Tiger Skin Peppers (Hupi Qingjiao)


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Tiger skin peppers (hu pi qing jiao)

Chengdu Challenge #23: A Tiger on the Plate

You can see in the photo above why this dish is called 虎皮青椒 (hǔpí qīngjiāo), or tiger skin peppers: The peppers are seared in the wok on both sides until the skin is puckered and striped with black char like a tiger. While this side dish is seriously delicious, it does not take itself too seriously. It is yet another example of a whimsical, poetic Chinese name for a fairly simple food. (The Chinese must find the tiger a whimsical animal, because the delightful phrase 马马虎虎 (mǎmǎhǔhǔ), meaning so-so, is literally horse horse tiger tiger.)

By the time the chilies are marked with stripes, they are the perfect degree of done, being soft enough to eat but still a little bit crisp. Then you douse them with some Baoning black vinegar and sugar—and if you’re like me, spike them with some soy-sauce-soaked preserved black beans, or douchi, which I guess then makes them look more like leopard skin peppers.

When I first published this recipe in early 2016, I was reminiscing about one of my earliest China trips, circa 2007, and one of my most memorable meals ever in Chengdu. The restaurant was an outdoor space  with a Cultural Revolution theme. There was a trend of Cultural Revolution restaurants in China—and even in the San Gabriel Valley in the U.S.—at that time, and though many were pure kitsch, this one was rooted in real memories. The owner had been sent to the countryside of Sichuan during the Cultural Revolution, where, like other urban youth, he was to be re-educated and reformed by working with the peasants. This restaurant was his homage to the country cooking he ate there, with dishes including a big plate of tiger skin peppers, another plate of boiled new potatoes with a pile of dipping chilies,  and a quintessential gongbao (kung pao) chicken.

Tiger skin peppers and gongbao chicken
Country cooking at its best: tiger skin peppers and gongbao chicken

All the restaurant workers were dressed as Red Guards, wearing army green military uniforms, and the walls were papered with posters of Mao and Lenin. I was dining with my Sichuanese business partner at the time, Rose, and her husband, Weili, who himself had been sent to the country to do hard labor as a young man in the late 1960s. They tried to explain to me how the restaurant could be at once ironic and sentimental. How it was recalling a tragic time that nobody wanted to remember and nobody wanted to forget. It was a little unclear to me where the irony stopped and the love began, but I think it was with the food, which was the real deal.

Red Guard restaurant in Chengdu
Staff meal at the Red Guard restaurant

Once home, I was all over that hupi qingjiao, both because I love chilies of all kind and because it is so easy. The dish is just a simple side or starter, but it’s always been one of my favorite dishes to eat in Chengdu. In Sichuan, tiger skin peppers are usually made with green erjingtiao chilies or sweet bell peppers like these, but sometimes the dish shows up at the table made from hot chilies. I kind of like the Russian roulette aspect of ordering them at a restaurant.

This Sichuan dish calls for Sichuan ingredients: Baoning vinegar, Zhongba soy sauce, Pixian douchi and caiziyou, or Sichuan roasted rapeseed oil
Cook peppers until they spot and stripe like a tiger
Cook peppers until they spot and stripe like a tiger

The traditional recipe does not include fermented black beans in the vinegary sauce. But I had them one time like that in Chengdu and totally dug the extra saltiness and umami of the douchi alongside the sweetness of the peppers and sourness of the vinegar. Plus, Fongchong loves douchi, and, as always, the more flavor I heap upon a vegetable the more of said vegetable that will get eaten.

I rarely see tiger skin peppers on Sichuan menus in the U.S., so eating them always takes me back to Chengdu. But since my blog is all about cooking Sichuan in America and feeding a homesick Chinese girl, below is a photo of Fongchong’s school lunch back in 2016, where I improvised with the red bell peppers I had on hand. Then and now, tiger skin peppers are much much better than just mamahuhu.

Tiger skin peppers in a school girl's lunch
A school lunch that was devoured

For more easy vegetarian stir-fry recipes, try this stir-fried hand-torn cabbage and fermented tofu yuchoy or my catch-all technique for stir-frying any green.

Tiger Skin Peppers (Hupi Qingjiao)

By: Taylor Holliday | The Mala Market


  • 3 medium-size or 2 large bell peppers
  • 1 tablespoon douchi (fermented black soybeans)
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese light soy sauce (preferably Zhongba)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Sichuan caiziyou (or other cooking oil)
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar (preferably Sichuan Baoning)


  • Trim and de-seed bell peppers and cut each into 4-5 sections. Mix the preserved black beans with the soy sauce and sugar in a small bowl.
  • Heat wok until just starting to smoke, then add 3 tablespoons caiziyou (roasted rapeseed oil) and heat over medium-high flame until hot. Add pepper sections skin-side down and leave for a few minutes to char the skin until spotted or striped like a tiger, pressing down on the peppers with your spatula so they make good contact with the wok. Once they are charred, flip over and sear the other side. This process should take about 4 to 5 minutes. The goal is chilies that are cooked through but still have a bite to them.
  • When peppers are well-striped, turn off the heat. Move the peppers to the sides of the wok with your spatula and add the preserved black bean mixture to the oil at the bottom of the wok. Cook briefly and mix well with the peppers. Add the vinegar to the wok and stir-fry just until the peppers are well coated with the sauce. Serve hot.

Tried this recipe?

About Taylor Holliday

The Mala Market all began when Taylor, a former journalist, created this blog as a place to document her adventures learning to cook Sichuan food for Fongchong, her recently adopted 11-year-old daughter. They discovered through the years that the secret to making food that tastes like it would in China is using the same ingredients that are used in China. The mother-daughter team eventually began visiting Sichuan’s factories and farms together and, in 2016, opened The Mala Market, America’s source for Sichuan heritage brands and Chinese pantry essentials.

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  1. This looks great. I thoroughly enjoy more vegetarian options so I can include my non-meat eating family in on the fun. As a sidenote, while working in Shanghai in 2002 I went to a cultural Revolution style restaurant several times, and had my first introduction to water boiled beef.

    1. Interesting. I wonder how long these restaurants have been around in China? So strange, really…

      Hope you like the peppers. They are really easy to whip up compared to the meat dishes.

  2. Wonderful recipe! I tried a different version a month or so ago and it was good, but this was memorable. I need to cook a bigger batch because I ate almost all of it in an 8 hour period. This is exactly what I like. I may add a Vidalia onion next time… mmmm…. Vidalia…. I’ve printed off half a dozen recipes and only cooked this and the bacon in Sichuan bean sauces which was so good I had to try more. I dunno if I’ll cook my way through the whole challenge but maybe.

    1. So glad you liked it, James. Not sure that anyone but me is taking the whole challenge, but I love that you’d even think about it.

  3. Taylor,

    Your recipes and photos are killing me, I want to eat the tiger skin peppers so much! I remember when they came in season and they were served in the hotel restaurant and sometimes they were super hot and others they were mild. Can you tell me what is a good North American Chili to substitute for the Chinese variety?

    Best regards,


    1. Thanks much, Richard! I actually like the sweetness of bell peppers for this. But those fat jalapenos that are usually pretty mild might work. Or Japanese shishito could be interesting…

      1. Taylor,

        Can we change the subject? Can we go back to gan bian si ji dou? I want to perfect this dish, do you have a recipe?