I recently returned from a trip to the Sichuan province of China. It was a whirlwind 10 day trip filled with adorable pandas, a busy city, beautiful mountain villages, a super fun Chinese wedding and of course…lots of amazing food.
Being obsessed with all things food meant that the first thing I had to discover when we arrived in the big city of Chengdu, was what interesting and tasty things they had to offer.
Sichuan is famous for its love of chili and spice, especially it’s well known Sichuan peppercorns or Huajiao. I’ve had Sichuan peppercorns many times here in Australia but the mouth-numbing peppercorns are a whole different story over in Sichuan! Chengdu in particular has it’s specialty of the ‘hot pot’, which showcases the Sichuan peppercorns in all their fiery glory.
The shared hot pot of oil, red chili peppers & Sichuan peppercorns steams & bubbles away in the middle of the table until it’s ready to be filled with anything you desire. We had a selection of beef, pork, seafood, some sort of pork spam?!, lots of delicious mushrooms, tofu, bamboo shoots, lotus roots, potato and cabbage. There are of course many other weird and wonderful options to be added for the local and the adventurous types. Dishes are added to the bubbling broth and then when declared ready, everyone fishes around with chopsticks to retrieve tasty bits from the pot, which you then dunk into your own wicked bowl of sesame oil, garlic & coriander for the full flavor explosion. It’s a pretty heavy, hot, and full-on experience, but one you must have when in Chengdu!
After a day of exploring Chengdu we headed for the countryside, heading up over the Qionglai mountains to the villages surrounding the town of Danba. We home-stayed in the Tibetan mountain village of Zhonglu with a lovely family who took us on walks around the surrounding mountains and visited surrounding villages, while constantly keeping us full with delicious meal after delicious meal.
Most of the food they eat is produced in their village, with the rich mountain-side crops being fed from mountain springs. Every meal was huge, as it’s considered bad hosting for food to ever run out. Breakfasts generally consisted of rice porridge, fermented chili tofu, nuts, boiled eggs & beautiful freshly baked bread using wheat from their own fields. Dinner was always an assortment of delicious shared dishes usually featuring pork, beef, egg & vegetables, followed by a soup, and then rice just in case you weren’t already stonkered.
A day trip further up into the mountains took us to the beautifully quiet Tibetan village of Dangling, where we enjoyed horse riding around the mountains, followed by a lunch cooked in a typical village home over a fire stove. We were pretty relieved when what we were told was horse meat, actually turned out to be pork!…fried up with chili & green peppers, along with cabbage, chili & pork stir fry & my favourite…chili, spinach & egg stir fry.
After an amazing few days in the clean air surrounded by beautiful scenery it was time to head back through the Qionglai mountains to Chengdu again.
We spent a couple of days exploring the city and sampling the city’s food offerings before attending a friend’s super fun Chinese wedding. One of the food highlights in these few days were zhong dumplings, from the one and only Zhong’s. These dumplings date back to the Qing dynasty, created by Zhong Shaobai, who’s recipe is recreated to this day. These delicious morsels are boiled dumplings with a simple filling of pork & spring onions, served in a seriously delicious chili oil, sugar & garlic dipping sauce….something I can’t wait to recreate now that I’m home.