|Bang Bang Chicken|
I finally managed to pull myself out of a rut.
Actually, it was two ruts, when the first instance occurred with such force that it created momentum for a second.
It began nearly 5 months ago with a dégustation at Sichuan Cuisine Da Ping Huo, one of the better known of Hong Kong's 'private kitchens' - amorphous limited-seating restaurants in all but name and official license. We were in town on Mr. Noodle's business and the invitation came from his colleague Gary C., a former HK resident who enjoys good food and interesting dining experiences (is there any other kind of HK resident, past or present?)
I readily admit to being less than enthused at the prospect of eating Sichuan. Hot spice and I do not get along very well, ever since early childhood when my parents successfully cured me of a thumbsucking habit by smearing labuyo (chili) on my pudgy little fingers. I stopped using the digits as binkies, but I also developed a decided aversion to anything remotely hot on the tongue, including whole cuisines deemed 'spicy'. What little I knew about Sichuan placed it firmly in this category.
Figuring I could get away with ordering some inoffensive stir-fry, I gamely followed the hubs and his co-workers to a non-descript doorway on Hollywood Road. Inside, the dining room was softly-lit with white-clothed tables of different sizes to accommodate varying numbers of diners, stark black and white artwork on the walls, and bright hued fish swimming within shallow earthenware bowls atop pedestals.
|There's a private kitchen here somewhere...|
The 10-course meal that followed as soon as we were seated revealed just how much I've missed by avoiding this particular cuisine for so long. The subsequent flavors and attendant sensations ran the gamut from tingly to numbing to scorching, but each was deliciously enjoyable:
*Spicy pickled carrots, Chinese lettuce and bean sprouts were crunchy and flavorful, but the cucumbers in black vinegar were excellent - tangy, salty and just a bit sweet .*
*Braised chicken with Sichuan spices in hot chili oil*
It's name did not bode well for my heat-averse palate, but surprise of surprises: served at room temperature, this dish made my lips tingled with each bite.
*Soup of sautéed assorted mushrooms and white cabbage with minced chicken*
A bowl of this essence of chicken soup brought my tastebuds back to neutral.
*Stewed beef brisket and tendons in spicy gravy*
The red lantern chilis bobbing in the bowl of thick gravy nearly scared me off, but having worked up the nerve to try a taste, I was hooked: a cascade of heat began at the back of the throat and gradually spread toward my lips with a sharp yet not unbearable burn.
*Steamed pork ribs with jenrofen powder*
This mild-flavored dish once again restored the tongue to normalcy.
*Braised diced bean curd with minced beef in hot chili sauce*
Also known as mapo tofu, this is the kind of dish that likely helped to earn Sichuan cuisine its flaming reputation. It was incinerate-the-tastebuds-and-hope-they-grow-back-someday HOT.
*Vegetable soup with pea sprouts*
Vaguely reminiscent of fresh, grassy flavors, a bowl of this soup provided a tasty coating of fire-retarding relief to the palate after the mapo tofu.
My barely legible scribble on the menu reads "(Chicken?)" I don't know what kind of meat was used as the filling, but the skin was marvelously soft-chewy to the bite and was coated in a sweetish, smoky and mildly spicy sauce.
*Sweetened bean curd with white fungus*
Capping off our meal, this dessert was pleasant but neither particularly memorable nor my favorite of the evening. Thankfully, the preceding courses were so enjoyable that they overshadowed this minor disappointment as a last impression.
At the end of our dinner, the proprietress Mrs. Wong performed a traditional piece of Chinese opera for her guests - a melodic finish to a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
*Apologies for the lack of images for these last dishes. The photos taken were spectacularly unremarkable.*
I'm not one to do restaurant reviews - quite frankly, I'm too focused on eating to jot down tasting notes. Even if I were to do so, said notes would likely read along the unhelpful lines of "This is good", "I like this one" or simply *smiley face*. If you would like to read more detailed assessments of Da Ping Huo, a simple Google search for blog reviews yields a good number of blog reviews.
The lesson I took away from our dégustation at Da Ping Hua was straightforward: Sichuan is indeed spicy, but it isn't strictly synonymous with 'burning', as I had long assumed. I now know that Sichuan cuisine represents an enlivening taste experience that deserves further exploration, not continued aversion.
