Dear and friends and family,
I know that you didn’t see me before and that society says that I’m undesirable, but I might be here to stay. It’s been great introducing myself!
The unexpected pudge that’s protecting your child/friend’s 6-pack
We arrived in the city of Chengdu in Sichuan province after about 2 days of travel from our Tibetan farming homestay. We began our journey through Sichuan’s food culture with a food tour led by Joe’s friend Jordan, the founder of Chengdu Food Tours. Chengdu is one of the ten cities in the world recognized by Unesco as an official “city of gastronomy,” so there are definitely a lot of delicious eats to be had. We began our in a fresh produce market where we could find everything from persimmons to pork hanging from metal hooks. Jordan gave us a quick introduction and then set us loose.
There was so much to touch, smell, and delight our taste buds. We navigated through spice aisles so pungent that we wanted nothing more than to eat dinner already. Unfortunately, our senses had to descend from the heavens of scents back into the purgatory of pollution. We returned to Joe’s apartment and Jordan introduced us to the history of Chengdu through its history of food importation. We began with the basics, the produce native to the region, Sichuan Peppercorns, Persimmons, Pomelo, and Kiwis.
Fun Fact: All citrus are native to China.
Fun Fact #2: Kiwis were a national gift from China to New Zealand in the 60’s and the New Zealanders marketed it better and now New Zealanders are called Kiwis.
We experienced the opening of the silk road and its expansion from the Middle East to Europe through grapes and cardamom and the later influence of the Americas in sweet potatoes, corn and chili peppers. Suffice to say, the food was a gift from the emperors of China’s past. If food could be opulent this would be. (Side note, is fermented rice porridge with 1% alcohol content considered a red rule violation?)
Jordan was only the first of our three main speakers in Chengdu. Our next visitor was Claudia, a 5th year anthropology PhD student at UCLA. She introduced us to the underlying social issues of the dancing grandmothers that are everywhere in China. As context, every night 50 year old women pop up in groups all over the city to dance choreographed dances together. Claudia explained its origins as a social group that women turned to when they were laid off en masse in the 70s and that it presents a political danger to the Communist party. She described the lengths to which people go to disband them and how they’ve come to represent the class divide and the one-child policy.
Finally, we met up with Jo Tsering. Jo grew up in the Tibetan farming village where we had our last homestay. She spoke about the challenges facing Tibetans in terms of acquiring an education at all, let alone a diploma from a university. She was sent to live in a small room with 12 other elementary age girls in a town far away and only was her family twice a year in order to get a proper education. Today, she works in the travel industry, speaks fluent Chinese, English, and Tibetan and sponsors the education of young Tibetan girls through university. In short, she is amazing and we had some really incredible discussions about the interaction of modernization and tradition in Tibetan culture and lifestyle.
To end our time in Chengdu we went to a hole in the wall of a restaurant that sold fried barbeque things on sticks that were eaten without sticks. Sorry, that made no sense. I’m too busy recalling how delicious it was to write clearly. Basically, you pick a bunch of raw meat and vegetables on sticks, they fry it, then barbeque it, then the take it off of the sticks and toss it with spices. Finally, it is served to you on a plain metal tray that doesn’t come close to doing it justice. It’s so mouthwatering that it deserves a golden platter encrusted with diamonds.