The Mala Project | Cooking Sichuan in America

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Chengdu Challenge #27: Gong Bao Chicken With Cashews (Gong Bao Ji Ding)

The Do’s and Don’ts of Kung Pao~~ The Mala Project turns two years old this month. It hasn’t made me rich or famous (far from!), but that wasn’t the goal. The immediate goal when I started it was to be a better mom to my immigrant daughter by being a better Sichuan home cook. I did it in blog form because I thought that if I committed publicly I’d be far more likely to stick with it. And it worked!...

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Chengdu Challenge #26: Pork Rib Noodle Soup With Sichuan-Style Broth (Sichuan Paigu Mian)

My Favorite Mistake~~ This is one of those recipes that is the result of a beautiful mistake. I was merely attempting to make Sichuan-style stock when I ended up with an entire soup. My daughter has been mostly deprived of one of her favorite foods—homemade soup—because I don’t particularly like or crave soup and just don’t ever think about making it. She grew up in China eating freshly made wonton soup every morning for breakfast at school. I grew up in...

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Chengdu Challenge #25: Yu Xiang Pork (Yu Xiang Rou Si)

This Is Not Pork in Garlic Sauce~~ I guess I should have put a fully English translation in the title of this dish, yu xiang pork, but I’m annoyed by the one it is normally given in the U.S.: pork in garlic sauce. Yu xiang is not a garlic sauce. The literal translation, fish-fragrant pork, is just as misleading. The yu xiang flavor has no fish ingredients, nor any fish smell or taste. However the sauce originated as one for fish, so the...

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Chengdu Challenge #24: Sichuan Crispy Duck (Xiang Su Yazi)

Lucky Duck~~ Happy Year of the Monkey! Chinese New Year calls for lucky food, food that calls down health, wealth and happiness for the new year. But be careful what you wish for. The Chinese eat dumplings shaped like gold ingots, whole fish because the word for it sounds like the word for surplus, long noodles to symbolize long life, and a whole chicken to represent family togetherness. I’m especially interested in laying the groundwork for family happiness and togetherness...

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Chengdu Challenge #23: Tiger Skin Peppers (Hu Pi Qing Jiao)

Culinary Travel Week~~ Above is a photo of one of my most memorable meals ever in Chengdu. What you see is a big plate of tiger skin peppers accompanying a quintessential gong bao (kung pao) chicken. What you don’t see is that this was in a restaurant with a Cultural Revolution theme. There’s a recent trend of Cultural Revolution restaurants in China—and even in the San Gabriel Valley in the U.S.—but this was 2007, and this restaurant was as much...

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Inspired by the SGV’s Chengdu Taste: Chengdu Fried Rice (Chengdu Chao Fan)

Fong Chong Can Cook~~ Of the many things that inspired us on our many visits to the famed Chengdu Taste in the San Gabriel Valley this past summer, the simplest—and simplest to recreate—was their Chengdu Fried Rice. It has just three main ingredients: eggs, scallions and yacai. Their version took our favorite style of fried rice—loaded with lots of big chunks of egg—and supercharged it with lots of yacai, Sichuan’s go-to preserved vegetable. Yacai doesn’t have the sour bite or...

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Chengdu Challenge #22: ‘Saliva’ (Mouthwatering) Chicken (Kou Shui Ji), or Bobo Chicken, or Bang Bang Chicken, or…

You Know You Want It: ‘Saliva’ Chicken~~ Which name do you prefer for Sichuan cold chicken in red-hot chili oil? Saliva chicken (let’s translate it as “mouthwatering” chicken)? Bobo chicken? Bon bon chicken? Bang bang chicken? Or just plain old cold chicken? From what I can tell from multiple Sichuan restaurants, cookbooks and the Web, the names are almost interchangeable, and there’s no real consensus on the ingredients and proportions in each. They are all based on homemade, high-quality chili...

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Chengdu Challenge #21: Dry Pot Chicken (Gan Guo Ji)

My New Favorite Meal~~ “This is my new favorite restaurant!” my friend Carla used to proclaim almost every time we ate somewhere new in New York. That could be construed as fickle, but really it was just enthusiasm. I feel the same sometimes about these dishes—every one I cook is my new favorite. But this one, particularly, truly, is my new favorite recipe and is likely to stay that way for a while. Why? Because it’s more a method than a recipe,...

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Inspired by the San Gabriel Valley Part 2: Hot Dishes

The Best of the Best~~ I promise I’m going to get back to cooking and sharing recipes soon, but I have to entice/torture you one more time with the best dishes I had during my summer in Los Angeles. I picked up Fong Chong from summer school everyday and we headed straight for the San Gabriel Valley, a miniature China with the widest array of regional Chinese cuisines to be found in this country. I know this fact thanks partly...

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Inspired by the San Gabriel Valley: Best Sichuan in the U.S.?

The Only Minority in the Restaurant~~ By way of explanation for the paltry number of recent posts, I mentioned last time that Fong Chong and I are living in Los Angeles for the summer. Or Pasadena, to be exact. I also noted that we are spending the majority of our time eating our way through the San Gabriel Valley, the epicenter of Los Angeles’s Chinese community and the vanguard of Chinese food in America. Several of the SGV’s cities are majority Chinese, so...

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Inspired by Manhattan’s Cafe China: Quick Sichuan Pickled Vegetables (Sichuan Paocai)

In a Pickle~~ Life has gotten in the way of serious cooking recently. And of blogging too, you may have noticed. You know how that it is, I’m sure, when there’s little time to do even the things you most love to do. For me over the past month, there was Fong Chong’s graduation from middle school, multiple family birthdays, a trip to New York and, finally, a temporary move to Los Angeles. Not that I’m complaining! A summer in...

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Chengdu Challenge #20: Stir-Fried Bacon in Sichuan Bean Sauces (Chao Larou)

Once-Cooked Pork~~ Stir-fried bacon in Sichuan bean sauces is a cousin to hui guo rou, or twice-cooked pork, and in many ways, the more appealing cousin, because A) You only have to cook it once; and B) it’s bacon! It  may be the less popular cousin in Sichuan, but it’s definitely a Sichuan native, and I’ve had it there several times, made with the highly smoked, supremely rich local bacon (larou). For authentic twice-cooked pork, you have to boil a pork...