various outlets, these small munchies fall short in the taste department, in my honest opinion. Plus, the flavors are not as varied as Penang street food…

The signature mala flavor is undoubtedly present in most Chengdu street food, while others are mostly sweet bites. While Penang feverishly preserves and celebrates our street food (hawker food) culture, Chengdu, much like other cities in China, including Hong Kong, are rapidly closing down or relocating markets, mobile stalls, and food carts. I managed to sample a couple small eats from roadside vendors, but mostly I had the offerings at this perfectly constructed (and touristy) establishment/street food outlet. I am sure legendary street food stalls at the very core and originality are still present, but they are probably only known to the locals. I was rather disappointed in this sense.

Anyway, please go through my gallery above to check out Chengdu’s street food. After going to almost all Asian cities with street food culture, I might have to declare Penang as the ultimate street food capital in Asia for the varieties, unbeatable flavors, and the massive street food culture and heritage that we so proudly retain, sustain, and rejoice.  Stay tuned as I share my photo gallery of Penang hawker food in my next post!

P.S. There are a lot of other signature street food dishes that I tried but didn’t have the pictures, for example: spicy wontons, pork dumplings in soup, chicken skewers in mala sauce, sour and spicy noodles, etc. As for Chengdu’s hot pot, hands down, it’s the best mala hot pot I have tried in my life. Simply perfect!

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46 COMMENTS... read them below or add one

  1. Pinenuts

    I have to agree with you. I’ve tried a few and came to the conclusion that while Chinese food (from mainland China) is great on speed, quantity and prices but disappointing with taste. More often than not, some of them were just bland! In some cases, there is simply no depth in taste and flavour!

    • Pinenuts – oh I am so happy that you think the same. Yes, you are absolutely right. Chengdu’s street food has only one taste–mala, or they are bland and tasteless, and yes, no depth in taste and flavor! Unlike Malaysian street food where the taste structure is complex! ;)

  2. Jill

    boy, where are the famous wontons? my personal fave sweet water noodle? hot & sour yam noodle?soy sauce duck feet?? and Lamb skewers dipped in peppercorn/pepper flake mixture. These are just a few street eats that comes to mind that Chengdu has and I don’t see them in your pics =(

    • Jill – I had all of them, but I didn’t take pictures for everything I ate. It was not possible and some pictures came out very bad due to poor lighting or night time.

      I like 红油抄手 but had better ones in Beijing. In fact, I prefer the Sichuan food in Beijing, I just think it’s more refined especially those served in top Sichuan restaurants in Beijing. I also like 酸辣面. All in all though, I am still disappointed because other than the mala flavors, the rest of the street food I tasted was just bland and lack in depth and taste structure.

    • Chinese food is very good, especially the ones you get in restaurants. I enjoy Chinese food very much, but in this case, I was just disappointed with the quality of street food in Chengdu, which is supposedly good. Maybe I didn’t go to the right place, but the places I went to are recommended by locals. :(

  3. Su

    I agree – food in China has no flavour compared to HK or Malaysia. Hong Kongers tell anyone visiting China to take sandwiches.

    • Su – China has a lot of great food and they can find in restaurants. As for street food, I think they are not as interesting in varieties and taste. That’s what I think.

      • Gs

        You need to go with the locals. The ones that are in your pics look too fancy to a point I don’t put them in the street category. Btw I’m from chengdu originally. And I have faith in what chengdu is able to offer on terms of presentation and taste. You just need to find the right place to go.;)

  4. Ce'nedra

    How disappointing to hear that. I hear the best Chinese food is found in small, hidden/run down ‘restaurants’ or in local homes, as opposed to on the street. Not sure if the former is true or not but it seems you confirmed the latter. Very sad to hear that.
    Beautiful photography as always :)

  5. French Taste

    Looks delicious! I have been to Malaysia many times and I like the street food. Kuala Lumpur has a lot to offer in the aspect of street food too! So as Bangkok! I don’t quite agree with you that Penang is the street food capital in Asia.
    I do get bored with the street food. It’s great if you live in Asia that you can go out and eat at any time. But, to make some of the street food at home is just not practical.

    • French Taste – KL street food is awesome, I don’t deny that because I used to live there for a few years. However, coming from Penang and growing up eating the many local hawker food, I still think that Penang hawker food reigns supreme. The many regional awards and accolades don’t lie.

