One of the best things you can eat in Chengdu is Mao Cai, the “instant hot pot” dish that you don’t have to cook yourself. It really is one of my favorite Sichuan meals. Simply put, it’s a bunch of meat and vegetables boiled in a flavorful broth and then covered in a spicy sauce. It’s an easy meal out if you are a tourist and can’t speak Chinese. All of the items are laid out in a cooler and you pick which ingredients you want, keeping the meat and the vegetables separate (because they are different prices), and then they weigh it up and tell you the cost.
A short time later and you’ll be chopstick deep in a souped up bowl, fighting off the spice, and pulling out your favorite slices of meat, vegetable, and tofu.
Of course, almost every spicy dish in Sichuan comes with a generous helping of chili oil, and mao cai is no different. Oil can not be avoided in Sichuan province. There is so much of it that you’re likely to see men wheeling big blue barrels of used oil out of restaurants in the evening.
Being the ever-inquisitive person that I am, I decided to follow the oil to see where they were taking it.
My adventure led me down a path that I wish I didn’t take. A real problem in China is gutter oil – people taking used oil and refining it, boiling it, filtering it, repackaging it, and selling it as new oil. It’s very illegal – you could be executed for doing it – but it still remains a problem in the country. Since I’m living in probably the oiliest province in China (a single hot pot might use over a kilogram of oil), this is a huge concern for me. Gutter oil can cause indigestion, insomnia, and can even lead to stomach or liver cancer. The Chinese government have be taking huge steps to clean up the oil industry, but as we all know – oil isn’t an easy thing to wipe up.
WHERE TO GET MAO CAI IN CHENGDU
Well, after all that gutter oil talk you probably want a high end restaurant to try mao cai in.
One place that’s popular with the locals…
Restaurant: 川渝双骄 – Chuān yú shuāng jiāo
Address: 望平街134号 – 134 Wangping Street
A more exciting option that people can’t get enough of goes by the name Wúmíng mào cài, which means Nameless Mao Cai. This pretty much literal hole-in-the-wall does things a bit differently. They sell portions of ingredients (rather than weight). There is less selection, but the flavor is incredible. Just point at the bowls you want and you should be eating amazing food in no time.
Address: 西二道街19号附1(近金色夏威夷) – 19 West 2nd Street
Note: only open from 10:30-2PM
Or you can just watch for the symbols: 冒菜
There are many mào cài places all over Chengdu.
In this series, I am eating my way through a deck of cards. I bought a deck of food themed playing cards that feature a different Sichuan dish on every card. Every week I’ll shuffle the deck and pick one random card to hunt down and sample. Chengdu was the first Asian city to be named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. It’s full of incredible food – a lot of which you probably don’t know about.
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The weekly video will be posted every Thursday at 3PM EST until all 54 cards have been tried.
👤 ABOUT ME
I live in China and am constantly exploring and traveling the country and other parts of Asia. Subscribe to my channel to watch more adventures… and to learn a bit about food, cultures, and more.
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