According to Wikipedia, it differs from neighbouring Sichuan province in “its liberal use of chilli, shallots and garlic, Hunan cuisine is known for being dry hot (干辣) or purely hot, as opposed to Sichuan cuisine, [which is] known for its distinctive mala (hot and numbing) seasoning and other complex flavour combinations, [and] frequently employs Sichuan peppercorns along with chilies which are often dried, and utilises more dried or preserved ingredients and condiments. Hunan cuisine, on the other hand, is often spicier by pure chili content, contains a larger variety of fresh ingredients, and tends to be oilier. Another characteristic is that, in general, Hunan cuisine uses smoked and cured goods in its dishes much more frequently”.
I had just two days here and only managed to get downtown on one occasion.
The main entertainment district seems to be on the eastern bank of the Xiangjiang river, south of Juzizhou bridge and around its continuation Wuyi Avenue. The area has lots of glitzy shopping centres, branded shops, night clubs and eateries of all kinds which attract all ages but especially the young.
As a lone, non-Mandarin speaking traveller, it’s a challenge for me to get to try traditional dishes wherever I go. I managed it in Changsha though, by doing the following:
I went to this Wikipedia webpage and took a photo of the ‘list of notable dishes’ from Hunan with their English/Chinese translations. In the restaurant I just zoomed in on the dishes I fancied eating and showed them the Chinese translation.The waiting staff were ever so relieved they didn’t have to communicate with me verbally (the source of surliness in some places?) and I got quite good service. The other diners that I was sharing my circular table with were gobsmacked at what I managed to get and I got several smiles as a result. Ah, the wonders of technology.
On one occasion I had Changsha-style stinky tofu or Chángshā chòu dòufǔ or 長沙臭豆腐长沙臭豆腐 This dish is prepared by soaking the tofu in a brine and fermenting it for a number of months. Different styles take different colours but the Changsha version is coal black. It’s said that the more the tofu smells the better it tastes but the stuff I had didn’t have a strong odour and tasted fine (B+). It came with a spicy sauce but wasn’t too hot.
I also had another famous local dish; shredded pork with vegetables or nóngjiā xiǎo chǎoròu or 農家小炒肉农家小炒肉 (sorry about the blurry picture). Again a bit of spice but not too much. I loved the whole cloves of garlic though (B+).
I’m so sorry but I don’t recall the name of the restaurant I went to, and have lost my notes, but there are a few specialising in Hunanese food on Tripadvisor you could try.
I was staying at the Grand Sun City Hotel (Block 3, 269 Furong Middle Road). I received good service here from most of the staff, though not many of them spoke English. In terms of facilities, they have a large triangular pool and a basic gym with a couple of fair-sized running machines. The breakfast is ok but limited for Westerners as is usually the case. The fried rice, pak choi and cold Harbin beer that I had in their Chinese restaurant was fine (B+). Go early though as you may be the only customer and they will want to close as soon as your done.
There’s not much in the way of things to do in or near the hotel but, if listening to the usual piano recital in the lobby isn’t your thing, it’s only a short taxi ride to the downtown entertainments district. Just ask the receptionist to write the address for the cab driver, and grab a hotel business card so you can get back again.