18 September 2017

Sichuan Street Food Pilgrimage - Zigong

Our next stop on our Sichuan feeding frenzy is Zigong, another buzzing little one horse Chinese town of 1.3 million people, or 2.7 million outer boondocks inclusive.




Here's the main drag, on this side of the river anyway, well, the start of the hill leading up to the main street. There's a whole other city across the river that we only got to glimpse out of the car as we arrived slightly frightened after being dumped off our bus on the outskirts of town and herded into some random dude's car.

It turns out that in Leshan we went to the wrong bus station, the result of not asking an opened ended question - a yes/no question always returns a 'yes' when travelling. We should have known better, but it's hard to get your travel legs back in just a few days.

So we went to that weird, run down bus station that hardly anybody goes to, and waited hours for the one bus that left there. The trip through country Sichuan was green and spectacular, and we had the luxury of a near empty bus. After a pleasant couple of hours we see the 'Welcome to Zigong' sign on the outskirts of town, we get all travel buzzed. But this is where the driver hits the breaks and kicks us off the bus. As we exit the bus, confused and anxious, the driver prompts us to read his his phone. 'Follow him' it says in English. Weird. The driver points to his buddy and we have no choice but to follow this random bloke to his car, which is mysteriously parked ready and waiting where the bus pulled up.

Mmmmm....

The only reason we got into some random dude's car in the middle of  where-the-hell-are-we China is that the random dude spent a good twenty minutes with us on the side of the road as we tried to explain with no common language whatsoever where we needed to go. He was not budging an inch until he figured out where we wanted to go, scammers tend not to get hung up on such details, nor do serial killers. And it all seemed unscripted, scammers are usually over-rehearsed, not sure about serial killers.

So after twenty minutes of sighing, and staring/swearing at offline phone maps, Alison figures out our hotel is near the Salt Museum, the one map location we all understand.  So we get in his car and he takes us to the Salt Museum. We get out and wave him on his merry way. He may have overcharged us be he didn't rob or eat us. All good. Weird. But good.

We will always wonder if it was a mini-scam or a mini-favour. Maybe the driver was bypassing Zigong and was making sure we got to our hotel ok, who knows.


We fall in love with Zigong the moment we step out of the non-serial killer's car. There's an energy to this place.


We check into our hotel and cross the bridge via a weird underground passageway which seems to be full of cheap clothes and shoe shops, over to where we can see a river-side tea house, hoping the Heineken sign means they actually sell Heineken.


Well they don't do Heineken, only tea, but it's a fine place to hang.


Once again the tea is fantastic. And dangly. It's mesmerising watching the leaves float down vertically from the top to the bottom.



We wander up the main street and marvel at how many people are out and about in a small-ish town on a weeknight, it's really buzzy. The restos on the high street look fast-foody so we veer off down a sidestreet and find this joint. It's got a little party going on outside and they sell beer  - we're in.


These friendly folks, speaking the international language of booze, insisted we sample their dishes to help us decide what to order. Their table was so laden down with food there was hardly a clear spot.



Snow Beer. Snow much alcohol at 3% or so.


Stir fried chilis, cooked until the skin blistered. They had a ladle of soy and vinegar over them to cut some of the heat, making an intriguing sauce. Hot hot hot! It was like chilli roulette - some of the blighters were mild, while others would just fire up when you bit down on it.


Spicy stir fried rabbit. So far on the trip we encountered very little chilli heat - until now. We thought Chengdu would be chilli city, but they just love to put Sichuan pepper in everything and this was no exception. The rabbit was cut into small fleshy bits (no bones) and cooked with green shallots.



Some greens with garlic and a little chilli for heat and scurvy relief.

The generous folk at the next table insisted on having their photos taken with us. Maybe our photo is up on a wall in Zigong somewhere.


The next morning Alison goes off unsupervised to the Salt Museum while Shawn sleeps off a flu that just would not go away. Perhaps it was also a ploy not to have to go to the Salt Museum. Along the back pedestrian walking street parallel to the river is a morning market just winding down.


The noodle stall has just a few last customers.


'Point and Order' special noodles, good spicy broth and a dollop of intense pork mince on top. Alison sat eating these while two other people came and sat down at her table just to watch her eat.


For a sweeter snack, these fried breads were filled with a date like paste. So good had to go back and buy another.


Temple near the Salt Museum.


While the Salt Museum was interesting for the history of the area, and walking around by yourself was a bit creepy, some of the ornamental work in the inner gardens was quite beautiful, many dragons, lacquer work and ceramics. See, you get pretty pictures when Alison takes the photos!


Later in the afternoon Shawn is resurrected from his sick bed. We catch the Zigong High Class Bus #35 (don't say we never do anything fancy) which takes you most of the way to the Zigong Dinosaur Musuem via old run down salt factories. Near the museum a super tops fruit-selling auntie gives us a mandarin each, madly grinning with two thumbs up, and refusing all attempts at payment. Bloody good mandy too.



Across the road from the Dinosaur Museum we see a bus station and we stop in to get tickets to Chongqing. The huge, shiny new bus station is open but starkly empty, there is one local bus stopped and a couple of passengers. There is nobody selling tickets. We wonder if this surreal place is some town planning oversight, or maybe a real life art installation.



We late luncheon in this little resto we spied earlier near the river.


Prep for the night was just starting, we were in the weird space between late lunch and early dinner when it can be hard to find something to eat.



Wontons in chili oil, alright!



At night we venture out amongst the vicious wildlife.



China has the coolest chihuahuas with fox terrier markings, we call them foxy-wah-wahs. These guys are so friendly.



Another vicious attack hound.



The meeting of great minds.




For dinner we feel like something a little extra fancy. We thought we were heading into the 'Happiness Restaurant' but it turned out to be called 'Annies'. Maybe due to our early dinner time, we were pretty much the only ones there. They had to turn on the lights so we could read the menu off the (usually) back lit wall.


Our romantic view.


Our meal was mostly veg, starting off with cold bean jelly, wobbly and oh so hard to pick up. A pool of sesame, vinegar and chilli at the bottom of the bowl added sauce.


What we thought looked like a plate of fish on the menu wall was actually pieces of a fluffy whipped egg omelette topped with seaweed (for a fish skin look) and totally smothered in a sweet and sour brown sauce with corn and peas.


A mix of chopped hard tofu, peanuts and green shallots. Fine snacking with the 2.5% alcohol 'beer'. We got so tired of the low alcohol beer in China we started drinking some Chinese herbal 'wine' which was more like a herby scotch. Did the trick.


From our hotel window we admire the rooftop gardening across the street. This side of Zigong was still hanging on to some older buildings, not quite all pulled down yet.


We manage to find the right bus station, which has the added bonus of a Dico's outlet - we've been waiting for the just the right moment for some hardcore fast food China style. Dicos was Chinese KFC, without the Colonel.


Breakfast is always the right time for fried chicken, a little spicy and very tender and chicken burger with - pineapple! Not bloody bad we must say.



We're at the right bus stop this time. It's a good feeling. We feel like we are learning to travel again and the travel gods are smiling on us. Our main disappointment was finding a whole extra part of the town we hadn't explored.


The bus stops at this corker of a truckstop but we're just not hungry. A popular snack was a huge hunk of duck meat on the bone, almost turkey sized, attracting a  wide-eyed drooling dog outside. He was desperately trying a dog mind meld to get the man to drop some.


In our earlier travels we would eat to the point of discomfort just to try everything, these days we take it easier, it's more fun overall, though in hindsight we wish we found some stomach space at this most glorious truckstop.

Next stop Chongqing.

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