Author: Taylor Holliday

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 lajiao,...

Sourcing Zhenjiang Vinegar (Chinkiang Vinegar)

Zhenjiang Vinegar: One of China’s Four Famous Vinegars 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 black vinegar. In our household we use as much Chinese black vinegar as soy sauce. We even use as much black 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...

Sourcing Yibin Suimiyacai (Preserved Mustard Greens, 芽菜)

Yibin Yacai: The Queen of Sichuan Pickles Preserved 芽菜 (yácài) is another one of those only-in-Sichuan ingredients. All of China loves a preserved vegetable, but this particular example—fermented mustard green stems—is made only in Yibin, a county in southern Sichuan Province. Yibin yacai is used most famously in dandan noodles and ganbian sijidou (dry-fried green beans), where it is absolutely indispensable. But it also provides a deep veggie essence to all kinds of sauces and dishes in Sichuan cooking. I have never made it to Yibin, but my friend Jessie...

The Secret Chinese Menu, Now in Full View

I recently wrote a piece for my local daily, The Tennessean, about a new trend I’ve noticed—even in Nashville—of Chinese restaurants making the “secret menu” available to us all. No more withholding the real Chinese food from us non-Asians! Here’s an excerpt: I read one of those perennial Chinese food stories recently. The one where the guy discovers that his favorite Chinese restaurant has one menu for him, a white guy, and another, secret menu for Asians that has all the good stuff on it. I don’t doubt that’s still...

Sourcing Tianmianjiang (Sweet Wheat Paste, 甜面酱)

Tianmianjiang, or the Glory of Sichuan’s Fermented Sauces This unassuming little ingredient is way more powerful than it lets on. Called sweet wheat paste or sweet soybean paste, 甜面酱 (tiánmiànjiàng) is yet another member of the family of fantastically tasty and useful Asian bean sauces. Don’t even get me started on the glory of fermented bean pastes… other than to say my pantry and fridge include four kinds of Chinese bean sauces (sweet bean, chili bean, yellow bean and hoisin) as well as two kinds of Korean and two kinds of...

Sourcing Weijing (MSG, 味精)

MSG: Umami by a Different Name Many of the recipes in Sichuan Cuisine in Both Chinese and English call for monosodium glutamate, or 味精 (wèijīng) as the Chinese call it and “gourmet powder” as they translate it. Of course they do. The book was written in China, where MSG is as widely added to food as it is widely present naturally. Leave it out if you like, but when these recipes call for it, I usually use it, because I have tasted how a tiny amount dials up the flavor tremendously. Plus,...

Lotus Culinary Travel Hosts Andrew Zimmern for ‘Bizarre Foods’ Chengdu

Simply put, the food in Chengdu belongs at the top of the culinary charts, rivaling the world’s greatest food capitals. Move over Paris and New York, Chengdu has arrived! So says Andrew Zimmern in his Travel Channel show Bizarre Foods; the Chengdu episode debuted in the States in spring 2011 and has since aired (and re-aired) in more than 70 countries. Even globetrotting experts such as Andrew need in-the-know locals to help them find the best a place has to offer, and Lotus Culinary Travel was thrilled to host him, as...