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'China, home to one in five of the planet's population.
'The superpower the world fears, but few really know.
'Ken Hom is the Godfather of Chinese food.'
Heaven on Earth.
'He introduced the wok to the West more than 30 years ago.'
This is the way you should be cooking it.
'Ching He Huang is leading the next generation of Chinese cooks...'
I'm just going to chop off the head.
'..with a modern, inventive approach to the cuisine.'
-It's like ducks playing in springtime.
'We're taking a once-in-a-lifetime adventure across China through food...'
-Shall we try one?
'..to delve into its heart and soul.'
Bang it, pull it.
Food is the best way to explore Chinese culture,
because we really live to eat.
'It's an epic trip,
'3,000 miles from the megacities of the East
'to the forgotten villages of the Wild West.'
It's like going back to the time of Genghis Khan.
She's just decapitated it!
'We'll uncover the familiar, the secret and the surprising...'
Wow, I've never seen that done before!
'..cook simple and delicious dishes...'
That is my Sichuan sausage.
'..and reveal the secrets of China, old and new.'
It's like a journey that I've always dreamt about,
but in a China I've dreamt about.
This time, we're in Chengdu.
It is one of the fastest-growing cities in the world.
In the interior of the country,
it has always been an isolated place,
free from Western influence,
and remains the most Chinese of China's megacities.
Nearly 1,000 miles from Beijing,
deep in the heartland
in Sichuan province,
Chengdu is known as one of the culinary capitals of China.
'The food here is the hottest in China and increasingly famous
'all over the world for its distinctive fiery flavours.'
'We've come to Chengdu's spice market to explore the explosive tastes
'that make Sichuan food so unique.'
This place is like the core,
the heart, the mother ship of spicy Sichuan food.
'The people here are obsessed with chillies,
'claiming they have a medicinal quality,
'driving out the cold, wet climate.'
You really feel like trying all of them,
because some, I've never seen before.
'I hope they're right, because it really is damp here.'
HE SPEAKS IN NATIVE TONGUE
'Even the seeds of the chilli, which we tend to avoid in the West,
'are sold here as a garnish.'
They take the seeds out of the ones that are slightly off colour,
that aren't as desirable, so that's a lot of chilli!
THEY SPEAK IN LOCAL DIALECT
Oh, so they stir-fry it, so it's dry toasting.
'You would think this assault on their taste buds would be unbearable,
'but it's not all about chillies.'
So big! Where do you start?
'There's a second key ingredient that absolutely defines Sichuan food.
'This innocent-looking husk from the berry of the prickly ash bush
'is called the Sichuan flower pepper.
'It creates an incredibly intense numbing sensation
'that balances the chilli heat of the food.
'It stimulates the taste buds, unleashing an explosion of flavours.'
I don't know why I'm actually a little terrified of trying it,
because I've cooked with it so many times.
Oh, my God!
It's really strong, really numbing heat,
much stronger than what we have in the UK.
'It's these authentic local flavours
'that I've come here to cook with and master.'
The fragrance of lavender taste is unbelievable.
I know. Lavender and a little citrus spice to it.
I haven't been here for almost 24 years
and now I realise how much I miss this fragrance.
There are not many places in the world where cooking is
so dominated by just a few key spices.
We want to begin our exploration of these fascinating, complex flavours
where some of the most authentic food can be found -
here in these ramshackle restaurants,
hidden away in the alleys and backstreets of the city.
To help us track down one of the best,
we've enlisted the help of Jenny Gao,
a food writer raised in Canada, but born in Chengdu.
She's taking us to a restaurant in the old part of the city
that's due for redevelopment.
So, this is the famous fly restaurant Ming Ting,
and it started off just a couple of tables,
but as its popularity grew, more and more tables were added.
As you see, it spilled out onto the street.
Called fly restaurants
apparently because of their rough-and-ready approach to hygiene,
these places have always been the soul of the food culture here.
Wow! Ni hao!
Wouldn't it be fun to cook in this kitchen? It's just chaos!
So it's got chilli bean paste, it's got some garlic and ginger.
-Yes. The roar of the wok! How intense it is.
'I'm desperate to cook with all these amazing spices,
'but first, I want to taste how the chefs combine
'chilli and Sichuan flower pepper
'to create the distinctive numbing heat they call ma la.'
