sichuan spicy

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chengdu, the capital of sichuan province, was probably my favorite eating while i was in china.  china was a super quick trip for me.  i spent 6 weeks making a huge loop around the country.  it felt pretty rushed, considering it’s one of the largest countries in the world.  i was only in sichuan for a few days…originally my plan had been to head from hong kong directly to the spicy provinces (hunan, sichuan, yunnan), but instead made my way east to visit the major cities of beijing and shanghai first.

i was well rewarded though with the wait.  western china’s food explodes with flavor.  i actually liked most every thing i sampled in china, but chengdu was when the real excitement began.  i quickly found a hostel in the city capital and found someone who spoke english (somewhat).  i reached into my pocket for a scrap of rumpled train ticket and had them write in chinese “i would like that please” and “same spicy as the locals.”  i had had issues before of pointing to dishes that looked tantalizing on other diners’ tables, only to receive a lesser version of the same dish.  i think most people looked at my blond hair, blue eyed western face and assumed i couldn’t handle the heat.

not this lass. bring the chilis!

i couldn’t afford to let this happen in the heat capital of china.  i tucked the paper into my passport and skipped down the street towards what looked like a bustling area.  i immediately walked past a noodle shop that was bursting at the gills with school students and elders alike.  spicy noodles for breakfast?  yes please!  i walked in and still had trouble ordering.  the pink slip was failing me!!  they handed me a bowl with no spice on it.  foiled!

i looked around trying to figure out what i could point to.  i waived my hand in front of my mouth and said “ma”.  nope.  nothing.

then a sweet sweet lady came to my rescue.  Pearl.  what a gem.  she stepped in and ordered my bowls (i actually ordered 2 different kinds cuz i was so curious! shh).  she invited me to come sit with her and her son.  she lives in georgia, so her english was perfect, if only strongly accented.  she looked surprised that i was by myself.  and eating spicy food.  why is it so shocking?

she told me how when she was a little girl, she used to pass this noodle shop every day on her way to school.  it smelled so good, but she was so poor that she never could afford to eat there.  now, every time she comes back to china to visit her family, she takes her sons there every day to enjoy a bowl of the sticky noodles.

we talked about food.  a lot.  and then we walked around the city, exploring her town where she grew up.  explaining to me the vast changes that take place every year, yet still enjoying the simple pleasures of her local food spots, temples and parks.

i spent the whole day with her and her 2 sons.  we spent at least an hour with an old magician who tricked me into buying cool magic tricks (which of course i’ve never touched since the day i bought!).  and then in the evening, we met up with her sister and i had my first hot pot.

memorable.  we sat in a noisy restaurant with a vat of broth and chili bubbling away in front of us.  the walls were lined with vegetables, fish, meat balls…the variety was large.  and you paid by the skewer.  we all filled our plates to nearly over flowing and dumped in batches our desired bites.  we talked, pearl translated to her sister, her sons finally left their shy look behind, and we had a lovely, scorchingly spicy dinner (u can adjust the spiciness to your liking.  we choice spiiiicy)

to cool our inflamed lips, we stepped outside and ordered from a sidewalk vendor an icy with plum syrup.  he turned on his cart and threw liquid onto what looked like a griddle.  but it was more like an anti-griddle! (which i’ve only ever seen in high end restaurants!).  he moved the liquid around, much like a cook making eggs on a griddle, and piled the icy goodness into a cup.  we all dipped in and savored the cool on our tingling taste buds.

sichuan was a dream, if you’re looking for heat.  and i was.  and i found not only amazing food, but the sweetest people.  oh, and did i mention how much that dinner cost?  5 people eating til we were about to burst…$13 dollars.

how much?

train from xi’an to chengdu (sleeper this time!): 200¥

mix hostel, dorm beds: 25¥ and free pick up from the train station

bowl of noodles from ZhangNianFen (by Wensu Temple): 4¥ for a bowl of TianShuiMian, a dish meaning “sweet water noodle”

laundry: 10¥ per load

back massage plus cupping : 40-80¥    so relaxing, and the cupping leaves you with beautiful ladybug-like spots 😉

bus ride: 1¥  …but the buses are only in chinese.  pay attention, and if possible, have your destination written out for you so you can show the driver.

sichuan opera: 150¥

panda research base!!!  who doesn’t want to see pandas? go early so you can actually catch some morning movement.  otherwise they just sleep all day and it’s not as fun as watching them bumble around.   58¥

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