Over the Easter weekend, I made a trip to Changsha in Hunan Province. I found it a really fantastic city with a very laid-back approach to life. Above all, the food there is amazing. There are a wealth of restaurants cooking up really distinctive Hunan dishes, and then almost every street abounds in stalls offering a really wide range of different snacks. Below is an overview of some of the places I visited – then I’ll also include links to more extensive descriptions of each one.
This restaurant has a clean and super-modern interior, all cheap wood and plastic. Even the dishes the food is served on are made of plastic. But don’t let this chain cafe appearance fool you, it serves up really authentic and traditionally cooked local food that could have come from a little home style restaurant and tastes amazing. Locals pack out its many tables for this reason.
The Fifth Grandma Fermented Tofu Stall
This little tiny stall is squeezed down a small alley that dives of the western side of Huangxing South Road (a little further south than the southern end of the pedestrianised part of the street). Known as The Fifth Grandma stall, they have passed their special recipe for making the tofu down from generation to generation. The result are delicious pieces of ashy grey tofu that have a chewy outer skin and an spongy inside which oozes juices. Despite the tofo’s appearance, the flavour is quite subtle, a vinegary and smoky pungence that’s really distinctive. Also in this alley is a stall selling small snails – their springy meat soaked in a salty and spicy tasting juice.
Outdoor restaurant on corner of Xihu Rd and Huangxing South Rd
With just a few outdoor counters for a kitchen, this restaurant fries up a wide range of incredible dishes, from Hunan style frog to fried crab. One of their specialties is Kou Wei Xia (Strange Taste Fried Shrimp). Large shrimp are fried in their shells with slices of fresh red chili giving their white flesh a wonderfully sweet and spicy taste that is really special. It’s great to sit outside at one of their tables and eat this with a cold bottle of beer.
Noodle Restaurant on Pozi St
This noodle restaurant at number 132 on the well-known snack street of Pozi Jie has minimalist no-fuss decor, just plenty of big tables to accommodate the continual flow of diners who come to eat here. It does really good bowls of Hunan style niuroufen (beef with rice noodles). The strips of meat are nice and tender, the broth has a strong meaty and earthy flavour, and each bowl is scattered with lots of fresh parsley and pieces of celery which really add to the taste of the soup.
Fire Palace, 127 Pozi Street, Tianxin, Changsha
This restaurant is famous because Chairman Mao used to come here to eat their wide variety of delicious local snacks. The restaurant is huge, with several floors of large dining halls where the tables are all crowded with people. It’s bustling atmosphere reminded me a bit of the large dim sum restaurants in Hong Kong. As many of those used to, people here come round with trolleys from which you can pick up little dishes and baskets of snacks. There is a huge variety of things on offer – from changsha style donuts with spring onion and savory fried dough, to larger dishes like laziji and dan dan noodles.
Yang Yanjing 杨眼镜
This restaurant is called Yang’s Glasses, supposedly because it does food so spicy that somebody called Yang lost his glasses or something. Whatever the name means, it does excellent versions of different Hunanese dishes. I had the Xiang Xi La Rou (湘西腊肉）which was wonderful, with no real sauce but great flavours and textures given by simple ingredients. Long strips of radish had a real crunchy bite to them, contrasting nicely with the soft, fatty slices of smoke meat between them . I also had 野山牛肉 (Wild Mountain Beef) which was equally good, with little tender and flavorful straggles of beef amongst some fresh red chilies giving sweet spice and some pale green pickled peppers giving a more sour pungent spice.
This restaurant is not all that easy to find. Go to the big roundabout where Lao Dong Xi Lu and South Huangxing road meet. Then walk north along the right hand side of South Huangxing road. After about 20m a small alley dives off to the right and Yang Yanjing is about half way down here. The entrance has some wooden panels and some posters of a chef frying things and is much more elaborate than the other restaurants around.