For all these dishes, you won't get a very strong sensation
of like, you know, very ma, very la,
-but after you start eating more and more...
-I can feel it now.
..you start to feel it on your tongue and on your lips, right?
Right. My mouth is on fire.
'One of the most famous local dishes is Ma Po Dofu,
'a regional classic made with tofu and usually ground beef or pork.
'But here at Ming Ting, it has a surprising alternative ingredient.'
They're tricking you by putting a little pig brain in there.
-Pig brains with tofu?!
Yeah, dig in.
'Despite my dad keeping pigs when I was young in Taiwan,
'I'd never developed the Chinese love of brains.'
That's a generous bit of brain.
Oh, my goodness me!
This is a first for me.
I can clearly say I've had probably all bits of offal, but not brain.
-I'm feeling a bit funny, actually.
Think of it as tofu.
Right, OK, I'll...
Mmm. It's really creamy!
-It reminds me of foie gras.
Pig brain is actually very popular in Sichuan,
as is the brain of a lot of animals.
-Yeah, I think I'll stick to the tofu.
'Ma Po Dofu is one of my favourite dishes
'and I really want to test out the authenticity of my version
'on the chefs at Ming Ting.'
So, I'm going to prep my ingredients here.
'Like many Sichuan recipes, garlic, ginger, chilli bean paste
'and, of course, a pinch of that ground Sichuan flower pepper
'are exploded in hot oil to release their fragrance.
'Like most of the dishes
'we'll cook on our travels, it's easy to do at home.
'It's a little unnerving, though, to have such an expert audience,
'particularly because I'm adapting the house special,
'swapping the pigs' brains
'for Chinese long beans and pickled bamboo,
'although you could use leeks and shallots.'
In with my beans, in with the bamboo shoots.
I'm going to season now with a little bit of soy.
In with the tofu.
That looks absolutely beautiful.
'You can get ground Sichuan flower pepper in Chinese supermarkets in the UK or online.
'And don't be afraid to experiment to get that balance
'with the chillies just right.'
'I love the atmosphere in this place and it's heartening to see
'that traditional cooking is safe in the hands of these young chefs.
'And even though Ming Ting's present location is soon to be redeveloped,
'chef Wu Jing and his staff are positive about the future.'
He's going to just follow his boss.
Wherever his boss opens next, that's where he will go.
-To Sichuan! Cheers!
The next morning,
we've arranged to meet Jenny on the outskirts of the city.
Chengdu is at the centre of the government's Go West policy.
It's invested 300 billion to spark an economic boom in western China,
on a par with Beijing and Shanghai.
Can you imagine? This whole area,
most of these buildings were not here.
When I was here in 1989, it was still a fairly primitive place.
Many of the streets were little more than dirt roads
and people brought produce in from the countryside
on carts pulled by donkeys.
Now, Chengdu has a population of 14 million
and the fastest rate of urbanisation in the world.
In the next decade, it's expected to increase by
nearly a million people every year.
There it is, that's the hotel.
That is the hotel I stayed in.
It was the tallest building in Chengdu.
That's it, and you see now,
it's dwarfed by all these other buildings.
And they keep building, look how many cranes there are over there.
It's just amazing.
I thought it would be a lot of change, but not sort of this much.
It's shocking at the beginning
because it's sleepy backwaters here.
You expect that from Shanghai and Beijing but not from Chengdu.
'Jenny's been kind enough to invite us to her grandparents' home
'where she spent her early childhood.'
My cousins and I used to come
and we would get together for family lunches,
you know, dumplings and noodles.
'It's exciting for me, as I've always believed the best cooking
'is in the home, and a taste of family life is a great way
'to get beneath the skin of a city.'
So, these are my grandparents.
'Jenny's grandparents are in their eighties
'and, as is traditional in Chinese culture,
'one of their sons lives at home and takes care of them with his wife,
-84. I'm sorry!
-It's quite chilly, isn't it?
So, the reason why it's so cold indoors
is because there's no central heating in Sichuan.
All of the provinces don't actually have central heating because
I guess the government figures it's not cold enough to need it.
So, do they were coats indoors, then?
Yes, exactly. When it's winter, everyone wears coats,
scarves, hats, the whole thing.
Thank God for the wok and cooking!
'While Ching gets to know the family,
'I really want to see the local market
'and join Jenny's aunt on her daily trip to buy fresh ingredients.'
