Friday, October 21st, 21 days left
Today was the big day! I was going to have mock fish, a Buddhist dish I’ve heard about for over 40 years (for the actual pages out of the 1972 cookbook, see the note I added at the bottom of this page). Matt, the fellow who helped me vote, was meeting me at noon at the “K” exit of Line 1’s Wenshu Monastery stop. I was out the door at 11am, at the subway station at 11:10, on a train at 11:20, and waiting at the “K” exit of Wenshu Monastery stop at 11:30. No problem. I pulled out my cell phone and studied Mandarin Chinese using my new ChineseSkill app while I waited.
Matt and his fiancee found me and we headed off in the direction of the monastery. Matt’s fiancee was born in Chengdu, lived here until she went off to college.She and Matt met in Beijing. Wenshu Monastery was one of her favorite memories growing up here. She also knew the name of a Buddhist restaurant that was doing some innovative cooking. It is hard to imagine a better guide.
We walked through the marketplace, then wandered around the old buildings. Matt had never been here before, so we took our time. We found the monastery, and went inside to look for the nouveau-Buddhist cuisine restaurant. We stopped at a coffee shop where I got a “walnut-peanut sauce.” In Chinese, it says walnut-peanut juice, which is closer to what it was. It had the consistency of a smoothie and tasted like walnuts and peanuts. “Not for the weight-watcher,” Matt’s fiancee said. “No problem,” I said. “Keeps my Buddha-belly happy.”
We walked around the gardens, talking and listening to the flocks of singing birds, and came across this beautiful building.
We ambled along, following any path that looked interesting, until we got hungry for lunch. We hadn’t found the restaurant so we decided to ask for assistance. After three different helpful folks led us this way and that, we still hadn’t found the restaurant. So we decided to eat at the noodle shop across the street, where a long line and busy tables told us the food was likely to be good.
Matt got a serving of pork dumplings, while his fiancee and I ordered sweet and hot noodles, a liangfen (pea-starch) jelly noodle dish, and a vegetarian pita-bread-like sandwich.
After solving the world’s problems, and throwing several tissues on the floor, we headed back to the subway station where we said our long good-byes. My search for the Buddhist fish will have to continue another day.
As I was walking home from the subway, I noticed for the first time, probably because they were still slippery from the rain, that the sidewalks were all cut stone, not concrete. That’s a lot of stone!
On my return to my apartment, I found an e-mail from Jeremy inviting me to dinner with his Chinese mentor and some former students. I was to meet Jeremy at the Sichuan University East Gate at 6pm. This time we exchanged maps pinpointing the location. It was less than two miles from my apartment, so I walked there via a large park I had not yet visited.
Met Jeremy at the right place at the right time! We walked around campus while we waited for his mentor to finish working. Jeremy took me over to see the Chinese headquarters for the American Peace Corps (aka Friendship Corps?). Jeremy had come to China as a peace corps volunteer three years ago.
We met up with the others at the dining hall/restaurant on the edge of campus. There were eight of us, three olders and five youngers. Four of the youngers were college students, some former students of Jeremy’s.
Dinner was a collection of eight dishes, one with meat, all the others vegetarian. There was one dish that I thought was interesting, though none of the dishes was very well prepared, more like cafeteria food. The dish that I thought was interesting was bitter melon with stir-fried scrambled eggs. I paid special attention to the dish because I wanted to make it myself in the next day or two.
Jeremy stayed with a couple students and the mentor, helping the students prepare for an English competition tomorrow at Sichuan University. I got a ride with them back to my apartment at about 8:30pm. I stopped in at the Beer Nest for a flight of three more Chengdu beers, spent about an hour listening to a British fellow tell me about his conspiracy theories. He worked just outside of Chengdu, couldn’t wait to get back to England, and believed the world was at the mercy of a conspiracy by the Mason’s and Rothchilds to reduce the global population to 1 billion people. The beer was good.
Finished the night with a phone call from my wife. I’ll be home faster than it takes me to paint a Chinese character!
Note: Upon my return to the United States, I searched for and found the first vegetarian Chinese cookbook I used back in 1972. In this book (and copied below) is the story and recipe that introduced me to the infamous “Buddhist fish”. So began my quest…