by Tyler Cowen
on April 27, 2014 at 10:33 pm
in Food and Drink, Travel
After Shanghai, I will be in Chengdu. What should I do? Thanks!
Eddie Huang’s web show Fresh off the boat recently visited Chengdu, and had an interesting perspective on the local culture and food.
Could be a useful source.
Read Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper by Fuschia Dunlop.
What would Chengdu?
Skip the panda reserve, or at the very least spend more time with the observing the much more pleasant red pandas.
My Chinese instructor always referred to Chengdu as the “Miami of China.” I was too young and square to really appreciate it, but the club scene may be worth checking out, if not for you than for our enjoyment of a “neurodiverse” perspective on Chinese night life.
This is an event calendar for Chengdu:
Find more advice here:
My wife is from Chengdu and her cousin got lost on the way to Dujiangyang so we ended up in this tiny town called Pingle and everyone loved the food. They are all locals so I trust them. (I don’t eat Chinese so I wouldn’t know.)
You could shoot some hoops at the courts near the main stadium in the middle of the city. It costs 10 yuan or something. Kobe played there once.
You could also visit my mother-in-law. She will be very impressed with your Harvard degree.
Your wife is from China and you don’t eat Chinese? That is either a major accomplishment or a big missed opportunity.
Eat in a Tyler Cowen sort of place.
I would visit the airport, because that’s what I did. Then I would visit one of the nameless highrises that dot the area. Then ponder how much better the food is in most Chinatowns in the USA (I am thinking of Frisco, USA or NYC). Seriously, in Asia food is a scarcity and in China what passes for good food is usually, by US standards, second rate (quality of the ingredients not the style). Unless you go to a fancy five-star hotel which of course is catering to western tourists. Just my two cents from my trip to China and from living in southeast Asia for a while.
There are exceptions to the “no good food outside the USA” rule I offer. For example you cannot find young coconut (buko) outside of Thailand. The kind that has a green coconut with a clear, sometimes white, thin skin and the top can be opened easily with a machete. Not even in the Philippines (which has a shortage of coconut trees, since they were not planted and the existing ones are too old to produce lots of fruit). But these are exceptions. Another might be Singapore’s street food, and the like.
Singapore has no street food. As for the hawker fare, it’s cheap and absolutely safe to eat but far from good Asian food, really.
@Someone – OK, if you say so; I’ve never been there. I thought gawker food was street food. As for tasty junk food juice, I like this stuff here in the Philippines: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulaman But it’s not fine dining refreshment.
Another good reason to allow open immigration. Let others come to the US to enjoy a better quality of food. It’s the biggest way we can help the world right now.
I hear there are many excellent versions of rice and beans out there we are missing out on.
For instance, I realized the other day that my wife was inadvertently preparing casado – rice, beans and a sausage. Only the fried egg was missing.
Eat some cadmium and nickel-infused local foods, go for a hike to fill your lungs w/plenty of particulate pollution, then take a nice bath so you get pink-eye. Enjoy!
The great thing about the air quality in urban China is the low risk of sunburn.
if you trek out that far (it is 8 hours over treacherous mountain roads) go to Yellow Dragon as well (Huang Long http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huanglong,_Sichuan ) – the five color pond is amazing. I would also visit the Panda Perserve, the baby panda’s are funny when they aren’t sleeping and make the trip worth it (it’s not far). Do not eat off hours (you will get left overs – pretty sure already served left overs).
Pandas can be skipped, Mt. Qingcheng shouldn’t (Google/Bing for better description than I can provide).
Get your ears picked clean.
Go to Jiuzhaigou. Fly.
Visit the biggest building in the world, to swim at the 300m artificial beach?
The Eating Asia blog has some great food recommendations for Chendu:
1) Eat. You will not be disappointed.
2) Go to Chongching instead.
I was in Chengdu last year and found that most of the charm and character of the city I saw on my first visit 15 years ago had disappeared. It is big and flat, scaled for automobiles, and architecturally uninteresting.
I actually quite enjoyed the pandas- I just went because my daughters wanted to, but liked much more than I expected.
I assume you have business to do in Chengdu that would prevent you from taking a train to Chongqing instead, but that’s what I would do if possible. I found Chongqing to be a city that constantly rewards the curious walker, I could have spent weeks exploring.
do yourself a favor and go to Zhang Liangfen for water noodles & (quite nearby) Gong Ting bakery. See here for more: http://nymag.com/travel/2013/winter/chengdu/. Also find a good hot pot place (maybe on ‘wide and narrow’ street, worth a visit regardless). also walk a main park (people’s park?) to see people dancing/playing mahjong. etc. it’s a great town, dig into the food!
If you have time visit the Leshan Buddha about 100km from Chengdu. One of the most amazing sites I’ve seen.
Eat mapo tofu.
