Located in the west Sichuan Basin of Southwestern China, Chengdu was once cited by a magazine as the most stress-free city in China. Bestowed with rich rainfall, fertile land, and a low cost of living, Chengdu is imbued with an atmosphere of ease and comfort, evident in its residents’ leisurely manner. The particularity of the region is also perceivable in the local dishes, teahouses and, most of all, in the women of Chengdu. Visitors to Chengdu therefore like to amble around the city, enjoying the exuberant and inexpensive life style, rather than rushing around the scenic spots.
Chengdu is well known for its Sichuan cuisine. Compared with Guangdong dishes, those of Sichuan are equally delicious, but more homely, and the gastronomic pleasure they bring never palls. In China, twice-cooked pork (huiguorou) and diced pork with peanuts in hot spicy sauce (gongbaorouding) are available in most restaurants, and are among the most frequently ordered dishes.
People in different cities have diverse tastes in food: Beijing people enjoy elaborate banquets to bolster their self-esteem; for Shanghainese, the environment and atmosphere of a restaurant take priority over the food, as dining is only a means through which to flaunt their refined taste. People from Guangdong, on the other hand, are solely concerned about the stuff of the repast. As for the people of Chengdu, flavor is of utmost importance. Chengdu people love to try food that is new and in vogue. They will travel the length of the city just to taste a newly devised dish in an out-of-the-way eatery, and local restaurants are adept at coming up with an endless supply of exotic dishes to entice new customers. Once a dish comes into vogue, diners swarm to try it, and it is soon available in almost every restaurant in the city.
Chengdu food is hot, spicy, succulent, and crisp. On Wangping Street, Meiling Road and Yangxixian Street, are numerous restaurants serving hot-pot and original Chengdu dishes. Among them, the three run by scholars are most distinctive. Chuandong Laojia (Eastern Sichuan Hometown) was founded by Er Mao, a poet of the Miao ethnic minority. Having inherited his mother’s cooking skills, he developed a series of new dishes that blend the flavor of Sichuan and Miao ethnic food. The Xiangjichu, which was established by another poet, Li Yawei, enjoys brisk business for its savory dishes and rustic-style service, and He Nong, a man of letters, is an exponent of home cooking, and has created the trademark of new-style Sichuan dishes — Baguo Buyi (Sichuan Commoner).
One very popular leisure pursuit in China is tea drinking, and the teahouse is an indispensable feature in the life of Chengdu people. As cafes and bars supersede teahouses in other Chinese cities advancing towards modern metropolis status, most of the traditional teahouses still do a good trade in Chengdu, the most celebrated being the one inside the Great Mercy Temple.
It is said that the Great Mercy Temple was the first place that Du Fu, eminent poet of the Tang Dynasty, visited after arriving in Chengdu, and that he ate the free porridge given to the homeless there. In the dynasties following, the temple served as both a Buddhist sanctum and a place of recreation for both officials and the populace. It is only in Chengdu that Buddhism and human society blend harmoniously. Today a Chengdu Museum and teahouse have been built inside the Great Mercy Temple. After ordering a pot of jasmine tea at a nominal five yuan charge, the customer may spend the whole day in the traditional-style teahouse, with its winding corridors, carved beams, painted pillars, and broad fanlight. Waiters serve tea in a particularly skillful manner, from a distance with a long-spouted brass teapot, from which a narrow arc of hot water pours directly into the cup without spilling a drop. Besides tea, breakfast, lunch and dinner, a full range of Sichuan dishes is also served at the Great Mercy Teahouse. Casting a glance around the parlor, you may see young lovers billing and cooing, middle-aged men reading the newspaper, and elders tending their pet birds.
The teahouses in Chengdu reveal a particular attitude towards life: that of acquiring the best service at the least cost. Social demarcation within the social strata is blurred in the teahouse. Sipping tea at the same table, people from different regions become friends.
The carefree life in Chengdu greatly benefits local women, who are generally of a sweet and charming nature. A Chengdu-based writer has portrayed Chengdu girls in this way: “Chengdu girls sound delectable and tender, even when they are squabbling. Many of my friends are true Chengdu women. Despite having different dispositions and interests, they all radiate feminine charm.”