This realization of how much I've missed by wallowing only in blandness, I looked around to see in which other tarpit of meh I've been thoroughly mired and came face to face with my blog. For nearly four years, Tangled Noodle has played it safe with the same tired look, like an aging dowd clinging to the outdated style of her youthful glory years. It's high time for a makeover.
Inspired by our Sichuan dégustation, I've adopted for my update Da Ping Huo's clean lines and stark palette of black and white accentuated by splashes of bright colors. The actual content of my blog will largely remain the same (i.e. long expositions on whatever food topic catches my fancy), but I do hope to post more often than once a month (as constantly promised but never quite fulfilled).
I hope you'll enjoy the new look!
Da Ping Huo
L/G Hilltop Plaza
49 Hollywood Road
Central, Hong Kong
Tel: 2359 1317
In recognition of the inspiration for this blog update, I chose as my first dish a coolly piquant salad called Bang Bang Chicken. Though it sounds like a made-up name for a recipe of dubious Chinese origin served in some kitschy Chinese restaurant that also hashes out chow mein noodles from a can, this dish is honest-to-goodness Sichuan!
According to cookbook author Clifford A. Wright, Bang Bang Chicken (bang ji si) was first prepared in a town just south of Sichuan provincial and culinary capital Chengdu. However, the origin of its name is not easily pegged, with one explanation stating that it's an onomatopoeia for the sound of chicken meat being pounded as it's being tenderized¹ (in which case, it could also be called 'Thud Squish Chicken' - at least to my ears).
Another source asserts that it is named for a heavy stick or rod called bang, which is used to beat the aforementioned protein². For such a relatively simple recipe, Bang Bang Chicken certainly has more than its share of aliases, including the cognates bon bon, pon pon and pang pang³, and the cause for pause moniker Strange Flavor Chicken⁴.
There's nothing strange about its flavor - this Bang Bang Chicken is a refreshing dish of cucumbers and chicken topped with a nutty sauce spiked with Sichuan pepper. Unlike chili peppers, which are categorized as capsicum and contain capsaicin, the chemical compound responsible for the familiar (and, in my case, dreaded) burning sensation when consumed, Sichuan pepper is the dried fruit of a tree in the citrus family. As such, it is often described as having a lemon-like flavor and has a tingly, numbing effect on the mouth and tongue (a condition generally and rather alarmingly known as paresthesia), thanks to the compound hydroxy alpha sanshool. But don't worry: the effects are benign and short-lived yet quite pleasant.
1. Wright, Clifford A. Some Like It Hot: Spicy Favorites from the World's Hot Zones. (Boston: Harvard Common Press, 2005), 66.
2. Tate, Mary Kate and Tate. Feeding the Dragon: A Culinary Travelogue through China with Recipes (Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2011), 207.
3. Daish, Lois. "Cool Chicken". New Zealand Listener (online). Nov 19, 2005.
4. Dunlop, Fuschia. Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking (2003). Cited by Wright 66.
Bang Bang Chicken
(recipe adapted from The Food of Asia by Lynn Lewis)
2 medium cucumbers, sliced thinly crosswise
1 tsp salt
1 small carrot, julienned lengthwise
1/2 lb (250g) cooked chicken breast, cooled and shredded
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsps ginger paste
2 Tbsps sesame paste
1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsps apple cider vinegar
2 tsps granulated sugar
2 Tbsps chicken broth
2 Tsps soy sauce
1/2 tsp Sichuan peppers + extra
1/2 tsp black sesame seeds
Place sliced cucumbers in a colander, sprinkle and toss with salt, then set aside for about 20 minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients (except sesame seeds) until combined. In another bowl, toss shredded chicken with dressing, one tablespoon at a time, until just coated.
Drain cucumbers and gently squeeze the slices to remove excess moisture. On a small platter or plate, arrange the cucumber slices to make a bed for the chicken. Cover with chicken, pour remaining dress over and garnish with julienned carrots, black sesame seeds and extra Sichuan peppers.
Serve cool or at room temperature.