Chengdu, Sichuan Province
Crowned as Asia's first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2010, Chengdu is best-known for its fiery hot pot and spicy dishes, which are characterized by the use of Sichuan pepper and are usually layered with salty, sour and sweet flavors. There are also dishes that aren't spicy at all, such as beer-braised duck.
The streets hold more than 100 varieties of street snacks, from savory jelly noodles to "dragon lifting a hand" (poached wontons drizzled in toasty chili oil, pepper corns and green onion).
Chef Yu Bo is a must-go. The high-end restaurant cooks sophisticated Sichuan food with awe-inspiring presentations: abalone on spiced mung bean jelly, crispy ginseng root, and tiny spheres of apple poached in syrup tinged with fiery notes of green Sichuan pepper.
Hot pot is as ubiquitous in the city as the smell of chili. At Zigong Delicious Hotpot, the house specialty tiaoshui wa is a cauldron of fiery chili to which vegetables, noodles or other meats can be added.
For a real taste of Sichuan's signature pepper, hua jiao, spend a morning at the Chengdu Spice Market where the locals sell and buy it by the sack.