Sichuan is in the southwestern part of China, far away from coastal cities like Shenzhen and Zhuhai, and also far away from metropolises like Shanghai and Guangzhou. Which is one reason why Sichuanese live a relatively peaceful and some might even say, lazy, life.
There’s a saying in Chinese, 少不入川，老不出川. When you are young, you should not come to Sichuan; when you are old, you should not leave Sichuan.
Ambitious youngsters will find that they are being slowly seduced by the pace of life and the easy-going attitude here, and soon they’ll forget all about their once grand dreams and claim a permanent spot at the mahjong table.
Mahjong and poker are not just games to the Sichuanese.Masters are able to develop the ability for inter-species communication.
Some of them have also become masters at surveillance and counter-surveillance. Like this husband, who can complete his disguise in a matter of seconds before his wife comes.
The games are a test of endurance. Nothing can stop true players.
Or bad weather.
Another reason for the perceived slowness of life in Sichuan is the topography. We live in a bowl—the Sichuan Basin.
The basin means we’re sheltered from the outside world, but the presence of a highland to the west also means we’re no strangers to disasters. Flood, earthquake, extreme heat . . . Each Sichuanese had cultivated an attitude of Zen.
Flood? Lunch as usual.
Slow driver? Just take it as a sightseeing tour.
Car broke down? It still has two wheels left, doesn’t it?
The internet is down? Never mind, we have other ways to entertain ourselves.
KFC has run out of chicken? No big deal, I can bring my own.
Whatever nature or fate throws at us, the Sichuanese have a way to deal with it. Walking down the street, you’ll never know if the uncle in a white singlet and slippers is a kung fu master in hiding.
The only thing we’re truly serious about, is food.
A big bowl of pork or beef swimming in a sea of chilli, cumin, and Sichuan peppercorn is a common sight on the table, not just for dinner and lunch, sometimes even for afternoon tea.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Sichuanese pets have developed a similar taste for anything spicy.
Learning to appreciate food starts at a young age.
We’re serious about training the best Sichuanese cuisine chef.
Applying the most advanced technology.
After all, unlike other merchandise, there’s no way to fake a good dish. If it’s really good, customers will come, sometimes despite their inability to pay.
If it’s bad, they’ll vote with their feet.
The obsession with food has led to one unfortunate side effect—the phobia of mirrors.
When it comes to turning flora and fauna into edible food, Sichuanese are not to be outdone by the Cantonese.
For example, this is Mount Qingcheng in Chengdu.
One of the birthplaces of Taoism in China.
I can definitely imagine Taoist Immortals still living here.
It’s a popular tourist destination.
Some come to Tianshi Cave to pay their respect to Zhang Tianshi, a Taoist priest who lived here during the Eastern Han Dynasty.
It’s a historic and sacred site.
But the foodies see something else here.
There are two gingko trees outside the Tianshi Cave.
Legend has it that they were planted by Zhang Tianshi himself about 2,000 years ago.
Gingko trees are called living fossils, having survived on the planet for over 200 million years.
During autumn, their golden leaves transform the most ordinary walkways into beautiful canvases.
But to the foodies, their eyes are focused on the fruits of the female gingko trees.
Gingko seeds look like the mythical pill said to grant immortality.
Remove the shells of gingko seeds.
Deep fry, then immerse them in hot water.
Pick a young hen, preferably free-range.
Briefly boil it in hot water.
Then place it in a big ceramic jar.
Add a few slices of ginger and segments of chopped spring onion.
Then gingko seeds.
High heat, then simmer.
Add a pinch of salt before plating.
白果炖鸡 hen stewed with gingko seeds
Gingko seeds are rich in minerals and have a sweet aftertaste.
To justify using seeds from the precious living fossils, someone has come up with a story. (Others swear it’s true.)
Five hundred years ago, there was a resident near Mount Qingcheng who suffered from a debilitating illness. Physicians didn’t know what was wrong with him, so he came to the Tianshi Cave.
The priest at the Taoist temple had a dream. It was revealed to him that when the God of Gingko visited Mount Qingcheng, he had left behind magical pills, hidden in the Tianshi Cave.
The priest woke up and saw the gingko tree growing in the yard. He gave the gingko seeds to the patient, who cooked them with a hen and drank the soup.
And of course, he magically recovered from the illness.
Hence, the foodies claim, hen stewed with gingko seeds is not just a tasty dish, it’s a medicinal dish.
But gingko seeds are hard to obtain. Not to mention, they contain a small amount of toxin.
So chefs have improvised, and come up with an alternative version of the dish that can be enjoyed all year round.
Chestnuts are boiled in water first, then pureed.
The chicken is cut into small pieces.
Add them to the chestnut juice, then throw in a handful of chestnuts.
For the younger customers, they can also add spices and various condiments to the chicken.
It’s a simple but delicious dish. If you try to recreate it at home, make sure you use a ceramic jar with a heavy lid. Otherwise your food will be gone before you realise it.