The Mala Market | Inspiration & Ingredients for Cooking Sichuan Blog

Chengdu Challenge #23: Tiger Skin Peppers (Hu Pi Qing Jiao)

Culinary Travel Week~~ Above is a photo of one of my most memorable meals ever in Chengdu. What you see is a big plate of tiger skin peppers accompanying a quintessential gong bao (kung pao) chicken. What you don’t see is that this was in a restaurant with a Cultural Revolution theme. There’s a recent trend of Cultural Revolution restaurants in China—and even in the San Gabriel Valley in the U.S.—but this was 2007, and this restaurant was as much about memory as kitsch. The owner had been sent to the...

Inspired by the SGV’s Chengdu Taste: Chengdu Fried Rice (Chengdu Chao Fan)

Fong Chong Can Cook~~ Of the many things that inspired us on our many visits to the famed Chengdu Taste in the San Gabriel Valley this past summer, the simplest—and simplest to recreate—was their Chengdu Fried Rice. It has just three main ingredients: eggs, scallions and yacai. Their version took our favorite style of fried rice—loaded with lots of big chunks of egg—and supercharged it with lots of yacai, Sichuan’s go-to preserved vegetable. Yacai doesn’t have the sour bite or texture of a pickle, like the better known “Sichuan preserved...

Chengdu Challenge #22: ‘Saliva’ (Mouthwatering) Chicken (Kou Shui Ji), or Bobo Chicken, or Bang Bang Chicken, or…

You Know You Want It: ‘Saliva’ Chicken~~ Which name do you prefer for Sichuan cold chicken in red-hot chili oil? Saliva chicken (let’s translate it as “mouthwatering” chicken)? Bobo chicken? Bon bon chicken? Bang bang chicken? Or just plain old cold chicken? From what I can tell from multiple Sichuan restaurants, cookbooks and the Web, the names are almost interchangeable, and there’s no real consensus on the ingredients and proportions in each. They are all based on homemade, high-quality chili oil (hong you), of course, and from there include varying...

Chengdu Challenge #21: Dry Pot Chicken (Gan Guo Ji)

My New Favorite Meal~~ “This is my new favorite restaurant!” my friend Carla used to proclaim almost every time we ate somewhere new in New York. That could be construed as fickle, but really it was just enthusiasm. I feel the same sometimes about these dishes—every one I cook is my new favorite. But this one, particularly, truly, is my new favorite recipe and is likely to stay that way for a while. Why? Because it’s more a method than a recipe, and because  it’s easily and infinitely adaptable to any ingredients...

Inspired by the San Gabriel Valley Part 2: Hot Dishes

The Best of the Best~~ I promise I’m going to get back to cooking and sharing recipes soon, but I have to entice/torture you one more time with the best dishes I had during my summer in Los Angeles. I picked up Fong Chong from summer school everyday and we headed straight for the San Gabriel Valley, a miniature China with the widest array of regional Chinese cuisines to be found in this country. I know this fact thanks partly to the fantastic reporting of Clarissa Wei, a young L.A....

Inspired by the San Gabriel Valley: Best Sichuan in the U.S.?

The Only Minority in the Restaurant~~ By way of explanation for the paltry number of recent posts, I mentioned last time that Fong Chong and I are living in Los Angeles for the summer. Or Pasadena, to be exact. I also noted that we are spending the majority of our time eating our way through the San Gabriel Valley, the epicenter of Los Angeles’s Chinese community and the vanguard of Chinese food in America. Several of the SGV’s cities are majority Chinese, so the only minority in the restaurant is often me. Not...

Inspired by Manhattan’s Cafe China: Quick Sichuan Pickled Vegetables (Sichuan Paocai)

In a Pickle~~ Life has gotten in the way of serious cooking recently. And of blogging too, you may have noticed. You know how that it is, I’m sure, when there’s little time to do even the things you most love to do. For me over the past month, there was Fong Chong’s graduation from middle school, multiple family birthdays, a trip to New York and, finally, a temporary move to Los Angeles. Not that I’m complaining! A summer in L.A. brings infinite eating rewards—especially since we’re staying only minutes from the...

Chengdu Challenge #20: Stir-Fried Bacon in Sichuan Bean Sauces (Chao Larou)

Once-Cooked Pork~~ Stir-fried bacon in Sichuan bean sauces is a cousin to hui guo rou, or twice-cooked pork, and in many ways, the more appealing cousin, because A) You only have to cook it once; and B) it’s bacon! It  may be the less popular cousin in Sichuan, but it’s definitely a Sichuan native, and I’ve had it there several times, made with the highly smoked, supremely rich local bacon (larou). For authentic twice-cooked pork, you have to boil a pork belly, chill it, slice it and stir-fry it. For this...

Chengdu Challenge #19: Cold Noodles With Shredded Chicken (Ji Si Liang Mian)

White Cloud in a Perfect Storm~~ Fong Chong’s latest obsession is these Cold Noodles With Shredded Chicken. It’s a regretfully boring name for something so singularly, aggressively tasty, so you’ll have to take my word for it—you really want to try this. Cold noodles with chicken totally deserves a more poetic name, like Ants Climbing a Tree, another beloved Sichuan noodle. Something like, perhaps, White Cloud in a Perfect Storm. Or maybe not. But just don’t let the boring name fool you. Especially since cold noodles with chicken is quick and...

Chengdu Challenge #18: Mala Crawfish Boil (Mala Xiao Longxia)

Let the Good Times Roll~~ It’s crawfish season in the U.S. South, and that can mean only one thing (to me): It’s time to try the Mala Crawfish recipe in Sichuan Cuisine in Both Chinese and English. I love a good New Orleans-style crawfish boil—where they boil the crawdads in a spicy broth, mound them up on a newspaper-covered table and invite you to dig in for the feast—so I figured Sichuan crawfish had to be just as fun and delicious. While Louisiana farms the vast majority of crawfish eaten in the world, Asia...

We’re in The (Awesome) Cleaver Quarterly

Did you know there’s a great new(ish) print magazine about Chinese food and Chinese food only? The Cleaver Quarterly comes out of Beijing, but it’s written in English, because, as the founders note, Chinese food is a global phenomenon. I am happy and proud to be included in Issue #4, which just came out. The editors take a wide view of Chinese cuisines and culture, which means they published my quite long, very personal and slightly political essay about my daughter’s first trip back to her village in China since her...

Chengdu Challenge #17: Chongqing Chicken With Chilies (La Zi Ji)

Hot Chicken~~ Below is a photo of the very first plate of Chongqing chicken—sometimes called la zi ji, or just chicken with chilies—I ever had. It was in Chengdu in 2007, in a famous, upscale restaurant. When the server put it down on the table, my husband and I broke into nervous laughter as we saw chunks of fried chicken sitting under an avalanche of dried chili peppers. If we were sweating now, we thought, wait until we try to polish this dish off so as not to embarrass ourselves...