When I travel one of the things I miss is cats. Cute, cuddly, fluffy, affectionate cats. They’re one of my favourite creatures. That’s why I love visiting cat cafes. Luckily, I found just the thing in Chengdu.
How To Find It
If you read Chinese, maybe it’s easy to find but not so much otherwise. There’s no Google in China, after all. So, if you happen to visit Chengdu and want your kitty fix, here’s how to find the Peekaboo Cat Cafe.
Take metro Line 4 to Caotang Road North station, exit B. Just a few shops immediately south of the exit, on the right hand side, you’ll find the inviting collection of kitties. It’s open 10am to 11pm.
I arrive around noon (on a weekday) and there’s only one other person in the cafe, so we’re out-numbered 10 to 1 by the cats. Purrrfect!
All the cats are wonderfully friendly and you can tell they’re used to people. No biting cats here. They seem to get along with each other really well too. There’s some play fighting but mostly just snuggling and keeping each other warm.
There’s no fee to enter, just buy something to eat or drink. A pot of tea is about $10 with unlimited refills. The coffee looks pretty good too. If you order the fruit salad, be warned it comes covered in something gross like mayonnaise. It is China, after all.
There’s an upstairs and a downstairs, so lots of room for both the cats and their admirers. It’s a pretty relaxing environment with peaceful music.
Throughout the afternoon more people start to drift in, mostly young couples and single girls. Two men show up and chain smoke, seemingly oblivious that they are surrounded by cats. It is China, after all.
Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan, that region of China famous for its spicy food. Chillies are a vital ingredient in almost every dish but what’s not well known is that chili peppers originated in South America – not Asia – and have only been part of Sichuan cooking for around 300 years.
There’s another ingredient much less familiar to the western palette, yet fundamental to Sichuan cuisine: Sichuan pepper corns.
If you’re ever enjoying a bowl of spicy noodles (面) and you suddenly say to yourself “something is wrong with my mouth”, it’s the Sichuan pepper. These little devils don’t burn like chillies – they’re not “hot”. Instead, they give your mouth a strong tingling sensation – pins and needles – just like when your foot has fallen asleep and painfully comes back to life. It’s a fascinating and rather disconcerting sensation.
To make things even more interesting, Sichuan pepper isn’t a pepper at all. It’s actually a citrus fruit! The US Department of Agriculture placed a ban on the import of Sichuan pepper due to a concern over bacteria that can attack orange trees and, in response, all Sichuan pepper exported from China is heat treated to 140F. That dramatically changes its character, taking away much of its distinctive flavour. So, stock up on Sichuan please next time you visit Chengdu.
Everyone Loves Noodles
Noodles are exceptionally popular in Chengdu. They are served in soups as well as “dry” (without broth). Along with Sichuan pepper (of course), you’ll often find noodle dishes featuring chili oil, soy sauce, vinegar, salt, garlic, green onions, cilantro, and cabbage leaves. Most restaurants have a tray of these so you can add as much as you like.
Noodles are like a blank canvas in Sichuan cuisine. It’s the sauce that makes them come to life. While full-bodied spicy noodles are the “bread & butter”, you can indulge your sweet tooth with a tasty and refreshing noodle dessert too.
Meat & Bones
Meat can be as simple as minced pork and beef ribs or as challenging as chicken gizzards, rabbit head, or various intestines.Rabbit head might sound strange. Much like bony fish, the work required to eat it isn’t a negative. Rather, that’s the reason it’s so prized. In Chengdu, food isn’t seen just as fuel or even hedonistic pleasure but as an activity to pass the time with friends and family. The longer it takes to eat, the more work, the better (and the longer your mahjong game can go on too).
And Maybe Some Tofu Too
Tofu is also a common ingredient but it’s not seen as a meat replacement. Variety of texture is very important in Chinese cuisine – much more so than most Western countries – and tofu adds greatly to the spectrum of texture in Sichuan dishes.
Noodles are typically the main dish of choice but if you’re still feeling peckish, there’s a huge variety of snacks too.
Guokui (锅盔) is one of the most popular. This simple baked bread pocket filled with sliced beef, julienned veggies and a sauce of chili oil, garlic, vinegar, soy sauce, and sichuan pepper is fast and delicious.
While noodles are usually made from wheat, rice is also ubiquitous. Glutenous rice is formed into a wide variety of both savoury and sweet dishes.
My favourite snack, though, is the simple sweet potato.
Fast and Fresh
Sichuan food is invariably fresh. It’s cooked fast and served quickly.
Tea is a big part of Chinese culture, especially so in Chengdu. It reminds us to slow down and enjoy life and it brings people together. Kind of like travel 🙂
I’m stopping over in Chengdu China on my way back from visiting the “Stans” of Central Asia. Chengdu is famous as the home of the endangered Giant Panda. The weather here is perfect for them – warm and wet – just what you want for growing lots of bamboo. I’m very lucky that it’s actually clear and sunny! A rare occurrence, especially in winter, and a great opportunity to capture some photos of people enjoying themselves outside.
Chengdu – The People
Chengdu is often considered the most livable of China’s megacities. For a population of 15 million, it has surprisingly pleasant and large parks and green spaces. The People’s Park is on the most popular, of course.
Like all Chinese cities, there’s also a large central square with a huge Mao statue.
Chengdu – The Pandas
These adorable bears once roamed far and wide throughout much of China but today there are only about 1,500 alive, nearly all of them in captivity. The Chengdu Panda Research Base is the largest panda conservation project in the world and it’s easy to visit while in Chengdu.
If you’ve ever seen pandas at a zoo elsewhere in the world, that zoo pays a fee to China to “borrow” the pandas (all pandas in the world are property of China and any born in captivity outside China must be returned). Those funds help support projects like the research base.
The ultimate goal of the research base is to reintroduce pandas into the wild. They have yet to do that and there’s no guarantee it will work but as the national pride of China, everyone is hopeful.
Right at 7:30am as the entrance gates opened, there was a mad dash to be the first to get to the pandas. I didn’t really know where I was going – it’s a huge park – so I just stopped at the first enclosure that looked promising. I couldn’t have been more lucky. For 10 minutes I got to watch a baby panda climb all over mom and I had this all to myself.
Then the crowds arrived. Yes, it’s China so expect things to be a bit busy. Just come early and during the cold months.
But these adorable bears are well worth it.
Don’t forget the smaller and more active Red Pandas too.