Everybody has that one restaurant that they have been meaning to try for a decade and keep putting it off. For me that was Szechuan Chengdu. I had it on good authority that the food here was superb, but the fact that I doubted the reality of decent Chinese food in Oslo, toppled by the facade reeking of old alcoholics gripping their last few pints, kept me hesistant for over 10 years.
What a fucking idiot I was.
Finally, in the summer of 2020 a small ensemble of food-oriented scouts shunned the alcoholic stench of sad resignation and cuddled around a far table, remembering the words spoken almost 8 years ago "Ask for the secret menu, the red one, the red one!!".
Legend has it that there are two menu's, one reserved for those who's main occupation is providing enough nutrition with which to continue drinking, the other for those seeking cultural delicacies unknown to most natives. Being amongst a vegetarian-friendly group, we decided to avoid the meat dishes and ordered a selection of vegan and vegetarian plates to share.
I was immediately taken back to restaurants I ate at in Hong Kong and Taiwan, where far from being rude, the service is rarely friendly. The elderly lady snapped at me when asking if they had any chili oil "No, we make the food and you eat". Fair enough. I just know that even tho it's from Sichuan, they will lower the spice level for Norwegians so I just wanted to have some danger in my life. I secretly loved her for it.
All our dishes arrived in quick succession, sizzling hot from over-worked woks in hidden umbrage. The shouts of instructions being passed through swinging doors to chefs kept out of sight, the constant stumble of drunks asking for refills then lighting up cigarettes by the outside tables to watch trams and perhaps their dreams drift into the distance.
Whoever they have manning the woks, deserve the greatest accolades known to humanity. The food was sumptuous. Delicious. Spicy, tart, rich, garlicky, umami-laden, crunchy, silky, every word you could think of could be emptied in a long tirade at how seriously good this food is.
The portions are large, the ingredients fresh and perfectly executed, the price bang on point, and the service rude with a wry smile. Just how we like it.
Standout dishes for me (on subsequent visits too) are the mapo tofu (without meat) and the excellent, excellent aubergine with garlic sauce. Stupidly good. Come gather here in the bosom of alcoholic melancholy and nourish your soul with the glorious items from the red menu.
This is Oslo's best kept secret that is a secret no more.
These recommendations are just personal opinions based on my palate, things change, chefs get fired or replaced, places open-close, relocate, so take it all with a pinch of MSG and discover your own gems too. But please do try a few of these, they have been researched exhaustively.
"Sadness is tempered by umami, grief by the motion of slurping, hope restored by the ladling of glistening, fatty broth"