Chengdu, the metropolis of Sichuan, naturally has its own well known cuisine. Iíll just briefly highlight a few aspects I have been introduced to :
· Xiao Chi : The xiao-chi ("small dishes" or snacks) of Chengdu are fantastic ! Served in many places in the city, these may be served hot or cold, plain or spicy, and are always served in small helpings. They are ordered in sets, sometimes in sets of ten or fifteen. The most famous place to have this is at the restaurant known as "Long Chao Shou", a state-run restaurant which receives patrons from all over China. Located at Chunxi Lu, one can have sets of 15 at RMB 15.00 per set downstairs at the canteen. But take note of the bad service here. Like the classic state-run shop, they have many staff more interested in sitting around chatting than serving customers.
· Catfish (or lianyu in Chinese) : Opposite Orchard Villas on Renmin Nan Lu are a group of restaurants serving catfish as main dishes ("Number One Commercial Street of Catfish", as they call themselves). One first select these great creatures from ponds in the restaurants and then they are served in spicy and pepper-favoured sauce. · Hotpot (huoguo) : Many restaurants dealing with these at a street nicknamed "Number One Commercial Street of Hotpot". But one can find restaurants serving hotpot in many places in Chengdu. If you can take it, ask for the Chongqing Hotpot, which is the hottest of all.
· Minority/Tribal : Sichuan is a province of diverse minority make-up and hence one can find interesting tribal restaurants in Chengdu. I have been to an interesting one serving Dai (a tribe in Yunnan) cuisine and one serving many other Southwest tribal cuisines at Ri Yue Cheng (Day and Night City Southwest Minority Culture Theme Park) in the suburbs of Chengdu. And there are also others that I did not but would love to try, e.g., Tibetan cuisine in a number of Tibetan hotels and restaurants in Chengdu.
Before this trip, I had thought that people in developing countries like China would be more superstitious and devoted religiously, as a result of lesser contact with modern technology and godless television. This is not so. In fact, I am very surprised by the total lack of belief in any religion by anyone 50 years and below. Most people view religions as primitive beliefs and acts of devotion, as feudal and manifestations of illiteracy and backwardness. Very few educated people would like to be associated with religions, although most donít mind making a simple prayer in temples when they are there - most likely during a sightseeing trip. Thatís no different from an American tourist throwing a coin into fountains in Rome or Paris (or anywhere else) for luck. What causes this change in a country famous for beautiful temples, built over centuries by very devoted people ? And this contrasts drastically from economically more successful and developed Chinese societies like Taiwan and Hong Kong, where religion has become an important facet of life. Perhaps, it is the feeling of loss and confusion caused by a hectic urban lifestyle that make religion very important in maintaining a personal sense of worth and meaning - something that China is lacking, but certainly moving towards.