Our next stop after Xi'an was Chengdu....and boy, when I first planned this stage out, I was excited! Apparently, one of the Missus' cousins lived in Chengdu so we'd be visiting....then I found out that we wouldn't exactly be staying in Chengdu, but Jianyang a smaller city (of course "smaller" is a relative term as the population of Jianyang is about 1.5 million!) about 80 kilometers from Chengdu. Oh well, I'd have to wait until next time to try all the places listed in Food and Drink Chengdu. We got off our flight and crossed the street to wait for the Missus's cousin to pick us up. While waiting the Missus and I noticed this woman just stop and squat, derriere hanging over the road to take a text message.....I mean really, was that message so important that you had to stop right where you were to take it?
Eventually, our ride arrived and introductions were made. I quickly surmised that this cousin was deeply involved in the "new" China......business and commerce was king. And even though he wasn't familiar with the restaurants in both Chengdu and Jianyang, nor very interested in eating out, he'd made quite an effort for us during our stay. Maybe too much of an effort as the Missus and I would have managed fine ourselves, but we really appreciated the effort.
He had asked around and found a place for us to have lunch. The car was parked near Tianfu Square which is considered the center of the city.
This was once the location of the Imperial Palace which was destroyed after the Cultural Revolution. A huge status of Chairman Mao now overlooks the square.
A couple of things we noticed right away. The pace here was pretty leisurely, at least in comparison with Beijing, Qingdao, Xi'an, and Hangzhou. The sky seemed quite overcast and the temperature mild. We were told that this is pretty common weather for Chengdu, and the mild weather, overcast skies in combination with the hot and spicy food was why the complexions of the women from the area were so beautiful!
We walked through the shopping district and to the Chengdu institution called Long Chau Shou (龙抄手):
The restaurant is huge and cafeteria like.
The restaurant specializes in "snack" type dishes, of which there is quite a variety....and of course Long Chao Shou, which we know as wonton soup. I could clearly see the trays of wontons stacked up in the kitchen area.
I'm still not wuite sure of the system, but it seemed like you walk up to one of the counters and order, pay, then hunt down a table. You aren't given a number, placard, or anything. I truly had doubts that our food would find its way to our table in this mass of humanity. But I would be proved wrong as the blue clad workers had no problems finding us.
There were only two items that I really concentrated on during the meal. The first was the Long Chao Shou. I had chosen the spicy version.
This was quite good. Long Chau Shou's wontons are famous for their "kou gan" - mouth sensation, a combination of textures and a slippery, noodley-ness (is there such a word), and these were really nice. For me, it was all about the thin wrappers. The "soup" was interesting, I had been told and have also found that there was definite difference between Chengdu and ChongQing style food. And the meals we had in Chengdu and Jianyang pretty much confirmed it for me. The food in Chengdu is lighter and less spicy. In fact, I really didn't think this was very hot at all. What did surprise me was the intensity of the "ma", the Sichuan peppercorns were very floral and numbed me from the tip of my nose down my neck. This made getting Sichuan Peppercorns from Chengdu a must have for our return. (Which of course, I did)
I also had to try the Sichuan Liang Mian - the spicy cold noodles.......
This was ok, we've had versions here in the states that are every bit as good, if not better. But again, that wonderful numbing feeling was great.....I'm sure that shipping and irradiation does something to what we get here in the US.
Some of the other dishes:
Not much into sweets...so I passed.
Chengdu was the capital of the Shu Kingdom (221-263).
The street is full of cafes, shops, and little stands plying all types of crafts, knick-knacks, snacks, do-hickeys, and thingamijiggies.
It was a nice area to stretch our legs, browse, and wander around for a bit.
We were headed for a specific spot. This was where I first learned what one of the favorite pastimes in Chengdu was...... socializing in a tea house.
Folks ante up an purchase a cup of tea, hot water is refilled upon request, snacks are purchased...the young folks play cards, older folks read books, socialize, or like this guy, have a major nap.
This guy was sleeping when we arrived and was still napping when we left over two hours later!
The funniest site was watching the monks bum off cigarettes from folks in the tea house...they would sit down, have good smoke and chat with folks......I've seen a monk smoking a cigarette in a tea house in Chengdu...now I've seen it all!