We’re in Chengdu, home of the legendary giant panda, spicy hotpot, rabbit heads and a big Mao statue. And we didn’t actually know about the rabbit heads until we arrived at the hostel, but take it from us, this delicacy is everywhere.
We thought Xi’an was a great place to relax. Little did we know that our next stop, Chengdu, is known for the slow pace of life and tea house culture. Southwest China knows how to take it easy, and we’re loving it. Staying at hostels have been awesome (can you believe it!? I’m shocked) and the one in Chengdu has been awesome. We’re touring panda reservations, biking around the city and eating more crazy food.
According to the book the one ‘must do’ in Chengdu is eat spicy hotpot. Remember the words of warning from Ben in Qingdao? Well, I’m happy to report that the food is indeed spicy but we managed to hold it together. “Spicy” isn’t really the correct way of explaining Sichuan food. There is a “la” flavor which means spicy and a “ma” flavor which means numb. The ‘ma’ is what gets you.
Take a bite of the ‘ma’ berry and you’re done for – your mouth is numb for the entire meal. The pickled peppers at El Farolito are put to shame by spiciness of Sichuan ‘ma la’ combination.
We went to a place recommended by our hostel staff – I wanted authenticity and man, did we get it. The menu was only in Chinese and the restaurant staff did not know what to do with us. I’m getting used to this, so I jumped up and started going around the tables, pointing to what other people were eating. I don’t know if they were horrified or in hysterics, but I was hurriedly led to the kitchen where to cooks took great joy in showing me every strange, exotic animal bit that you could think of.
One waitress wanted to make damn sure we ate this hotpot properly and hovered around us, pointing out what ingredient we should add next, even filling our bowls.
Here come’s Peter Cottontail
Hotpot isn’t the only food that Chengdu is known for. Spicy rabbit head plays an important role in the ongoing “I actually ate that” campaign. Vinnie tore into the cheeks, using the cranium as a spoon to eat the brain. I watched.
Old Skool Zhongguo
Yesterday we headed out to a remote ancient village, the guide from our hostel led us down a dirt path into what felt like a part of China that is quickly dissapearing. The village only has a few old timers left, most of the young people have moved into the city and only return on holidays. I’m not sure anyone will be there much longer either, a huge highway project is currently underway and plans to run right through the village…
We happened upon a “teahouse” (really a shed) where the stooped, weathered diners jumped up to offer their seats. The chef at the teahouse was excited to show off her bare bones kitchen, equipt with a huge wok but no electricity. We bought some cookies and chilled, enjoying the company of the locals.
After wandering around people’s homes, we were led to the commercial area of town. Because people had been living in this town for a thousand years, it had become a kind of tourist destination for urban Chinese people. If you’ve been to China, you know that this means dress-up shops, chincy souveniers and crazy entertainment like haunted houses and bumper cars. It felt a little like a Niagra Falls. I’m still not sure what touring an ancient village and playing dress up have to do with each other, but it’s the thing to do!