While Sichuan food is available around the world, Sichuan dishes take on an almost electric quality – in both color and flavor – when served in China. Here’s a sample of our favorite Sichuan meals from our travels through the Sichuan Region of China.
A checklist: four days, three ethnic village markets, stacks of smoked dogs, and one testicle stand. Guizhou Province exuded tradition; it was China at its most authentic and at times its most eye-popping.
We paid a visit to the province, described in guidebooks as one of China's most underdeveloped, to experience a group of ethnic village markets clustered around the town of Kaili. Although the timing of our visit did not coincide with any ethnic festivals (the standard draw for the relatively few tourists that visit the region), there was no shortage of everyday market pageantry and visual stimulation.
Steamed, fried or boiled; round, crescent, or amorphous; meat or veg; thin-skinned or thick, dumplings in China form a universe all their own.
By no means are we experts in Chinese dumplings. That's a life's work. But we can offer a brief primer and the best of our dumpling experiences in China.
Two days of roller-coaster travel on unpaved roads and in old buses cramped with members of the Chinese Olympic Spitting Team. It was a long road to Xishuangbanna.
Tucked in the deep south of China's Yunnan Province, the Xishuangbanna region conjured images of thatched huts, tropical jungle, and a rainbow of ethnic minorities. But when we arrived in Jinghong, the regional capital, our hearts sank. We got the impression that we had arrived too late.
When a jovial, inebriated, shirtless man boarded our bus with a meter-long pipe (think Cheech and Chong go to China), we figured we were slipping even further off China’s organized tourist trail.
We begin our Chinese food series in the same place we entered China: in the city of Kashgar in China's western frontier province of Xinjiang. Like the native Uighur people and their culture, food in Xinjiang province resembles Central Asian and Turkic cuisine more than stereotypical Chinese food.
When we talk to people about our travels in China, we sense their fear.
No, not political or economic fear:
Didn’t you have trouble with the language? How about the food? Chinese food in China is terrible, isn’t it? Don’t they eat a lot of dog?”
All fair questions and sentiments, particularly if you've never been to China. We have a real story to tell about food in China. Armed with frighteningly limited Mandarin language skills and a sincere disinterest in dining on dog or innards, we managed to eat like kings on a pauper’s pence during the three months we traveled across China.
In zoos all over the world, crowds battle to catch a peek of one of the world’s most recognizable and rarest animals, the giant panda. During our visit to the Chendgu Panda Breeding Research Center, tourists were so few that the pandas actually invited us to join them and granted us an interview. Here’s what Jing-Jing, their spokesperson, had to say:
Friendly people, delicious food, green parks, active temples – even pandas. Why Chendgu doesn’t get more coverage in the tourist press, we don’t know. It quickly became our favorite big city (population over 10 million) in China.