'Most days, she's here at the crack of dawn to get the best produce.
'She spends around five hours each morning
'shopping and preparing lunch for her family.
'I offered to help out with a dish of my own...
'..and I'm on the lookout for inspiration.'
It's a struggle, though, to understand the local dialect.
No, no, no.
So typical Chinese.
'I've always loved markets,
'and in China, they're a particular pleasure.
'Chaotic, and despite the government's pledge
'to improve food safety,
'I can't see many fridges.'
Do you see this for fish, see? Live.
This is how Chinese want freshness.
They want to make sure their fish is really fresh.
Look at this, fresh frogs.
Turtles, of course.
'I spotted some rabbit, a specialty in Sichuan.
'The Chinese actually produce more rabbit than any other country,
'although they export most of it.'
They've quickly blanched it in hot water
and they've pulled the skin off, which is how rabbit is done.
You would not see this in Beijing or Guangzhou,
or anywhere I've been in China.
I mean, duck, chicken, of course you see that everywhere,
but certainly not rabbit, and they just love it.
It's a great protein and a sustainable food,
and it was quite poor here, which is why they eat rabbit.
'While Ken's at the market, Jenny's grandmother is showing me
'her traditional method for making pickles.
'She first adds to the pickling water, garlic, chilli and salt,
'and then uses a method I haven't seen before -
'two types of rock sugar,
'a lot of Sichuan pepper and instead of vinegar, she's adding bai jiu,
'a local 50% proof spirit, a bit like a sweeter version of vodka.
'Pickles are incredibly popular in China
'and are an easy way to preserve vegetables.
'When I was a child in Taiwan,
'I used to have them for breakfast with my grandmother.'
'Jenny's grandmother always has a pot of pickles on the go, even today.'
Wow, I can't wait to try those.
'The pickling water is so strong that the vegetables
'are ready in just 24 hours.
'She serves them the traditional way,
'with a light drizzle of chilli and Sichuan pepper oil,
'made from infusing hot oil with Sichuan peppercorns.'
-Mmm. That is delicious.
I've got now the chilli, the numbing heat of that Sichuan pepper oil
and a little sour from the pickle.
Beautiful, thank you.
'As soon as we return,
'Jenny's aunt gets straight to work on the lunch.
'I'm making a simple rabbit stir fry,
'but you could use chicken for this dish.
'I'm using a marinade of soy sauce,
'sesame oil, with a coating of cornflour.
'It's usually best left for a couple of hours to take effect.
'I'm cooking the rabbit with garlic
'and the less spicy green chillies,
'as the flesh has a delicate flavour.'
What people outside of China don't know
is that even home cooks will heat the wok up until it's very, very hot
before they add the oil.
So I've heated it up for a few minutes now.
This is good firepower.
As you can see, it's smoking like this. Don't worry.
You want this to be very hot.
'You obviously have to be careful doing this at home,
'but if you pull the wok away from the heat,
'the flames would die down quickly.'
This is the way, actually, you should be cooking it.
This is what gives, um, Chinese food
its very, very special flavour.
It seals in the juices.
Now, it's very important to take all this now and drain this.
We add the garlic and the chillies and, instead of adding more oil,
which is a mistake a lot of cooks make
when they're not familiar with Chinese food,
we just add a little bit of the broth I made from the rabbit bones,
and at the very end, I return the rabbit.
'I'm only braising the rabbit meat for a couple of minutes.
'In the West, we usually aim for tenderness,
'but here, people love chewy textures
'and really appreciate the feel of food in the mouth.'
Very Sichuanese, then!
'While Ken cooks, I'm enjoying spending time with the family.'
I feel like I've come back home. Yeah, it's very...
I grew up in a small village with my grandparents in rural Taiwan,
and then, when I was five,
left with my parents for South Africa,
finally arriving in the UK when I was 11 years old.
When I was growing up at school, I was never proud to be Chinese.
All I wanted to do was be English,
and, why couldn't I be more like my English friends?
And I wanted to dye my hair blonde and, you know, be very Western.
'Over the years, cooking has helped connect me to my Chinese roots,
'so it feels important to make something for Jenny's family that,
'for them, feels authentically Sichuanese.
'Watching Jenny's aunt cook is really inspiring.'
She's making a boiled fish dish. Smells good.
Your aunt is a really masterful cook,
-and she cooks in high heels, it's amazing.
