It’s muggy outside tonight, as I cut down an alley in Chengdu, Sichuan, and I’m hit with the smell of dried chiles frying in rapeseed oil. I follow the scent to a tiny nook of a restaurant where I see a man wearing shorts and a white paper cap working a wok set over leaping flames. At a table just outside the place, four men seated on stools hold bowls of rice in one hand and chopsticks in the other, diving into plates of corn with slabs of la rou (cured and dried pork smoked over pine boughs), mustard leaves threaded with scallion greens and studded with chiles, and mapo tofu showered with Sichuan peppercorns and bathed in red oil. As I leave the alley I snap a picture of a street sign, marking my coordinates for dinner tomorrow.
Into the Night