Mark Hiew (more chengdu)|
The Sichuanese possess a unique local tongue. For those who study or speak standard Mandarin, the constant vowel changing and tone permutations leave outsiders in a suspended universe of half-comprehension and regular befuddlement. Such was the case when I asked for the specialty dish at Yi Xiang Feng Jia Chang Wei, a popular noodle house not far from Sichuan University’s south gate. “Za-jang” noodles was the name I heard, and so it was “za-jang” that I continued to ask for. But these delicious “za-jang” noodles turned out to be the much more regular-sounding “jiachang” or “homestyle” noodles when I finally asked the maître d' for its written version. They are so good, in fact, that they won a local competition several years ago.
What makes for a great home-style noodle (5RMB small, 7RMB large), which in many ways resembles the humble spaghetti bolognaise? The key lies in the mix: upon receiving one’s steaming bowl of merriment, the mince meat sauce on top of the noodles and the spicy one hidden beneath must be combined as well as possible, comprehensively slathering the noodles in this savory and mala double delectableness. Beyond jiachang, Yi Xiang serves up a host of other noodle styles (5-7RMB), including mushroom, pork ribs, and other local classics. Also popular is the “yuanzi” tomato and meatball soup, a much lighter flavored individual serving (3RMB/bowl). The cold dishes (6RMB/fen) were also quite good, particularly the pressed tofu and wood ear fungus.
At each round table, bowls of communal “bobo ji” are passed around, skewered pre-cooked meat and vegetables soaking in Sichuanese pepper broth (.5RMB/skewer). A small selection of fried dishes, such as potato and pork ribs, go for 10-12RMB each. Wash down your meal with some cooling “bing fen,” a sweet jelly that soaks up the spices like a war nurse with a wet sponge. Cold beer is available, and expect to pay 5-15RMB/bottle.
According to staff, there’s another, larger, Sichuanese restaurant serving standard dishes from the same ownership, located not far from the restaurant. Ask them for directions, but for a quick, utterly delicious noodle meal that offers a superb flavor-to-price ratio, Yi Xiang is in a class of its own.