The Phat Five from Chengdoo contributors
Five Sichuanese Dishes Laowai Typically Order (Plus Upgrades)
1. Kungpao chicken (宫保鸡丁/gōngbǎojīdīng). Change up the nuts: cashews (腰果嫩鸡/yāoguǒnènjī) or pistachio (开心果嫩鸡/kāixīnguǒ nèn jī), or swap the meat out for tofu (宫保豆腐/gōngbǎo dòufǔ).
2. Fish-flavored eggplant (鱼香茄子/yúxiāng qiézi). Lots of people like the breaded eggplant "cakes" (鱼香茄饼/yúxiāng qiébǐng) or for a big change, try the cold spicy eggplant in dark vinegar 烧椒拌茄子/shāojiāo bànqiézi).
3. Numbing and Spicy Tofu (马普豆腐/mápó dòufǔ). It doesn't get much better than a proper mapodoufu, but it's hard to find a good one these days. Perhaps unorthodox, mashed potato makes a great accompaniment. To change up your tofu, try crispy fried tofu in sweet and sour sauce (脆皮豆腐/cuǐpí dòufǔ).
4. Batter-Fried Pork in Sweet and Sour Sauce (糖醋里脊/tángcù lǐjǐ/). For a change try pork ribs (糖醋排骨/tángcù páigǔ) or lotus root (糖醋藕片/tángcù ǒupiàn).
5. Twice-fried pork (回锅肉/huíguōroù). Replace the pork with beef (回锅牛肉/huíguō niúròu), add mini pitas (锅盔回锅肉/guōkuī huíguōroù), or skip the fat and go for salt-fried pork (盐煎肉/yánjiān róu).
Joe spends a lot of time in the kitchen and yelling on the phone and sometimes both at the same time.
Five Must-Eats in Chengdu
1. Vegetarian appetizers at Yujia Chufang. Yu's Family Kitchen in Kuangzhai Xiangzi offers the very best of Sichuan cuisine; it's a place to take visitors or go with a group for a special occasion. Sichuan food writer Fuschia Dunlop rates chef Yu as one of Sichuan's great masters, and he serves a true banquet, starting with an exquisite display of vegetarian cold dishes. The inventive hot dishes that follow include edible calligraphy brushes, mantou carved into tiny hedgehogs and a delicately flavored cabbage soup.
2. Shaokao from a roadside stand. At the other end of the spectrum you haven't really lived in Chengdu until you've eaten grilled skewers of shaokao at 2 a.m.
3. Different kinds of hotpot. Beyond the standard fiery brew, I love specialty hotpots that use a broth made from duck, beef, or even fish heads. All the fun of hotpot with less of the side effects.
4. Soup dumplings at Jin Man Ting. My current favorite Chuancai alternative is Jin Man Ting on the fourth floor of Wangfujing on the corner of Kehua Bei Lu and Second Ring Road. They serve mild Shanghai and Cantonese food, including fantastic tang baozi and cold dishes like spinach with shredded crab.
5. Ganbian tudousi at Yang Yang: a longstanding favorite. The service and food quality at Yang Yang can vary, but these greasy, salty shoestring fried potatoes are always delicious.
Catherine Platt is a long-term Chengdu resident and writes the "Found in Translation" poetry column.
Five Rules for Getting a Tattoo
1. Be sure about what you want. Before visiting the studio, compile a bunch of images—example tattoos, sketches, font styles, colors, etc. to take with you.
2. Shop around. Spend time visiting different studios and ask to look at the books of the resident artist's work. Take your time to pick an artist whose work you like, and ask to have a consultation with him or her—it should be free.
3. The big day. On the day of your inking, take a shower and clean your teeth first. If you smoke, chew some gum.
4. Hygiene first. Disposable and sterilized items should always be opened in front of you. Ink should be in date (to be sterile) and poured into a new disposable cup in front of you. All surfaces that come in contact with you should be covered in fresh cling wrap. The artist must wear gloves at all times when dealing with you or any equipment that goes near you. Don't be afraid to ask him or her to follow these rules. If you feel unsafe in any way, leave.
5. Don't move. Try to stay as still as possible while the artist is working. You can listen to music, watch a movie, or read a book to take your mind off the pain and while away the hours.
Jessie Brett is a tattoo artist and illustrates the "Found in Translation" poetry column.
Five Ways to Alleviate Stress in Your Daily Life
1. Develop a morning routine or practice. Do some yoga, go for a walk, do 10 minutes of seated meditation, dust the shelves. Connect with yourself before you start the day.
2. Take breaks. Break periodically from what you are doing and take note of how you are feeling. Take a few deep breaths, do some chair stretches, get up and walk around.