It really is amazing!
So now she's sprinkling on the chilli flakes.
She's got some hot vegetable oil.
That looks wonderful.
I've never done it like that before - sprinkle a dish with chillies
and then just ladle hot sizzling oil on top.
It's just beautiful. I'm learning so much, it's wonderful.
'I want to make a dish with traditional Sichuan flavours.
'I'm going to call it crispy, fragrant Sichuan sausage.'
It is about experimenting, I do like to improvise sometimes
because that's what I do at home.
'First, I'm boiling some of Jenny's aunt's homemade sausages.'
It is a Chinese cook's dream to have all these ingredients,
but I'm going to use the wood ear mushrooms
because they'll be lovely and crunchy.
'Texture is always important in Chinese dishes,
'but if you like, you could use oyster mushrooms instead.'
I've been pointed to these lovely pickled chillies.
I'm going to keep the seeds
because I know this family likes their food hot.
These look like spring onions, or scallions,
but they're actually suan miao, which is the garlic shoots.
'The sausages should be ready after just ten minutes of boiling.'
Shape is important, it's all about presentation
and also cooking techniques.
The same applies to vegetables -
if you cut them on the angle, you expose more surface area,
they'll cook a lot quicker in the wok.
In with the garlic, then in with all the sausages.
I'm going to wok fry the sausages first, so they get a bit crisp.
This is what my grandmother would do,
cook the ingredients separately, then bring it all together.
Takes a little bit more time but it's going to hopefully be worth it.
I'm just going to add the vegetables in now,
all of them together at the same time.
You do need to be careful, otherwise you'll set your hair on fire.
'The cooked vegetables are set aside,
'and then, inspired by Jenny's aunt's fish dish,
'I'm making a kind of hot oil dressing,
'based on chilli bean paste and Sichuan flower pepper.'
Mmm, it's sour, it's spicy, it's hot, it's numbing heat.
So what I'm going to do is just throw this all back into the wok,
and toss it all together,
so that all the flavours are mixed in really well.
That is my crispy, fragrant, Sichuan sausage
with wood ear mushrooms,
garlic shoots and pickled chilli.
And it's so hot,
it's a numbing heat.
This is a true Sichuan dish, I think,
this will actually blow your head off good.
I could give some of the fly restaurants a run for their money.
'Jenny's aunt is treating us
'to the kind of feast the family only enjoys on special occasions.
'30 or 40 years ago, they wouldn't have been able to afford
'so many meat and fish dishes.'
'It's an amazing spread, including the water-boiled fish
'with its vibrant layers of hot oil, chilli and vegetables.
'Braised eel with green peppers.
'And a delicious, unusual stir-fry shredded potato.'
This is better than any restaurant, I can tell you.
Home-cooked food. God, this is pretty impressive.
'With so much amazing authentic food on the table,
'I hope I've pulled off a dish that delivers the right balance
'of spice and numbing heat.'
Phew! I can have another drink now.
We're now three days into our stay in Chengdu.
Our time with Jenny's family
was a fascinating glimpse into home cooking.
The next morning, Ching and I
are on the lookout for some authentic street food.
That's brilliant, that's just brilliant.
That's fresh chicken!
Western chains are moving in here.
McDonald's has 28 outlets and 7-Eleven are planning to open
a staggering 350 shops in Chengdu over the next five years.
Even so, we don't have to look far
to find some delicious Chinese fast food,
like these traditional baozi buns.
-Shall we get some pork ones?
Made from steamed bread,
they're an incredibly popular snack throughout all of China.
-We saw in Beijing, they have their version.
Everybody has their version.
It's sort of like our sandwich.
It's just delicious.
In Cantonese, we only have the barbecued pork with no vegetables,
and that was really nice. I took it to school.
People were envious, they had these horrible,
like, cold cut sandwiches
and I had this wonderful fragrant bao.
SHE SPEAKS LOCAL DIALECT ..Starbucks?
Starbucks? SHE SPEAKS LOCAL DIALECT
-She says she's never heard of Starbucks.
-No, she's unaware of it.
Even though China is modern, I don't think its food culture
is in any way endangered by all these foreign fast food places,
-simply because there's a tradition of eating things like this.
'The real threat to authentic food on the streets of Chengdu
'is the re-development sweeping through the city.'
It's like a different planet.
They say China has half of the cranes in the world.
