Where do giant pandas climb skyscrapers? Where can you eat a chocolate bear donut? Where did that numbed-on-fire taste in my mouth come from?
Well, Chengdu, in Sichuan province China, of course!
We love Sichuan cuisine, and it was Susie’s plan to simply “eat our way across Sichuan province.” A more modest plan was to try this in just the capital city.
Sichuan food is famous for its use of a ‘citrusy’ fragrant peppercorn (the flower pepper) that also numbs your mouth. That, combined with spicy red peppers, anise, garlic (lots of this!) and ginger gives Sichuan cuisine its distinctive flavor. Chengdu is famous for its mapo tofu (literally, this translates to “tofu by the lady with the pockmarked face”), Sichuan hotpot (which we tried on our Chengdu date night), dandan noodles, and spicy pork and/or chicken dishes. Perhaps most Americans recognize one Sichuan dish especially as a standard dish in US takeout joints: kungpao chicken.
The Sun-Bird: Chengdu’s Official City Symbol
Chengdu has another symbol, other than pandas. While not as cute as pandas, the golden sun bird is possibly more impressive. In Bronze Age China, the area near Chengdu was rumored to have its own complete civilization. Historians argued back and forth about when / where this mystery people may have lived, but that all changed in 1986. Workers unearthed sacrificial burial pits, finding one of the most amazing examples of ancient undiscovered cultures. Chengdu has two archeological sites, and (in interest of time), we visited the one within the city limits, the Jinsha Site Museum.
The Jinsha site had great artefacts, including the hammered gold disc showing a sunstar and orbiting birds (maybe a phoenix?) that symbolize immortality, power (and now, Chengdu). The jade, gold, porcelain, petrified wood, sacrificed animals (including mounds of elephant tusks) all date from a culture over 6,000 years old.
The Giant Panda: Chengdu’s Other Symbol
So, the panda is an endangered species that is quite cute, if somewhat lazy-looking. If China is symbolized by one animal, it is either the tiger or the panda. But Sichuan province, and Chengdu in particular, really loves their pandas. Or at least they want their tourists to love their pandas. So with that to bear* in mind, pandas are a symbol for the whole city. So panda toys, logos, signs, sculptures are everywhere.
And, when planning a trip to Chengdu, how could we have flown all the way to China and not go to the most famous panda facility in the world? Needless to say, our halfday trip to the Panda Research Center just outside the city was great. We were prepared for a touristy, overpriced cheezefest. And there was that aspect there. But hey, let’s face it … Simon pointing at live pandas and saying ‘wowwwww…’ is worth it.
Of course, the panda center ALSO has red pandas. Also known as firefoxes (they are the browser’s logo), we actually thought they were just as cute… or even cuter? … than the giant panda.