3. Cultivate mindfulness. Choose one task, and for the duration of that task, give it your complete attention. Don't listen to the radio, surf the Internet, or talk to anyone. Choose a daily chore or activity such as washing dishes, sweeping, cooking, or eating a meal.
4. Make time. Give yourself enough time to get places. Make time for people who are important to you. Find space for yourself.
5. Learn something. Take up a new hobby, or pick up an old one. Join a class or a community group.
Judy Seto is a yoga teacher and illustrates the "Mamahuhu" column.
Five Reasons to Start Knitting (or Crocheting) in Chengdu
1. It's relaxing and portable. Bring your project along with you, and never feel like you're wasting time waiting around again. Forming stitches is repetitive, soothing, and an ideal antidote to stressful city living.
2. It's an act of creation. The hours you spend yield precious, one-of-a-kind garments and accessories to wear and use or give to someone worthy. Take that, mass production. 3. It's a way to connect to others.Knitting is such a common activity here that if you pull out your project in public, passersby will probably comment or strike up a conversation. Once, a woman who had been observing me struggle with a new technique wordlessly grabbed my project out of my hands and showed me how to do it. "International communication," her husband cheekily remarked.
4. It's easy to start learning here. Whether via local yarn-shop owners or Internet videos and photo tutorials, you have access to knitting experts, many of whom are happy to show you the basics or help if you get stuck.
5. Materials are plentiful and inexpensive. Some of the world's most luxurious fibers (silk and cashmere) are native to this region, and China is a world leader in textile manufacturing and technology. Every neighborhood seems to have at least one yarn shop; the wholesale yarn market near the North Railway Station and Taobao offer even better selection and prices.
Jane Voodikon would like to spend all her time playing with yarn but occasionally puts the wool down to edit CHENGDOO citylife.
Five Questionably Basi de Hen Things
1. Tiny perfume. Many box shops and other purveyors of girly goods sell perfume samples for 30 to 40 kuai each—nice when you want to try a fragrance before buying a full-size bottle or if you're just fickle.
2. MTR Milk Tea. This is a chain of milk tea stands that serve several versions of strong, plain milk tea with or without sugar—and they taste more like tea than milk.
3. Chinese commercials and spam. A sure-fire way to practice Chinese language and gain useful cultural insight: I will never forget the day when I suddenly realized on the bus that those nice polished black pebbles skidding down a serene piece of hollow bamboo in that tea commercial symbolized poo and the tea in question was to treat constipation.
4. Beef tendon noodles, which have neither beef nor tendons, would probably be considered basi by lots of people, but they're hard to find. They're like aerated noodles, served cold, tossed with vinegar, hot sauce, salt, cucumber strips, seaweed, and sesame seeds.
5. Long Chaoshou behind Wangfujing on Zongfu Lu. Long Chaoshou is a great place to get a wide variety of traditional Chengdu snacks, but I like this location because it feels "old Chengdu." Unlike most places this cheap, it actually has décor (in a dusty, retro way), and it's frequented by tourists and locals alike. Plus there's Sichuan opera in the back where you can hang with the popos and yeyes and spit guazi shells to your heart's content.
DF writes "Basi de Hen!" and compiles "Mamahuhu."
Five Must-Haves for Living in Chengdu
1. The skills to navigate city traffic. If you are one to turn your head back to look at cars coming your way, or you hesitate in fear ... don't cross any streets (or sidewalks, for that matter).
2.Spice tolerance. If you have it, many more foods will be available for your palate's pleasure.
3. A positive outlook in everything. That's probably self-explanatory.
4. The tones, the tones. And once you learn them in Mandarin, you can relearn them in Sichuan dialect!
5. A love of being social. You're living with more than 10 million people in Chengdu ... people who are family-centric and culturally social. It's to your advantage to be part of the massive, extended family you have available to you.
Christine Cauble is a freelance photographer and cookie connoisseur who writes the "Yen for Yang" column and blogs at SeeChristineC.
Five Ways to Have Fun on a Student Budget in Chengdu
1. Free (or cheap) wheel it. Do not take a cab unless you're really in a hurry. Instead, try to ride the bus, metro, or your bike (you do have a bike, right?).
2. Daytime on a dime. Order a cup of coffee and then stay in the café for at least four hours, chatting, reading, surfing the 'net, resting.
3. Used before new. Check GoChengdoo.com every day. You can always find surprisingly cheap things secondhand there.
4. Like the nightlife? Buy a Qingdao for 15 kuai in Jellyfish and then party all night! Dance, dance, dance.
5. Bum around in the bookstore. Before you know it, you'll have finished the book you came in to buy.
Lucy Wang is a university student and writes feature articles on learning Mandarin.