Archimedes said, give me a fulcrum, and I shall move the world.
A Sichuanese said, give me a pair of chopsticks, and I shall conquer the world.
But nothing in the world can stop a Sichuanese on the hunt for the next source of manna.
Changning is a county in Sichuan, most famous for its sea of bamboo groves.
But dangers also lurk in these fairyland-like mountains.
First there’s the panda, looking deceptively cute and cuddly, but having the ability to rip apart tough bamboo poles and small animals with their bare paws. After all, they are rumoured to be the descendants of black bears and polar bears.
And then there’re the local outlaws—macaque gangs.
If you are (un)lucky, you may also run into these elusive creatures—Asian gold cats.
But nothing shall deter a true epicure.
Bamboo shoots from nanzhu, the most expensive cultivar of the tortoise-shell bamboo.
Underneath the unpretentious exterior is a delicacy available only in certain months of the year.
Fresh spring bamboo shoots, boiled in water.
Stir-fry with pork slices.
Bamboo shoots are kind of like tofu, in that they don’t have any taste on their own, but they readily soak up tastes from other food ingredients cooked together.
So bamboo slices fried with pork will taste like pork.
Yet they are also nothing like tofu. Tofu is soft, melts in your mouth. Bamboo shoots are tender yet crispy. Fried bamboo slices are crunchy, like ultra-thin potato chips, but not as oily.
Stir-fry bamboo shoots with preserved leaf mustard.
Bamboo shoots salad.
Braised bamboo slices.
After the best time for spring bamboo shoots (April), the locals have to wait for another month till May.
For another food to present itself.
It takes a trained eye to differentiate weeds and potentially poisonous plants from the true delicacies.
The entire plant of dandelion, including its leaves, stems, flowers, and roots, is edible.
Its leaves are slightly bitter, having the typical traditional Chinese medicine taste.
Cooked with preserved pork.
Rice congee with preserved pork and dandelion leaves.
The red toon.
Good-looking, but bitter-tasting.
Red toon leaves fried with eggs is a 2,000-year-old dish.
Also called “bent-ear roots”, or “the plant that pig snout touches” in Sichuanese dialect.
It’s a plant that smells like fish.
And highly divisive, like durian. You either love it, or hate it. (I belong to the former camp.)
Fish mint salad with just a few drops of sesame oil is a summer delicacy whose taste has been ingrained in my mind.
After a hiking trip, you can knock on the door of a local villager, and be rewarded with dishes not available in any restaurant.
These corn-like clusters are their spadix—flowers on a flesh stem.
The yellow seeds are ground into blood-red pulp.
Add corn starch and glutinous rice. Knead, then deep-fry.
Pancake made from windmill palm seeds.
Many of these wild vegetables and herbs have found their way into urban kitchens.
If I can have these deep-fried, pan-fried, boiled, braised wild vegetables, along with a healthy dose of chilli oil, maybe being a vegetarian for a day isn’t so bad.
If you want to know what other delicacies are available in July, August, September . . . you’ll have to come to Sichuan to find out. But be warned that once you come, you may find it hard to leave.
One story goes like this: a guy from Canada vowed that he would finish tasting all the food in China, in under a year.
Six years later, he’s still stuck in Sichuan. Hahahahahahaha.