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Culinary Spirit

Cathy Zhou's picture

Culinary Spirit

There was a discovery by British scientists that taste and smell would last longer than visual memories. So today instead of taking everyone to tourist attractions and visit visually, I would like to use the “taste” to approach my city---Chengdu.

I’ve been out of the city for 4 months, and when I closed my eyes, I could still reencounter the taste of the restaurant in front our house. The taste in Chengdu might be the most unforgettable thing in the city.

It is a spicy city, everyone loves spice here, and it somewhat influences the attitude of the residents. Food takes a great proportion in the residents’ life, especially “malatang”. There is at least one malatang place in every block (not exaggerating, there are three in front of my home), and it’s the most representing thing that the city cannot live off.

The idea of malatang actually came out from the boat trackers---their major work is to load goods on ships and travel along the river to deliver. That was usually a whole day travel, so they took the water of the river in a pot, boil with spices and put what they have in there. Then this became popular in the whole district, and people put all kinds of things in it: goose intestine, pig kidney, heart… Those might sound strange for people from other countries or even other province in China, but those are the cheapest ingredients and can create the same delicacy.

There’s a saying in Chengdu called: the best food is hidden in the corner. If you take a walk on a small street of Chengdu during dinner hours, you would probably see people lining up for malatang in front of a small booth. My family used to drive for an hour to get to a famous street corner with only a few chairs to try the famous malatang. And in every district, there would be some places crowded with all kinds of people. The price is cheap (mainly 0.5 RMB per stick) ---partly because of its lower class background, and the low cost of cooking. But all kinds of people come for it: there are expensive cars parking in front of small booths, there are bicycles in the front line, students sitting down for a chat time and also people randomly walk there for takeout. There’s no segregation for food in here, the residents here don’t care that much about the scale or furniture of restaurants, as long as they taste good.

Spices in Chengdu melted the boundary of different classes successfully, because even with different education background and economical well-beings, everyone still shares the same “food culture” living there. It might be for the lower-class brought up the trend of the city that the very cheap street food could bring more pleasure than sitting in fancy restaurants.

However, not many cities are willing to be like Chengdu, even hard to admitted, boundaries are forming the city to advance. The less wealthy would work harder to make them better-off, and the already wealthy people would spend money on educational investment of their children to keep the wealth. And they did all this to pursue a better life status: eat in a better restaurant, live in a better house, and get to a better neighborhood (that’s where American Dream comes from). In Philadelphia, Utah, or any other places I’ve been, I can feel the clear boundaries in the city, the segregation of races made them live in different places and have different restaurants opened in their own closed circle.

But in Chengdu, economical status does not matter that much, everyone can afford to have the city’s taste and feel the recognizable spice for a moment in their mouths. I always believed this city is different, not for the long history or nice weather, but the attitude towards life. The enthusiasm for food broke the invisible walls of rich and poor, old and young, while everyone sits in the same crowded booth with a satisfied smile.

The culinary spirit, the enthusiasm put into food made Chengdu itself a malatang: It has all kinds of different food in it, but the temperature melted the difference, and made it a delicious meal.