Sichuan has an incredible array of scenic, historical, and culinary delights, so it’s hard to pick just one. Despite being famous and thus the target of opprobrium, the Panda Breeding Center is the highlight as far as the city is concerned. Jiuzhaigou is excellent, but getting from point a to point b in that part of Sichuan is decidedly tedious. I’d recommend going to either Emeishan and visiting the Leshan Buddha while you’re in that area or heading to Qingchengshan and enjoying fantastic scenery dotted with Daoist temples (ymmv on the value of the latter aspect).
“I would visit the airport, because that’s what I did. Then I would visit one of the nameless highrises that dot the area. Then ponder how much better the food is in most Chinatowns in the USA (I am thinking of Frisco, USA or NYC). Seriously, in Asia food is a scarcity and in China what passes for good food is usually, by US standards, second rate (quality of the ingredients not the style). Unless you go to a fancy five-star hotel which of course is catering to western tourists. Just my two cents from my trip to China and from living in southeast Asia for a while.”
I feel this way, but the exact opposite. Chinese food in Chinatown is bad American food, while Chinese food in China is completely different a completely different experience and often excellent. Most foreigners are unable to “get over” the oiliness (that and being too scared to order dishes), which, while understandable, leads them to ignore food that’s much more interesting, varied, and tasty than Chinese food in their home country.
For a chance of pace. Exercise your will power and eat only in international food franchises and/or tourist hotel restaurants.
i lived there for a few weeks and did my grad school in chongqing (down the road). I recommend:
1. riding a bike for the day in the fabulous bike lanes.
2. hot springs
3. horse trekking in Song.
4. panda bears
i used to live in chengdu. i’d highly recommend going to sichuan-style hotpot. i’d recommend this place: 重庆门巴石头火锅 (show to someone and they can get you there). it’ll be well worth your time, and be sure to sit in the middle of the restaurant for the authentic experience, for all the senses 🙂 bring a local for ordering purposes.
jiuzhaigou is a tourist trap, and will eat up the better part of an entire day, and will be packed this time of year.
the full hike of mount emei is really nice, particularly for the sunrise at the summit.
i would also recommend spending an afternoon (ideally on a weekend) in poets park near the dufu’s cottage (ancient poet). it’s good way to interact with folks and relax. there are a couple nice little tea houses around where you can expect reasonable service.
I had hotpot in Xian. Let myself be woo’d by one of the barkers. I was not disappointed.
There is where my wife’s deck of laminated cards that said, in 20 languages and dialects, “If I eat peanuts I will need and ambulance and possibly die” saved us. (She’s allergic.)
We asked the waiter five times if there was peanuts in the dipping sauce – he emphatically said no. When she broke out the card, he got a horrified look, snatched the sauce off the table and brought something entirely different.
march into various restaurant kitchens and announce that you don’t want the food on the menu, but rather the “real stuff”
Take a couple of days and go to the top of Mt. Emei. If you can, go to the pre-dawn prayer service at the temple on the summit.
Here’s an excellent an innovative guide that would interest you: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/china-tea-leaves-cheng-dou/id722827629?mt=11
Stuff my wife (Chinese) and I did that I would recommend:
Go to Yu’s Family Kitchen.
Go see the Leshan Buddha
Go to Emeishan
Go to the Sichuan Culinary Institute and Museum in Pixian. Buy some Pixian doubanjiang (chili bean paste) when you are there.
Go to the Sanxingdui Museum, a world class facility that nobody outside Sichuan province has heard of. The Chinese do need to learn a bit about tourist promotion.
As in Hong Kong, we found it basically impossible to get a bad meal, unless you make the mistake of trying to eat anything vaguely western.
Street food (Sichuan-style sort-of burritos are excellent).
Sichuan hot pot.
I enjoyed the pandas a lot, though I agree with the previous poster who said the red ones are cuter and more active.
Try something different for a change. Completely avoid the local Sichuanese restaurants and only eat Western food at hotels. Never talk to locals and instead hang out exclusively with expatriates, tourists and other foreign visitors. Go where they go. Tell them of your disgust with the locality and mild disdain for the locals and how quickly you wish to leave for somewhere better. Only drink Western alcoholic beverages and yell loudly into your phone “When are you going to get me out of here???!!! I can’t wait that long!”
Speak in a thick Tidewater accent the whole time there and tell everyone that you are from the real Virginia instead of a Washington, DC suburb or Fairfax. Or pick another unlikely combination of accents and origin stories. Tell everyone you are a “Merchant of Death” (aka a traveling representative of Oerlikon or Dassault) and that business is really booming in China. Conspiratorially whisper that that your company is actually offering China much more advanced equipment than it does in the West and that China is paying extra to replicate your technologies locally (explain that these are called “offsets”) .
Explore whether it is possible to lead a completely insulated expatriate life in Chengdu.
Come back and report if you survived and completed your task.
A long time ago when I was more juvenile, I’d play this game when bored during business trips overseas. Only I am ethnically Asian and I’d assume variously American Southern, English, Australian, Irish, Afrikaner or German accents (or my approximations of them). Shockingly, my fictional personas always garnered much more attention from attractive women… of all races. Women in transit love mental baubles apparently.
Have tea at the He Ming Teahouse in People’s Park (Renmin Gong Yuan).
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