You're hungry. You cycled 90km today and the last few hours involved peddling your way through city madness in a furnace-like heat. It's nearly 6pm and you haven't eaten since you stopped for some fried rice mid-morning. Once you reached the hostel you were distracted by exciting things: a washing machine, a shower, other foreigners. But now, as you walk towards the supermarket, you suddenly realise that you could easily eat an entire yak, something you may well do in the coming weeks. Going to a proper supermarket for the first time in weeks is dangerous enough on its own, but going with this kind of hunger, well, that would be bank-breaking trouser button-popping insanity. So you turn down a little alleyway. It looks promisingly busy. There must be food. There is. Well, kind of. Stall after stall of meat, suspended in the air by sharp hooks.
Wondering why you turned you back on vegetarianism, you press on. The hanging slabs of fatty meat are replaced by buckets. The buckets splash. Or rather, the huge fish crammed inside splash. The turtles are less aggressive, paddling every so often in their little plastic world. The stall owner grins as you peer into the next bucket, intrigued by the slim, slime-green snakes.
Eventually, you reach a t-junction and you turn right. You walk past shoe shops, repair stalls and everything in between. Another right and you see it. A trolley, loaded with trays of vegetables and meat, a gas bottle and wok at one end and wooden handles at the other.
You approach. The mans greets you with a "Hello" and a smile as he ties his dirty apron. You're early. He has only just finished setting up. You point to the fat rice noodles piled in a plastic bag. He nods and starts chopping cabbage. He turns on the gas and fries the cabbage at full heat, simultaneously scraping the wok with a metal brush. He tips the cabbage into the rubbish bin; the cleaning process is complete. You point to onion, what you hope is pork, cabbage and assorted greens. He nods. You point to the bowls of various forms of chilli and say "bu la", waving your hands in front of you. He nods again. He ladles in some oil. You cringe slightly at the amount but relax when he tips most of it back out. The meat goes into the pan and flames erupt past the man's head. He calmly flips the wok, ignoring the flames only centimeters away from his face. He grabs handfuls of your selected vegetables and chucks them in. Flip. Flip. Flip.
He adds a few dollops of a thick dark sauce. Flip.
Generous amounts of garlic and spring onions are next. Flip. Flip.
Your mouth is watering. He picks the noodles up with giant chopsticks, shaking them to get the correct amount.
Flip. Flip. Flip. He tips the contents on the wok into a container and squishes it closed. The whole process took a total of 3 minutes. He moves to grab some plastic-wrapped disposable chopsticks but you shake your head. After over a month in China you have your own. You hand him 10 yuan (NZ$2) and he gives you 2 back in change. He holds up his hand, "Bye!" You thank him, take your dinner and continue down the alleyway. You can feel the heat of the noodles in your hands and the smell is incredible. You consider taking your dinner back to the hostel and eating it in the garden area, at a table, like a civilised individual. But you are not civilised. You are a hungry cyclist. You sit on the steps of a nearby clothes shop and dig in.
Fine dining in Chengdu.