Global EditionASIA 中文双语Français
Home / Travel

A trip to Chengdu is a good way to spice up your life

By Haydn James Fogel | China Daily | Updated: 2024-03-12 08:57
Share - WeChat

Being from Arizona makes one accustomed to heat. Sunny days in the 45-50 C range are frequent enough that a common claim is that you can cook your eggs, or even a steak, right there on the sidewalk. It's wise to wear gloves when driving to avoid burning your hands on the steering wheel. I don't miss it.

The heat I do miss is the culinary type. Arizonans love spicy Latin-American food smothered in verde or roja sauce to wake up the tongue. A friend of my mom's used to bring us homemade salsa, and I once had a chance to watch her make it. She used habanero peppers and an unfamiliar red pepper she called "Sichuan peppers".

Since living in China, I'd always heard that Sichuan province had the spiciest cuisine. My longing for the taste bud-annihilating salsa of my youth guaranteed that I would try it. I finally visited Chengdu in 2021.

My first surprise on arrival was how alive the city was. Forty-five percent of the city's population are between the ages of 14 and 45, making it one of China's most youthful places. Here and there were trendy boutique shops, hip cafes and live music. The people were out and about, not going anywhere particularly but meandering with their friends, using the free time of those who don't work overtime and without children to ship from class to class.

Jiuyanqiao Bar Street made me think of Coney Island or Times Square. As the sun sets, the city comes out to spend their earnings at endless unique bars and music venues. I opted for an upscale speakeasy style bar to hear myself think. Perhaps I'm getting too old for Chengdu's youthful exuberance and forward-thinking dynamism.

My waiter brought me a cocktail with Sichuan peppers and I took the opportunity to ask her where a spice addict like myself should eat to really know how gnarly the hotpot can be. She laughed at me until she saw that I was serious and then told me to go to Long Sen Yuan Hotpot.

I made a reservation, finished my (outstanding) drink and went for a walk along the Jinjiang River. I'm not one for solo walks typically, but I was curious about the Jiuyan bridge, the highlight of the area. The bridge is ancient, not in a decrepit way, but in the way that emperors once built marvels to stand the test of time. It bears the architectural style of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties and is positively stunning to take in. After a long walk, and an even longer break looking out over the bridge and fantasizing about being an emperor, I called it a night.

The next day was hotpot day. Long Sen Yuan turned out to be quite the recommendation. I ordered lotus root, tofu, sweet potato, and other vegetables. For meat, I chose beef. I asked for the spicy broth and learned I could choose from three levels of spiciness. I asked for the most spicy broth available — the waiter made eye contact for the first and only time — and got a warning about how spicy it was. "Bring it on," I told him.

I wish I could say the legend lived up to the hype, though I do imagine the average eater would be demolished by that hotpot. Sichuan peppers measure between 50,000 and 75,000 on the Scoville Scale. It's nothing to scoff at, but the habanero peppers I was raised on top out as high as 350,000. I found the first bite underwhelming (fret not, it was absolutely delectable). However, any expert spicy food savant will tell you that spice builds as you eat, and I had a lot of broth to get through. By the end, I had replaced my assorted dishes with sweat-soaked napkins. The experience was a 10 out of 10, I would recommend it. I thanked the waiter, he laughed at the napkins, we snapped a selfie together, and I called it a night once again. I didn't sleep much.

Most Popular
Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349