Amazing but Numbing Sichuan
This was the very FIRST DISH served to us (as part of the cold dish appetizers) after we touched down in Chengdu, Sichuan Province. The pureed fresh red chillies mixed in hot chilli oil was served on top of rice rolls (zhu-zhang fen), and it looked absolutely tempting (especially for chilli-lovers). It was DELICIOUS, and for me, this picture is the epitome of Sichuanese cuisine, and at the time it was taken, little did I know that it was also the portent of the spiciness in all our future meals during the one-week vacation in Sichuan.
Every meal we had, literally every meal including breakfast, had at least one (if not more) numbing chilli-hot dish. Sichuanese chillies are a force to be reckoned with, and together with the equally deadly Sichuan red and green peppercorns, create a numbing effect ('ma' in Chinese) on our tongues. A week's diet of red-hot chilli in various forms spread on or cooked with all things edible, and one begins to wonder whether the Sichuanese locals have steel plates embedded in their tongues and stomach linings!
All that chilli must surely add to a person's fiery temperament, and sure enough, our tour guide informed us that local Sichuanese girls are known as 'la mei zi' (or 'fiery/spicy pretty maidens'). In endeavouring to find out the reason for this extraordinary appetite for hot chillies, we were told that locals invariably blamed the weather. Sichuan weather is generally misty and cloudy for much of the year, causing dampness in the body and bones (which in turn brings on rheumatism and a host of other bodily frailties). Thus, the Sichuanese locals eat chillies in abundance to combat this dampness that creeps into one's bones - but this sure doesn't explain eating chillies in the hot summer months?? Sichuan's misty weather is so infamous that the locals have a saying, 'shu quan fei ri', which means dogs barking at the sight of the sun, i.e. it is so rare to see a clear blue sky with the sun shining that the unusual sight will set Sichuanese dogs barking!
More photos of the beautiful scenery in Jiuzhaigou valley and other fiery dishes to follow soon - once I get on top of the huge backlog of work... sigh!