'As the old neighbourhoods are torn down,
'many of the street food stands have been moved here to Jinli Street,
'a purpose-built recreation of the old Chengdu.'
So, this is really modernised now.
It's modernised, but it's OK.
Ah, that looks good too.
They all look good.
They ALL look good!
-This is a Sichuan delicacy.
-Yes, that's right.
-It's a dessert, right? A sweet.
-It's glutinous rice balls.
-It's called San Da Pao, three big bombs.
THE BALLS THUD
It's to attract people to come, traditionally. It's the sound of it.
'The theme park atmosphere seems to have done nothing to dent
'the Chinese enthusiasm for unusual and wonderful snacks...
'..like deep-fried rabbit's head.'
Shall we try one? This is the rabbit head, shall we try one?
-No way! No, I don't think so.
-Yes, I think we should try one, come on.
I want to try this because I've never tried it before.
OK, so eight yuan. That's, like, 80p.
It smells good.
Oh, that's a proper skull over there.
There's not much meat on it, except for...
You know what it tastes like?
It tastes like,
a little bit like a ham.
She's saying you should open it like a crab claw...
-Oh, I see.
-..to reveal the meat.
All right, then.
The seasoning and the spices on it are really tasty, aren't they?
Mmm, that's what makes it good.
And it does make something that is a bit gross to eat delicious.
It's cultural. If you grew up eating this,
then it wouldn't be disgusting.
Now, you know what Chinese used to find disgusting?
When Westerners eat big slabs of steak,
they found that really disgusting.
My mother used to recoil.
She'd say, "Oh, God, how can he eat a big slab of cow like that?"
Ken may be keen on rabbit's head, but I want to show him
what everyone in the city is really eating.
It's a food tradition that will never be threatened,
however fast the city grows, and it's one of the national dishes of China.
THEY SPEAK IN LOCAL DIALECT
This fiery, bubbling cauldron of broth is known as hot pot.
You can order pretty much anything you like, but the catch is,
you have to cook it yourself.
This is China's fondue,
except they've been eating hot pot for thousands of years.
Hello. Ni hao.
Bamboo shoots. It's fantastic how they slice it.
There's no cooking here because all they do is prep, right?
'Of course, this being Chengdu,
'they do a mean ma la, numbing heat version here,
'and I want to know exactly what goes into it.'
This is where they make all their soup bases.
Look at that Sichuan peppercorn.
That's a lot of flowered pepper.
'The copper hot pot is shaped like the Yin and Yang symbol,
'to represent the balance of the mild broth on one side
'and the spicy on the other.'
So they put in dry chillies
and then he puts in the flower Sichuan pepper.
THEY SPEAK LOCAL DIALECT
'There are many varieties of hot pot, but in this version,
'the Yin side gets added flavour from a fish,
'and what looks like spam.
'It might seem a weird combination for Western tastes,
'but the buzz here is amazing
'and it's clear that for the people of Chengdu,
'hot pot is just as important a social event as it is a meal.
'As if the hot pot wasn't already spicy enough,
'more stock and chilli oil is brought to the table.'
That's a lot of chilli oil.
'It's sealed in these bizarre clinical-looking bags,
'apparently to reassure the customer that the oil has not been recycled,
'a practice of some hot pot restaurants.
'But now that the government
'is beginning to crack down on food safety,
're-using cooking oil has been banned.'
It's making me hungry, looking at the spicy red sauce.
'It seems like we may have allowed the waitress to order too much food,
'but it was the heat from that lethal-looking broth
'that I really wanted to try.'
It's not what I expected. It's not as spicy as I thought it would be.
Did you not taste the numbing heat?
-It's kind of like a delayed reaction.
-There's a delayed reaction.
-It's really spicy.
It's only when you say, "Oh, it's not hot" then you go, "Oh!"
-That numbing spice is really addictive.
-Yeah, it is.
'After suffering Chengdu's damp and foggy climate,
'I think I'm beginning to understand why everyone is obsessed
'with this unique combination of spices.'
I mean, it's amazing, the first few days when I was here,
I felt my bones creaking.
I thought, "My God, I feel old for the first time."
And I noticed since I've been eating this kind of food,
my joints did not sort of creak the way they did the first day.
'The climate might be damp here,
'but it's contributed to the area around Chengdu being
'so fertile that Sichuan is known in China as the land of abundance.
