‘Fish Fragrant’ Husband Treat~~ This Sichuan classic is many people’s, including my husband, Craig’s, favorite Chinese dish. If dan dan noodles was my aha moment–You mean this is what real Chinese food actually tastes like?—yu xiang eggplant was his. We first had it on our first trip to Chengdu, in 2007, where despite all the amazing pork-centric food we gorged on, this vegetable dish stood out for its luxurious texture and perfect sweet-sour-salty-bitter-umami balance. We’ve had it many times since, both in Sichuan and at home in the U.S.,...
The Mala Market
Chasing Málà—Tingle and Spice—in Food and Life
Welcome! We are Taylor and Fong Chong and this is a home for all things Sichuan cuisine in the U.S.: authentic recipes, restaurant and travel articles, and a Sichuan Specialty Food Shop.
I started The Mala Project in 2014 as a challenge to myself to move beyond my usual Chinese recipes and cook my way through my prized collection of Sichuan cookbooks—the rare, the out-of-print, and the printed-only-in-China—which are full of food the way it's made in Chengdu, my favorite place to eat. (See About page for more on the cookbooks.)
My goal was to adapt the recipes to America while using made-in-Sichuan ingredients, keeping the dishes as authentic as possible. So this was an exploration of whether it’s possible for a home cook to do these recipes justice in the U.S. and of how to lay your hands on the right ingredients to do so.
The blog was also about building a Chinese/American family, as I learned to cook for my recently adopted teen daughter from China and help her feel at home in America. Real Chinese food, her greatest comfort and obsession, was the only thing that worked, the more Sichuan málà—numbing and spicy—the better.
A funny thing happened along the way, however, as I increasingly began to use my newfound knowledge and skills to develop my own recipes, attempting to recreate dishes I’ve eaten in great Sichuan restaurants in both Chengdu and around the U.S.
An even funnier thing happened when I realized that most of us can’t always find the Sichuan specialty ingredients that make the food taste like it does in Sichuan and decided to source them myself and make them available here. By that time, Chief Taster and Translator Fong Chong was old enough to join me in that effort, and a mother-daughter company was born.
In many ways, intercultural adoption is its own mala project. But in life as in cuisine, give me the challenge and thrill of mala over the bland and safe any day. Are you with me? Then read on. Cook on. Accept the challenge with me, and do let me know how it goes.