Sunday, January 9, 2011
Smacked cucumber and other Sichuanese delicacies
I had one of my best Chinese meals ever last week with food writer Fuchsia Dunlop, award-winning author of Sichuan Cookery. I guess it's partly because I've never had really good Sichuanese food before but it was certainly up there with some of the great Cantonese meals I had in Hong Kong before the handover. (Which makes me sound like an old colonial hand. I simply went on a short visit there back in 1995)
We'd been talking for a while about getting together to taste Chinese food and wine (you'll have to wait a couple of weeks for that report) but it was the dishes at Bar Shu, the Soho restaurant where she acts as consultant that really grabbed me. Mind you, if someone like Fuchsia can't order the most interesting dishes on the menu who can?
Top of the list, partly because of the name but also it's great to see such an underrated vegetable given star billing was a dish of smacked cucumber with Sichuan preserved vegetable, rice vinegar and sesame paste (above). Fuchsia says she hasn't got a recipe for that version yet but I suspect it will be in her next book and you can apparently find a slightly fierier Hunanese version in her Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook.
We also ate (among other things) Northern Sichuan pea-starch jelly in a spicy black bean sauce . . .
. . . preserved duck eggs. I was slightly worried about these but they were delicious - like a very delicate-tasting hard-boiled egg . . .
. . . Numbing and hot sliced beef spiked with Sichuan pepper which creates a tingling sensation on the palate . . .
. . . mapo doufu or pock-marked old woman’s beancurd - an unflattering description for a really tasty dish . . .
. . . stuffed beancurd in a fish-fragrant sauce (would never have thought I could get so excited by beancurd) . . .
. . . and fragrant chicken with chillies which despite the scary-looking quantity of chillies was not searingly hot. You had to fish into them to find the little nuggets of chicken.
The real revelation was how varied the dishes were - what Fuchsia aptly described as a 'roller-coaster ride'. Not easy for wine but a really great way to eat Chinese. And cucumber for that matter.
* I ate at Bar Shu as a guest of the restaurant.