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A (Fiery) Taste in Sichuan, China

 

A (Fiery) Taste in Sichuan, China
 

I've travelled far and wide, but the views at the Jiuzaigou Reserve in Sichuan Province, China, takes the cake. With pristine azure-green waters and a picturesque backdrop of snow-capped mountains, it's a naturalist's dream come true. As I was there during summer, the cascading lush greenery admidst dreamy fog were breathtaking. The surface on the lake is as calm as it can be - a sharp contrast to the hive of activity on land, where tourists jostle for the best spots to take pictures. To me, these attempts are nothing short of futile - there's no way photos can do justice to such views at this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The trip wasn't just a feast for our eyes. We had our fill of Sichuan cuisine too. The hot-and-spicy notes from the signature Sichuan peppercorns suited the temperate climate extremely well. The peppercorns are usually stir-fried or mixed with other tongue-numbing ingredients like hot bean paste (doubanjiang), chilli and ginger. I simply adore the mapo tofu - where the fiery mix is generously ladled over, and mixed with silky smooth beancurd. The steamy aroma that wafts upwards from bowls of lamien (hand-pulled noodles) gives rise to fuzzy feeling that warms both the tummy and heart. I always end up sweating buckets after every meal - but it was well worth it.

If there's anything more heartwarming, it has to be China's national treasure - the Giant Pandas. We made it a point to visit the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding - less than an hour away from the Chengdu city centre. Chengdu (the provincial capital of Sichuan) is after all, called the "Home of the Giant Pandas" due to its geographical elevation. After an educational tour that highlighted how precariously their number are waning, to be able to watch them play around in their natural sanctuary and nibble on bamboo shoots was an especially touching moment. You could sense the silence that descends upon the crowd whenever they make an appearance. The hypnotising effect that these giant cuddlies have on us - It's just magical.

We were told that there are three places where the average day of a Sichuan local revolves around - the home, the office and the teahouse. And boy, did we understand why! You could see how it's a part of everyday life - with people engaging in banter and absorbed in newspapers over little teapots. We were introduced to this by a tea appreciation session organised by the Shangri-La Chengdu where the principles of tea-drinking etiquette were painstakingly explained to us. Who knew so much culture were contained within the confines of these dainty clay teacups! You could almost savour the charming history along the delicate taste of my now-favourite tea leaves - the Zhu Ye Qing (Bamboo Green) from the Emei Mountains. A bowl of spicy lamien to go along with that, thank you!

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