Monday, August 25, 2014

Sichuan, China

When I say China, you think factories and industrialization. What you don't think about is how China's also coined the "Big Green" and how applicable that name is to the country. Yes, the skies may be hazy and the water may not be as clear as it used to be, but China is still undoubtedly an expansive plot of very green land. I had the chance to tour several parts of Sichuan. In this post I will focus on the food I ate in Chengdu, Leshan, and Emei Shan. China is so expansive that even in the same province, the food and landscapes are vastly different. 

A bamboo grove at the panda breeding ground

The most famous of Chinese cuisines is Sichuan's ma la spicy style food. Ma la is made with fermented bean paste, Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, and other spices, which gives it its distinct numbing spicy flavor. The reason why people in Chengdu eat so much of this spice is because of its geography. It's set in valley surrounded by mountains, so a lot of moisture gathers and lingers in the air. The spices used that characterizes the ma la flavor are actually to balance this excess wetness that would otherwise cause a lot of physical ailments such as joint pain. My guide explained that this is why Chengdu women have the smoothest flawless skin. 

As for the ma la food... thinking about it just makes me drool. The spiciness (albeit oily) really whets your appetite and even though you are suffering from the numbness, you can't help but keep eating. Everything is so flavorful and the ingredients are predominantly local, allowing all the fresh water fish and produce to be very fresh. After this trip, I really do have renewed faith in China. Its ability to rebuild Chengdu after the 2008 earthquake is simply astounding. And you really cannot go wrong with the food in this province! 

Ma po tofu! 

Hiking snacks: corn on the cob, sausages and dried meats, and tea eggs

The golden Buddha atop the fickle Emei Mountain
When in Sichuan, you must have ma la hot pot at least once
No Sichuan ma la hot pot would be complete without fish heads!

Ma la cold dishes made with beef offal
Baked pancakes with ma la spiced ground pork

Street food: spicy marinated chicken wings
Street food: spicy squid tentacles

The Leshan Buddha built under the rule of Empress Wu Zhetian in the Tang Dynasty
Leshan specialties: ma la fish, homemade tofu, and smoked duck
Buying grapes off the side of the highway from one of the countless vineyards
You can't visit Sichuan without seeing China's national treasure, the pandas! 

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