About an hour-and-a-half by car outside of Chengdu proper is a museum dedicated to the history, nuances, and ingredients of one of China’s major culinary traditions, Sichuan food. As a side note, it is not easy to get to, and most cab drivers from the city are either unwilling to go that far or don’t know where it is.
Once we got there, after the driver getting lost and a fee renegotiation, we wandered around the empty grounds. We were the only visitors, but we didn’t really mind. The room or two of historical exhibits yielded some pretty interesting collections of old-school utensils and stories:
This poster reminded me that there’s still much yet to be eaten.
But the real stars of the show were yet to come. First, the stunning array of massage standing pots of fermenting chili bean sauce (豆瓣酱, or doubanjiang), which must be churned daily for a year, with exposure to the sun and open air. Each row of the vats represents a different stage in that yearlong process. Pi County is unique (the Chinese name is Pixian) as the most famous producer of chili bean sauce, so we were smack dab in the middle of where the magic happens.
We thought the museum also had a cooking school, which it apparently did not, but there was a restaurant with a giant glass-enclosed kitchen, so we did the next best thing: ordering up some food and watching the chefs cook.
The dishes turned out surprisingly well: a big bowl of braised pig ears (水煮猪耳), atop a bed of scallions and bean sprouts, and doused with crushed chili peppers; an overly ornate but still-deliciously charred and funky twice-cooked pork (回锅肉), the doubanjiang and tianmianjiang creating a sweet, sour, and spicy mix of flavors accented by wok-tossed scallions; and a dish of mapo tofu, which had a generous helping of ground pork and doubanjiang.
Museum of Sichuan Cuisine / 程度川菜博物馆
Near Pixian Old Town / 近郊郫县古城镇
Call for directions (028-87918008)