An A.M. flight out of Shanghai into Chengdu, Sichuan Province. First class, baby! Frequent flier programs, in my book, provide the most pay back out of all the reward programs. Couscous, surprisingly, was on the menu during our flight. Even more shocking was how tasty it was! Never knew the Chinese could make couscous, or had any knowledge of it.
Tour bus picked us up after we landed, along with the rest of the tour group. We then proceeded to check into one of the most stunning hotel lobbies I had seen. An entire, traditional Chinese garden as the backdrop, with a running stream and tropical birds chirping through cages (that was a bit sad for me).
Chandeliers the size of a small garden hung from the ceiling, with their light refracting off the marble floors. Simply extravagant. The InterContinental Century City Hotel in Chengdu–if you ever happen to be in Chengdu and am willing to pay a little extra for a great stay, this is the way to do it. Not that much pricier than Vegas hotels.
After we had settled in, it was time to hit the dinner table. Traditional Sichuanese hot pot is vastly different from the hot pot most people are acquainted with. There is no broth. There is no soup. It is essentially a large, boiling vat of chili oil with chili peppers and peppercorn. You dunk your meat in it; you dunk your veggies in it.
The name of the restaurant is 川 院 火鍋 ‘chuan yuan hot pot’ , basically meaning “Sichuan hot pot garden”. Supplementary condiments to the hot pot include: sesame oil, more chili oil, garlic, pepper, scallions, salt, and a small dish of MSG. Ah, MSG. Never before had I seen it served so blatantly and proudly. Oddly enough, the food never really got to be overwhelmingly greasy despite the fact that I probably had a cup’s worth of oil in me by the end of the hour. There’s no denying that fat is delicious, though.
To add to the oleaginous meal we had soldiered through, we also ordered a plate of fresh white cabbage–topped with chili sauce. My mouth had completely numbed by this point from the chili hot pot; all I could taste from the cabbage was its delightfully crispy texture. Mmm. Also served at the end as dessert for all of us was deep-fried sesame rice balls, 芝麻湯圓 ‘zhi ma tang yuan’. Sichuan is particularly famous for the tang yuan it produces because of how “Q” or toothsome/chewy they are. Like the kind of chew you’d find in an authentic NYC bagel.