Got a hankering for some authentic spicy Sichuan eats but don't have the time or the money to hop a Chongqing to indulge in mouth-numbing má là (麻辣) in situ? Then check out your local branch of Ba Guo Bu Yi (Ba Guó Bù Yī, 巴国布衣), or Sichuan Folk as it's known in English.
With a hefty menu that takes in all the classics, it's a great place to get your Sichuan fix. And while it may not satisfy the purest of the purists, it will certainly leave your taste buds tingling. I recently hit up the Shanghai branch on 1018 Dingxi Lu (Dìngxi Lù, 定西路) with some friends and found a lofty restaurant built in a traditional courtyard style with intricately carved wood and antique furniture, packed to the rafters with diners tucking into huge plates of spicy crab, melt-in-your-mouth fish swimming in chilli oil and liàng gān báiròu (晾杆白肉 ), finely sliced pork belly hanging over small wooden trestles, ready to be wrapped around feathers of cucumber and spring onion and dipped into a fierce, treacly-looking chili sauce and devoured.
The whole restaurant is built around a stage which, along with the classic country cuisine, is the setting for another Ba Guo Bu Yi specialty: the biànliǎn (变脸) or face changing show. Taking place at 8pm every evening, the performance is short but sweet and very loud. Again, this is probably not one for the purists who will likely shudder at the modern take on traditional music, but the energetic performer leaps and bounds in dramatic fashion, his face flashing through a range of colors and expressions in seconds, adding a bit more traditional Sichuan flavor to the evening—a consummate entertainer, he even departs the stage to work the crowd and pose for pictures after the show.
There are twenty Ba Guo Bu Yi outlets across China including Shanghai, Beijing, Hangzhou, Shenzhen, Sanya and Nanjing so a fiery fix is never too far away. There are also three stores in Chengdu itself, including the flagship store where seats are particularly hard to come by, but booking at any and all is definitely recommended, especially if you want to catch the show.