In the States, countless eateries name themselves after SiChuan (or SzeChuan, or Szechwan) Province to accentuate their specialization in SiChuan cuisine. ChengDu (成都), SiChuan’s historical capital city, seems just as celebrated. In Los Angeles County, one could dine at ChengDu Taste, ChengDu Impression, Delicious ChengDu, Old ChengDu Restaurant, ChengDu House, ChengDu Noodle House, and more. A culinary dilettante or layperson likely characterizes the dining experience with the simple adjective “spicy.”
ChengDu, population 20 million, is laden with teahouses both ancient and modern. PengZhen Township’s GuanYinGe, or Kannon Pavilion per literati, still uses teapots that survived Cultural Revolution’s Great Leap Forward Campaign (1958 – 1962), during which backyard furnaces melted myriad household pans and pots, aiming to produce high-quality steel. If those rusty, deformed teapots do not brew better teas, perhaps GuanYinGe’s proprietor should consider replacing them?
Business deals large and small have been finalized at these teahouses, so have momentous community and private events. Moreover, these venues have, for decades or even a century, served as the ultimate mahjong parlors for those who dread playing at home.
Some believe that the earliest version of mahjong, a popular 4-person, 144-tile (or 136-tile) game originated in China as early as the sixth century BCE. Tea and mahjong complement each other seamlessly – the former certainly not as addictive, thus not as decadent, as the latter. Who could forget the destruction of expensive automatic mahjong tables in WuHan during the COVID-19 outbreak?! Mass production facilitated the remotest villages’ procurement of these tea-slash-mahjong tables. Wild imaginations led to impractical enhancements, including one that not only shuffles tiles but also heats hot pot.
In Chinese characters or kanji, mahjong can be written in various ways, including 麻雀, which means sparrow. The sound of tile shuffling resembles more beans washing than bird chirping, no?
ChengDu’s incessant mahjong craze has been ridiculed, reprimanded, and envied. A joke says that passengers hear mahjong shuffling during all flights to ChengDu. The city cannot really be considered China’s New Orleans. The saying laissez les bons temps rouler (Cajun French) does apply though.
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