'But it's not only crops,
'it also supplies over half the country's pork.
'My dad kept pigs when I was growing up,
'so I'm looking forward to visiting a local pig farmer.
'I'm hoping to try my hand at some traditional pork dishes.
'Mr Peng is different to most farmers in the region,
'because his pigs are organic.
'Nearly three quarters of all the meat eaten in China is pork.
'To the Chinese, pigs symbolise virility,
'they've always been an important part of everyday life.'
Wow, they're really hungry. Hello, piggy!
'And although the Chinese eat every part of the pig,
'they still get through nearly two million every day.
'With so much pressure to churn out pork,
'organic farming has not been a priority, so I'm happy to discover
'Mr Peng is obsessive about his pigs' wellbeing.
'He produces and mixes his own feed
'and has a radical and unusual approach to their health.'
These are all Chinese medicine herbs.
I still can't believe
they eat so well!
'Mr Peng's business started slowly,
'but in the last five years - due to food safety scares
'and the expanding middle class -
'the demand for organic food has quadrupled.'
'He's invited me to his house to meet his wife and to have some supper.
'In return, I've offered to cook a dish for them.
'Mrs Peng has prepared a whole selection of different cuts
'of their own pork which she's boiled for 30 minutes,
'and before I cook, she wants to show me some classic home-style dishes,
'starting with a much-prized cold salad.'
It's funny, isn't it? Because back in England,
pig's ear is probably the cheapest thing
because people don't want that and actually discard it, or make it
into dog food, but here, it's really prized and the most expensive part.
She's got some baby spring onions.
'Before it can be eaten, the pig's ear salad
'needs to soak for a couple of hours in the spicy dressing,
'which is, of course, made with chillies and Sichuan flower pepper.
'From all the activity, it looks like I'm in for
'more than the simple supper I was expecting.
'With typical Chinese hospitality,
'Mrs Peng is preparing us a feast using every part of the pig.'
She said this is like a bridge, a bridge pork rib.
It's a really wonderful way of steaming here,
she's just put water at the base, and then put a plate over the top.
Their wok's amazing.
'For her next dish,
'Mrs Peng is making another local speciality,
'cherry pork made with soy sauce, and a mix of caramelised sugar
'and a touch of vinegar.'
It's juicy, really tender and very sweet.
'I'm planning to cook my hosts a dish using more of
'that delicious pork belly,
'a Sichuan classic called twice-cooked pork.'
'Mr and Mrs Peng are clearly very particular about their food,
'and they both seem concerned I won't stick to the traditional recipe.'
The light is used for seasoning,
for saltiness, and the dark is used for colour, to caramel it.
There's so many different variations.
She likes to use the lao chou, which is the dark soy sauce,
but I like to mix a little bit the light and the dark.
'For my version of the dish, I'm starting with fermented black beans,
'mixing them with chilli bean paste, and frying them it all in hot oil.
'Twice-cooked pork is essentially a stir-fry dish,
'using slices of pork belly
'that have already been boiled for half an hour.'
I'm just going to add a little bit of the dark soy sauce
and a little bit of the light as well.
Little bit of sugar.
'The last ingredient in, as they only need a minute or so,
'are the spring onions.'
I hope they're going to enjoy this.
He's so proud of, you know, the Sichuan classic, classic Hui Guo Rou,
this isn't even good enough for him.
He said, it's OK, it's salty, but it's not the real thing.
Mrs Peng said it was good.
'Mrs Peng has made us so many classic Sichuan pork dishes,
'each using a different cooking method.'
Doesn't it look amazing, all the dishes together?
The dressing on this pig's ear is really good.
It's very crunchy.
This is Mr Peng's daughter.
Actually, I'm going to ask her what she thinks of my Hui Guo Rou,
my twice-cooked pork.
She said it's good, got good taste. At least someone likes it!
As well as pork and flower pepper,
there's another locally-produced ingredient
that Sichuan has made famous and defines the tastes of the region.
In the few days we've been here, everyone we've met has relied on it.
If chilli and Sichuan pepper are the heart of the Sichuan food,
then chilli bean paste is the soul.
This is incredible.
I've never seen anything like this in my life.
I feel like I'm walking into a cemetery or a monastery
because it's so Zen.
It's a bit spooky and eerie.
'At this factory in Pixian, just outside Chengdu,
'they've been making the best chilli bean paste in the world
'for over 300 years.'