  6. The wooden “bowl” is actually similar to the putu piring in Malaysia. It produces the yellow and white “cakes” which taste sweet. However, putu piring in Malaysia definitely tastes better because of the use of palm sugar and shredded coconut, and the texture is better, too.

  7. Valerie

    Thanks for sharing the street food of Chengdu! They are so visually appealing. I am looking forward to your Penang hawker food blog. Next year, I may visit Singapore and might take a short trip to Penang since my husband and I never set out foot there. Do tell us where to find those delectable street food in Penang!!

    • Valerie – you really have to go to Penang to try our hawker food. My family runs a culinary tour service so send me an email when you go, we can take you guys around for the best hawker food in Penang. :)

  8. I get what you mean. When I was in Taiwan, I never like their famous street food either. I definitely prefer street food of South Asia compared to the North :)

    • Tiga – yes yes, our street food is much better. I went to Taiwan a few times also didn’t like their famous street food. I think the problem is that there is only one taste and quite bland, whereas in Malaysia and Singapore, we can get Chinese, Indian, Malay tastes. Hehe.

  9. it’s interesting how something can look so amazing and then really be lacking in the tasty department. that’s just too bad! but the pictures do look so delish and you just offered a quick trip to the East!

  10. Oh sigh…. I love waking up to your site.

    And I must say you take the best pictures of street food… ever! I’ve only been to Shanghai, not Chengdu, and all these pictures are so curiously engaging that I can’t help but want to go there. My only problem with street food is that it always encapsulates three flavours: greasy, salty, spicy. But I’ve not yet been to Taiwan or any of the other famed street food cities. I’m not going to count Bangkok, ‘cos the last time I ate street food there was crickets =)

  11. Wow all looks amazing, I’m going to China in a few months but wasn’t considering heading that far west but may have to reconsider…

    Regarding the best street food in Asia, I’ve only eaten Korean stuff (so far) which I have to say has been pretty good. I’m three weeks shy of a trip that will take me through Japan, China and Southeast Asia and from what I’ve read I’m looking forward to Singapore and Penang the most. I may have to pick your brains a little closer to the time!

    • Street Foodie – please do get in touch with me when you go to Penang. You might want to join my family’s culinary tour and I will assure you a happy eating time in Penang. :)

  12. Rachel

    Great pictures! I spent a summer in Chengdu and have to agree that Jinli’s food is not the best and the place is overall a tourist trap. I had some good “small eats” at random restaurants though. But the hot pot, wow, how it miss it.

    • Yes, Jinli is a tourist trap, the street food there is just not good, but I went to another famous street food restaurant in the city and it’s not that great either. :(

  13. Hey just posted on Chengdu Street Food! I have to agree that it wasn’t the best, which is really disappointing considering the food elsewhere in Chengdu is great. So far, my money is on Xian for the best street food in China – the Muslim Quarter especially.

    • Jules – for Chengdu, please check out, she has just returned from a long trip there. I didn’t really have any good recommendations because I wasn’t impressed with the street food at all.

  14. Having grown up in Malaysia for a while and re-visiting regularly ever since, I’m entirely in agreement with you about the “street food culture” being preserved better in Malaysia than elsewhere.

    Though if you do go back to China, I’d suggest checking out Chongqing — I think it has preserved the street food lifestyle better than Chengdu — people actually do still set up makeshift shacks on the street selling all kinds of things. Chongqing food is different than Chengdu’s “street food”, but at least unlike Chengdu, Chongqing is far from touristy — it’s rather a busy city full of people running around doing business, which attracts comparatively fewer tourists but creates an ideal environment for street food sellers targeting locals. Urümqi and Kashgar in Xinjiang also have excellent street food with both East and Central Asian tastes and plenty of spices.

    Taiwan is also another great place for street food — most of its cities have bigger Pasar Malams than Malaysia and well worth checking out, and the culture is being preserved quite nicely there as well.

  15. Jenn

    I am a foodie and will be making a trip to Chengdu this weekend and would like your recommendations on where to go and what to eat in Chengdu. Unfortunately, I do not know anyone there and thus do hope you’re able to assists accordingly. I only have three nights in that destination and would love to try the local street food and specialities. Thank you!

  16. leah

    I love your site! I am always amazed with your recipes! I am wondering what the dish in the top left corner is, with the purple toothpick! It looks amazing!I love Chinese food and am always looking for new street food recipes to make!

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