We’ve been in Chengdu for two days and we’ve slowly come to the realization that Sichuanese cuisine can be broadly categorized into two main categories. There is the non-spicy, non-oily variety that is healthy and pleasant for a quick bite… and then there is the type that we would invariably end up buying.
Being the junk food addicts that we are, that normally shouldn’t pose much of a problem, except Jo handles spicy food worse than a baby (no, she does not eat sub adults). To that end, we’ve come up with an agreement since the start of our relationship – in the unlikely event that she accidentally bought food that contains even microscopic amounts of chilli/pepper/mustard, I would volunteer to change my food (no matter how nice) with her. In exchange, I would not have to hear her whine throughout the meal.
By our standards, we’ve been gastronomically adventurous in Chengdu so far. We are eating at road side stores and buying (what I suspect are) joke items on sticks from push carts and boiling them in soup that looks way too evil to not have originated from the blackest pits of hell.
I suppose it was only a matter of time before we ended up with a meal we would be able to blog about.
Beside my bladder, chilli and alcohol are two other areas that I’ve always thought I could hold my own. In Chengdu, my ego takes a beating every time we eat a meal. As the days progressed, I’ve downgraded my food orders from “spicy” to “slightly spicy”, but no matter what, I could always laugh at Jo for trying to order *snigger* non-spicy food in Sichuan.
Given the amount of spicy food around us and our inherent scatterbrained-ness, I guess it was inevitable that we would eventually forget to ask if a particular dish is “non-spicy”. We were at a quaint little outlet in Jin Li (an overly touristy street but with great atmosphere), where the menu looked promising and the prices agreeable. And that’s where we ended our evening with all the staff chuckling blatantly at us.
Jo’s Jolly Jibe
A bit of background – I’m Malaysian, and we Malaysians are known to love our chilli. But not me. Since birth, I’ve been mocked and ridiculed for being chilli-intolerant. Friends and family never seem to tire of making fun of my not being able to handle even a common, mild chilli sauce. heck, even strangers from a neighbouring table at a restaurant, upon overhearing our conversation about how much I’m missing out on just because I won’t add chilli to my food, chime in to chastise me for being “a disgrace to Malaysians”. This has actually happened before, and not just once. But, sticks and stones, chilli makes me miserable and no amount of verbal abuse will make me voluntarily eat any.
So you can imagine my horror when our dinner arrived looking like this:
I felt actual physical fear of this dish. For moments, I just stared at it not really knowing what to do, and looking at TW proved futile because he just sat there giving me this infuriating grin. So I put on my best “gotta-try-everything-when-you’re-overseas” attitude, stuck the tip of my chopstick in and took a tentative lick.
I don’t know WHAT they put in these noodles, but I felt like my soul had been whopped into another dimension. My lips instantly swelled up to occupy the entire lower half of my face, and I felt my whole body tingling – not in an unpleasant way, except I really couldn’t feel my mouth. I had to touch it to make sure it was still there. I had never before tasted Ma La and now I fully understood why it translates to “numbing spiciness”.
The rest of my meal involved an elaborate process consisting of thoroughly washing every strand of my noodles in a bowl of water, taking a deep breath before I braved a mouthful, then rapidly fanning myself and downing a gallon of soup. I could see another dude beside me ripping into something that looked non-spicy, and briefly considered giving up and ordering one of those instead, but when we tried to find out what it was, it was listed as “老妈兔头” on the menu. Interesting name for a dish, we thought. Very creative. Well, it wasn’t just a name, it was a description. A closer look revealed it actually WAS a rabbit’s head.
To make matters worse, I mistakenly ordered “白酒”, which incidentally is NOT white wine. What it is, is pure ethanol disguised as drinkable alcohol. I think it can be more accurately referred to by its more common name – poison.
I was horrified by the 52% content advertised but dismissed it as a prank by the alcohol company because the locals beside us were downing them like plain water. I tried to do the same thing… Bad mistake… I was burping ethanol mixed with hell chilli for the next 3 hours. And they were right when they said that it is already better going in than coming out.
And now we have an eight hour bus ride first thing the following morning.