Someone asked me "what's your favorite Chinese food" and I was really kind of puzzled. What IS it? Like, maybe baozi (steamed buns)? But that's so unfair to lots of way more interesting foods. I hate picking favorites; I want to eat every food.
They were also talking to me about the "northerners eat noodles, southerners eat rice" thing, and I realized, oh yeah, I _have_ been noticing way more noodle joints (and wonton, and dumpling, and baozi) since getting north of Chengdu. Anyway, point to the Northerners; nothing against rice, but they make some amazing noodley things.
Speaking of which: short history of some noodles. So Lanzhou, Gansu became known for its Muslim beef noodles, or niu rou mian. This is fine. However, in nearby Qinghai, there was an area called Hualong, which used to make a bunch of guns. (They started making guns a few decades ago, when Mao and his revolutionaries sent all the gun makers out to this faraway place because they didn't want gun makers all over the place.) But then they started sending guns to criminals (because, who wants guns?) so the new government wanted to get Hualong some other industry. So they started training them to make niu rou mian. Clearly, not quite as well as the Lanzhou folks, but whatever; the industry flourished and they started exporting niu rou mian shops around the country, and now most niu rou mian is second-rate knockoff Hualong stuff. I met a reporter named Chris who's doing a story about this and other intricacies that come in when you dig into the noodle world; fascinating stuff. (And Chris, sorry if I messed up details here. Readers, I'll try to remember to come back here and link to his full story when it's published in a few months if I can remember.)
Folks in Gansu/Qinghai have a way of making lamb. I think it's a Hui (roughly, Chinese Muslim but not Uighur) thing. On menus I've seen it something like "boiled lamb" ... which sounds terrible, but it's really good. More for tenderness than taste - but you can add flavor by dipping it in these spices that are also really good.
Aged vinegar is a thing I haven't noted much about yet. It's everywhere. There's always a thing of red pepper and a thing of aged vinegar on the table. This is awesome. It's savory and tangy and good on just about everything.
Tibetan food gets dumped on a lot, and it's true, I wouldn't rank it among the world's great cuisines. But they've got a few high points. A lot of them are the breads. Not only the qing ke bing (highland barley cake) that Tati and I have grown to love, but also just a bunch of different breads that probably have names that I don't know. They're great kinda in the way that naan or pita is great, not like French or Italian or German bread.
Fuqifeipian, or "Husband and wife lung slices", named after a husband and wife who used to sell lung slices. (luckily, not their own.) Now it tends to be all sorts of organ meats, spicy Sichuan style. Totally great.
Another standout: liang pi, or a cold noodley thing. I'm not sure quite what it is besides kinda chewy wide noodles that are cold and spicy. (About time; everything else here is piping hot.)
Let me know if there's any iconic Sichuan dishes I ought to be cooking or trying. (or Gansu, Qinghai, Yunnan, or Tibetan, really, but I'm going to be focusing on Sichuan.)