SHE SPEAKS IN LOCAL DIALECT
Two years, this one has been aged for?
They have three years and five years.
'The paste is actually very simply made from just three ingredients -
'broad beans, red chillies and salt.
'It's then left to ferment in these earthenware crocks
'for up to five years.'
That is really superb.
It's beautiful. It's sour, spicy, beany,
-just really intense.
It's funny, I would never say this is chilli bean sauce.
Absolutely, it's never this colour anyway,
so that means that they haven't been aged as long.
The quality, Ken, that we've been cooking with is sub-standard,
what we get back home.
'The secret of this paste lies in the relentlessly damp Sichuan climate.
'The humidity in the air helps the years of fermentation,
'creating a chilli bean paste unlike any other.'
It's a little bit like wine. You know, when we do wine,
we're talking about where the grapes come from,
the terroir, as the French say,
and I think it's very much this, because this is the heart
of what Sichuan cooking is about.
This kind of damp, foggy climate
that makes this kind of moody chilli bean sauce
that's the heart of this type of cooking.
During our time in Chengdu,
we've seen modern China pushing up against the past...
..but in the People's Park,
the surrounding tower blocks are kept at bay,
and certain traditions that stretch back centuries remain unchanged.
Chengdu has a reputation as the most chilled-out city in China.
As the saying goes here,
"Sunny days are rare, but teahouses are abundant."
One thing I really remember about my mum is her love of Mah-jong,
and she could sit for hours just drinking tea
and just playing with her friends.
You couldn't get her to pay any attention to anything.
When she's playing, she's focused on that.
'Despite Chairman Mao closing down teahouses
'because he felt gathering places posed a threat,
'they re-opened in the early '80s
'and the retired Chinese still come here to play.'
You hear the clack when they go like that...
They call it washing the tiles.
'Just as I'm beginning to relax, a stranger offers me
'the Chinese equivalent of a shoeshine.'
Oh, my God! He's got a little... He's got a little flashlight on his head!
What does it feel like, is it soothing?
It's not soothing, it's very interesting.
Whoa, that is a sensation!
Oh, he's massaging your ear.
He's massaging my ear, I love it!
'While the rituals of teahouse life may remain unchanged
'and where once I would've expected to see the gentle rhythm of Tai Chi,
'today, people are moving to a different beat.'
DANCE MUSIC BLARES
'The dancing reflects a newfound freedom that I hadn't sensed
'when I came here in 1989.
'Then, China was still emerging from a period of long isolation
'and the trauma of the Cultural Revolution,
'Mao's attempt to impose Communist ideas throughout the country
'in the 1960s and '70s resulted in chaos and famine.
'Every aspect of life was affected. Rationing was introduced,
'the art of cooking was abandoned, and many people fled the country.'
Chef Li's our Cantonese Executive Chef.
'People like Chef Li. He escaped to Hong Kong when he was 18,
'but returned to Chengdu ten years ago, as life began to improve.'
Oh, he swam! He swam! He swam to Hong Kong!
Wow, that is amazing.
'It feels good that Chef Li has returned to China.
'The influence of chefs like him has done so much
'to re-invigorate the food culture here.
'He agrees to give me a hand to make one of my favourite dishes,
'crispy aromatic duck.'
What we do in the UK is, we take the duck
and we put things like five-spice and Sichuan peppercorn on it
and salt, but here is sort of the real thing.
'For the dry marinade, it's OK to improvise the ingredients,
'but the base usually starts with salt and chicken stock powder.'
And, of course, we're in Sichuan, so you add chillies, lots of it,
and then the most important thing are these
lovely Sichuan peppercorns. Really quite powerful.
He said, "Put it all in!"
'The rest of the marinade - including cardamom, ginger,
'fennel seeds and bay leaves - are rubbed in,
'then the duck is left for three hours to absorb the flavours.
'The trick to this dish is to steam the duck first
'for about 45 minutes, then to let it dry,
'and finally, to deep-fry it until the skin is crisp and golden.'
Chinese like to gnaw on the bone
because we feel that that's where all the flavour is.
The marinade permeates the duck meat,
and that's what makes it red.
Out of this world.
It's much more complex than the aromatic crispy duck
that we get in the UK.
It's funny, you don't even taste the chillies, and things like that,
but it's a very sophisticated mixture of flavours here.
