Building or Chinese Menu Item?

Seeing pictures of the proposed new biomedical research center in Chengdu, China (Szechuan province) reminded me of some menu items I tried in that city last year. One reporter called the proposed building “the blob.”

The Szechuan province, of course, is home to that terrific spicy food that is ubiquitous in Chinese restaurants everywhere, usually on the menu right next to an asterisk or a nearby ‘chili pepper’ icon, signifying “this food is hot as hell.”

The traditional and most popular way of eating food in Chengdu is the hotpot. Basically, you’re given a large bowl of boiling, flavored oil that sits atop your table, while you cook skewers of various foods in the oil–kind of like fondue without the cheese. Most of the time, you have some rough idea of what it is you’re cooking, since you picked it off the shelf yourself. The best oil, we were told, was as old as possible: as oil burned off and was eaten, the bowl was topped up; if you cleaned the bowl and used fresh oil, you killed the taste. The older the oil, the better. The table has a hole in it and sits above an industrial-sized propane tank and burner, one to each table. With the cooking-oil-slick floors and open flames everywhere, it’s an American trial-lawyer’s dream.

Back to the building: the building, it seems, was meant to look like a cell, peppered with meeting room pods which were meant to look like embedded proteins around the outside. And the shape? You can see for yourself. Care for a dip in the interior’s “mitochondrial” pools?

Yep, looks and sounds like something I’d be dunking in a bath of ancient, bubbling oil, filled with chili oil and fish heads.