The Mala Project | Cooking Sichuan in America Blog

Chengdu Challenge #6: Hot and Spicy Beef (Xiang La Fei Niu Rou)

A Recipe With Heat and Technique~~ “This is the only dish that’s spicy enough for girls’ night,” said my 15-year-old daughter, Fong Chong, as she dove into Hot and Spicy Beef. She may be right. Though I’ll be working hard in this blog to disabuse readers of the notion that all Sichuan food is spicy, some dishes are indeed fiery. And out of all the spicy Sichuan dishes I regularly cook, this one is the spiciest. As a result, we generally save it for Wednesday nights, when Dad is out...

Making Hong You (Chili Oil)

 Facing Heaven in a Bowl of Chili Oil~~ Chili oil is a must-have ingredient for Sichuan cooking, and particularly for sauces that go on “cold dishes,” such as noodles and chicken, that are some of the cuisine’s most loved snacks and starters. It doesn’t make sense to buy your everyday chili oil (and for my family it is every day) when you can so easily make it yourself and control the type of oil, the quality and heat of chili flakes and the freshness. Just do a taste test compared to...

Chengdu Challenge #5: Potato, Green Chili and Pork Stir-fry (Yang Yu Qing Jiao Chao Rou Si)

All-American Ingredients Make an All-Chinese Stir-fry~~ Yes, the potato is a Chinese vegetable! In fact, it is the star of this stir-fry, the main attraction, with the pork in a supporting role. In Sichuan you most often see potatoes cut in matchsticks and quickly stir-fried with a hit of vinegar. They’re just barely cooked, really, still crunchy and crisp, and as weird as that sounds to a Westerner, they are delicious. This recipe for a similarly prepared potato stiry-fry just fills it out with pork slivers and green chili peppers to...

Chengdu Challenge #4: Good-Luck Fish Head (Hao Yun Yu Tou)

Lucky in Fish, Unlucky in Friendship~~ “I have a weird request for you,” I said to Hobo Mike, a commercial fisherman and the head fishmonger at my local Whole Foods.  “I need a giant fish head. No body. Just head.” “That’s not weird,” he replied. “Lots of people ask me for fish heads. I’ll put you on the waiting list.” “Cool,” I said. “But in that case, I’d like to place an order, because I don’t want just any old little snapper or salmon head. I need the biggest fish...

Chengdu Challenge #3: Yu Xiang Eggplant (Yu Xiang Qie Zi)

  ‘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.,...

Sourcing Pixian Doubanjiang (Chili Bean Paste)

Pixian Doubanjiang: The Soul of Sichuan Cuisine~~ If Sichuan pepper and chili pepper are the heart of Sichuan cuisine, then doubanjiang is the soul. The secret weapon in twice-cooked pork, mapo doufu and scores of other Sichuan dishes, douban is little known outside China—and the authentic version is little known outside Sichuan. Asian cuisines have various fermented bean pastes/sauces, usually made with yellow or black soy beans. But Sichuan’s version is made with dried fava beans, also known as broad beans, mixed with fresh red er jin tiao chili peppers and salt (and...

Chengdu Challenge #2: Cold Chicken in Sichuan Pepper-Scallion Oil (Jiao Ma Ji)

The Jiao Ma Ji Challenge~~ For the most part, chicken is chicken. But jiao ma paste, now that’s a discovery! Jiao ma refers to Sichuan pepper, and the paste is made by mincing the peppercorns together with a load of scallions and adding oil to make a sauce. Combine that with red-hot chili oil and Sichuan pepper oil and a little starter of cold chicken is the most exciting thing on the table. That’s what’s so brilliant about Sichuan cuisine. It has a million ways to make plain old protein...

Sourcing Hua Jiao (Sichuan Peppercorn)

My Favorite Buzz: Sichuan Peppercorn~~ “My mouth is sleeping,” Fong Chong said as she worked her way through a plate of mala-flavored cabbage stir-fry. “But she opens and lets me eat.” And there you have it in a nutshell, the addictive power of Sichuan pepper. If there is one taste most closely associated with Sichuan cuisine, it is Sichuan peppercorn, the numbing spice. The bride of the chili pepper in many Sichuan dishes, it is the má—numbing—to chili pepper’s là—spicy hot—in the word málà, which is practically synonymous with Sichuan food....

Chengdu Challenge #1: Dan Dan Noodles (Dan Dan Mian)

The Dan Dan Mian Challenge~~ Dan dan noodles was the first real Sichuan dish I ever had, when Grand Sichuan International, the first real Sichuan restaurant in Manhattan in decades, opened close to my home in Chelsea in the mid-’90s. I’ll never forget the moment when they sat it on the table. It looked like a plain bowl of boiled noodles with some ground pork on the top, but then I realized I needed to stir it up myself and began to turn the noodles and crispy pork  over in the...

Dan Dan Noodles: A Judgement on My Motherhood

Fong Chong, then 12 years old, had been my daughter for a good nine months before I ever made dan dan noodles for her—which is inexplicable, really, considering they are my favorite Chinese noodles. “You knew how to make this and you never made it for me?” she asked, incredulous and exasperated, after she took her first bite. I had been struggling to feed her all this time, trying so hard to please her by learning new dishes I thought she might like—Cantonese-style chao mian, glass noodles with shrimp,  Singapore-style...

Spice Shopping in Sichuan

A Spicy Girl Shops for Spices~~ I just returned from a trip to Chengdu (and Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shanghai). I never get enough of Sichuan, which may explain why I always try to bring all its goodies back with me. This is just some of the Sichuan spicy stuff I stuffed in my luggage, bought at Chengdu’s jaw-dropping wholesale spice market, its fascinating supermarkets  and wet markets and a sidewalk artisan food stall with the best sauces on earth (really!): Three kinds of freshly dried Sichuan chili peppers, or la...

Sourcing Zhenjiang Vinegar (Chinkiang Vinegar)

Zhenjiang Vinegar: Accept No Substitutes~~ If I had to choose just one Chinese ingredient that everyone should have in their pantry (other than Chinese-made soy sauce, of course), it would be Zhenjiang black vinegar. In our household we use as much Chinese black rice vinegar as soy sauce. We even use as much Zhenjiang vinegar as chili sauces and oils, which is saying something. In fact, the three mixed together are our go-to dipping sauce for dumplings. And many Chinese use just black vinegar as their dipping sauce of choice....

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Do you love Sichuan food and cooking as much as we do?

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive notice of new recipes and articles from the blog as well as occasional news and promotions from The Mala Market, our Sichuan specialty food shop. (An average of two emails total per month.)

 

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Thank you!

Taylor & Fong Chong