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Think Chengdu food and think hot and hotter. Chengdu's cuisine doesn't skimp on the local chilies, nor does it go light on mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns. Locals claim the sweat-inducing dishes cool the body in the summer and warm it in the winter while Chinese tradition says chili protects you from illnesses and infection—medicine never tasted so good. If you're not into the heat, there's plenty to eat that's gentle on the taste buds.

If you do like it spicy, be sure to try kung pao chicken (gōngbǎo jīdīng, 宫保鸡丁), chicken and peanuts served with chili, and mapo tofu (mápó dòufǔ, 麻婆豆腐), spicy tofu with minced beef and dry chilies. Milder options include fish dishes, often served in a yuxiang sauce (yúxiāng, 鱼香) made of vinegar, ginger, sesame and soy; or cold chicken with sesame and soy sauce (bàngbàng jīsī, 棒棒鸡丝). Hotpot (huǒguō, 火锅), meat and vegetables cooked in boiling broth at your table can be had either mild or spicy.

Try Sichuan cuisine at the city's Chengdu Restaurant on Shandong Dajie (Shāndōng Dàjiē, 山东大街), Longchaoshou Restaurant on Chunxi Lu (Chūnxī Lù, 春熙路), or Grandma Chen's Beancurd Restaurant (Chén Mápó Dòufǔ, 陈麻婆豆腐), which was established in 1842—people say the first owner invented mapo doufu).

Distributed throughout the city, teahouses are more than places for drinking tea and snacking. They are places for relaxation and socializing and as such are a reflection of local life. Here you can enjoy such Chinese favorites such as jasmine, maofeng and zhuyeqing teas and, at a number of teahouses, catch Sichuan opera performances as well—Yuelai Teahouse stages free Sichuan opera performances from 2 to 4pm every Tuesday and Saturday. Heming Teahouse in People's Park is a great place to sit outside, sip and people-watch. Wenshu Monastery Teahouse inside Wenshu Monastery has a good Buddhist vegetarian restaurant next door, Xiangzhai Tang.

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