THEY SPEAK LOCAL DIALECT
Sichuan Province may be one of China's culinary hotspots,
but no trip here is complete without a visit
to see Chengdu's most famous residents.
Oh, my God, they are so funny!
-It's like they don't look real.
-They're so human-like.
You think at any moment,
someone is going to take the mask off and go, "Da-da!"
I love the one in the tree.
'This panda sanctuary is home to most of the world's panda population,
'and here, at least, you feel that life will remain unchanged.'
-This was worth the trip here.
'Pandas are a massive draw for Chengdu,
'particularly for Chinese tourists, but we have one last place to go.
'It's a place where our experience of Sichuan food traditions
'are brought together and elevated to a new level.'
-Oh, I can't wait!
'Yu's Family Kitchen
'is one of Chengdu's most celebrated restaurants.'
That's so beautiful, little hedgehogs.
'The food is the work of this man, Chef Yu Bo.
'He's travelled the world, gathering ideas
'and inspiration for his cooking.
'And now he's receiving acclaim both at home and abroad
'for his modern twists on traditional Sichuan dishes.
'I haven't seen such an innovative approach to traditional food
'anywhere in China.'
It looks so beautiful, I don't want to eat it,
because it looks like a work of art!
'These pastry brushes are filled with a sweet red bean paste.'
'It couldn't be a better demonstration
'of the new culinary confidence in the country.'
Presentation is fantastic, I can't wait to try it.
He's a genius, real genius.
'This feels like an incredible opportunity to try out
'some of the cooking techniques I've discovered here
'on one of the best chefs in China.
'I want to use a traditional flavour combination, unique to Sichuan.'
It's called guaiwei, it's called strange flavour,
and actually, it's a combination of all these flavours,
like the chilli bean paste, some sesame paste, vinegar, sugar.
You know, sort of all brought together.
-So we'll just see how it goes.
-It's like a dressing.
It is like a dressing, exactly.
'I'm kind of nervous because all the chefs here
'work with such precision and my dish is a bit more rustic.
'My guaiwei strange flavour salad
'will taste spicy, sour, sweet and nutty.
'It's a take on a Sichuan classic, smacked cucumber.'
You just smash it, it just bruises it
and it starts to allow you to sort of put the flavours together,
you know, absorb flavours of dressings.
It's quite a local way of doing a salad.
'I'm cutting the cucumber into large pieces,
'adding sliced mustard green hearts - broccoli stems would work too -
'and some finely chopped garlic shoots to add at the end.'
'For the dressing, the strange flavour sauce is actually
'a mix of icing sugar, with black rice vinegar and light soy sauce.
'It's a sort of Chinese vinaigrette.
'To that, I'm adding some smooth peanut butter,
'which gives a lovely, rich nutty flavour, and then sesame paste.
'The vegetables are tossed in the dressing
'and the garlic shoots sprinkled on top.'
Lay the garlic shoots.
'Finally, the key regional flavours - Sichuan flower pepper
'and chilli bean paste - fried in hot oil to release the flavours,
'a trick I learned from Jenny's aunt, poured over the top.'
So sort of a hot and cold.
'And to top it off, chilli oil.'
Boy, cucumber salad has never been the same.
'And more ground Sichuan flower pepper.'
That looks amazing...
That looks lovely!
It's a nice, crunchy, refreshing texture.
I expected it to be...
Yes, but it's not as hot as I thought it would be.
He said, "Now that you've taught me, in future, I will definitely try."
'Chengdu might be the fastest changing city in China,
'but our time here has been dominated by a sense of the traditional.'
Before, in the past,
when I have come to China, I've felt a little bit that I don't fit in,
but this time, I feel a little bit more comfortable in my own skin.
Cooking Chinese food, that's made me have
a real deep appreciation for Chinese culture.
I could definitely envisage myself coming here
and spending a lot more time here, especially in Chengdu.
The chef here has taken things on another level,
and I think we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg
about what's really happening in China.
Looks like an ancient medieval city.
It's really on the far fringes of China.
'..we'll explore a hidden side of China that feels distinctly un-Chinese.
'From the Wild West...'
This is like stepping back 2,000 years.
'..to the tropical jungle.'
Look at the chicken head.
There's some Chinese traditions I don't like.
'And find out how China's race to modernity
'is affecting these ancient cultures.'
It's sort of a Chinese Disneyland.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd