Chengdu has a section of walking streets called kuanzhai xiangzi (宽窄巷子, the Wide and Narrow Alleys), which are meant to be reflective of the style and culture of the Qing Dynasty. While the area has a sanitized, tourist-friendly feel to it, it certainly does provide a whole spectrum of experiences to the out-of-town visitor, and in general is meant to portray the leisurely offerings that the Qing-era imperial citizen had at his well-heeled disposal.
And when it’s not crowded, particularly at night, when the facades and lanterns are lit, the streets, the subdued palette of gray brickwork and dark, grainy wood, certainly have a hushed elegance to them. A contemplative walkability, aided by the somber doorframes and the swooping roofs turned mischievously at the corners.
Chengdu Yingxiang (成都映象, which seems like a phonetic play on words, but roughly translates to Chengdu Reflections) is located on the narrow side (the two alleys run parallel), a two-story restaurant with a small stage towards the back that showcases some traditional performances (song and instrument-playing, and face-changing mask dances) to be enjoyed while eating. I was staying nearby, so I stopped in on my way from the airport my first night, and came back several days later with Myra.
On my first visit, I went with a handful of small plates of fairly classic Sichuan fare: sweet chili noodles (甜水面), dragon chaoshou dumplings (龙抄手) in soup, peppercorn chicken (麻辣鸡), and mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐). Among these, the peppercorn chicken, a cold appetizer, was the most memorable, with chewy strips of gelatinous skin and salty strands of meat all blossoming with that numbing peppercorn oil, which hits your mouth heavy on first contact. In contrast to Xiao Tan’s sweet chili noodles, the ones here were more uniform, a little lacking in character and much more similar to udon noodles, but with a more pronounced sweetness. The mapo tofu comes on a small tray with a sterno to keep the gooey mess hot, maximizing the degree of pleasurable pain. On my return trip, we got a couple of the same things but also tried Chengdu Reflection’s 钟水饺 (spicy dumplings) and dan dan noodles. Both were tasty, but not standouts. Chengdu Reflection / 成都映象
No. 16 Narrow Alley / 窄巷子16号