The Mala Market | Inspiration & Ingredients for Cooking Sichuan Blog

Chengdu Challenge #10: Mapo Doufu (Mapo Tofu)

The Queen of Mapo Doufu Recipes~~ Best tofu dish in the world? Mapo tofu, without doubt. You may be thinking that’s not saying much. But it is. In fact, forget that it features tofu. I’ll put this beefy, spicy, chili bean dish up against your favorite American beef-and-bean chili any day. I’ve been making mapo doufu—“pock-marked mother’s bean curd”—for years. It was one of the first dishes I learned from our brilliant chef Qing Qing, who taught Lotus Culinary’s cooking classes at the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine in the early...

Chengdu Challenge #9: Bao (Steamed Foldover Buns)

Bow to the Bao~~ In my constant quest to fatten up my daughter without resorting to junk food, bao has been a go-to recipe. As a child who shuns all fried foods, most dairy and anything sweet, about the only fattening thing she loves is soft, yeasty bread. We discovered this at her first Thanksgiving dinner, when the only things she put on her plate were turkey and the Sister Schubert yeast rolls. She dug out the middle of the rolls, leaving the crusty exterior behind, and ate through as many as...

Chengdu Challenge #8: Twice-Cooked Pork (Hui Guo Rou)

  Pork Belly: The Secret to a Long Life~~ Though hui guo rou  is actually quite easy to make, it challenged me more than any other dish so far. I had to test it so many times that “twice-cooked pork” became dozen-times-cooked pork before I got it right. But just as I did, I was rewarded with this news story* about Sichuan’s oldest living resident, a 117-year-old woman who attributes her longevity to three meals a day of hui guo rou. Pork belly and Pixian bean paste is really all it takes...

Chengdu Challenge #7: Golden Chicken Stew (Huang Men Ji)

Caramel, Wine and Ginger Make Stew Sexy~~ Recently we had a Chinese friend stay with us for a week who doesn’t eat spicy food. Not even a little. And this was a real challenge for me, since almost everything I make has at least a hint of spice. But we adapted that week and still ate well. I just had to call on all the dishes I make that aren’t spicy, starting with this one for Shoaxing wine and ginger chicken stew, more poetically called golden chicken stew, which has intense chicken...

What Should I Eat?: Or How to Feed a Chinese Girl in America

Leftovers, Greens and Rice~~ “What should I eat?” is my daughter’s standard greeting. Not “Hi,” “Good morning” or “What’s up.” When she comes home from school, home from a friend’s or just out of her bedroom, she starts the conversation with “What should I eat?” The question has evolved with her grammar over the past three years as she learned English, from “Wo keyi chi shenme?” to “Me eat what?” to “You have something to eat I like it?” and finally to perfect English. But the obsession with her next...

Chengdu Challenge #6: Hot and Spicy Beef (Xiang La Fei Niu Rou)

A Recipe With Heat and Technique~~ “This is the only dish that’s spicy enough for girls’ night,” said my 15-year-old daughter, Fong Chong, as she dove into Hot and Spicy Beef. She may be right. Though I’ll be working hard in this blog to disabuse readers of the notion that all Sichuan food is spicy, some dishes are indeed fiery. And out of all the spicy Sichuan dishes I regularly cook, this one is the spiciest. As a result, we generally save it for Wednesday nights, when Dad is out...

Making Hong You (Chili Oil)

 Facing Heaven in a Bowl of Chili Oil~~ Chili oil is a must-have ingredient for Sichuan cooking, and particularly for sauces that go on “cold dishes,” such as noodles and chicken, that are some of the cuisine’s most loved snacks and starters. It doesn’t make sense to buy your everyday chili oil (and for my family it is every day) when you can so easily make it yourself and control the type of oil, the quality and heat of chili flakes and the freshness. Just do a taste test compared to...

Chengdu Challenge #5: Potato, Green Chili and Pork Stir-fry (Yang Yu Qing Jiao Chao Rou Si)

All-American Ingredients Make an All-Chinese Stir-fry~~ Yes, the potato is a Chinese vegetable! In fact, it is the star of this stir-fry, the main attraction, with the pork in a supporting role. In Sichuan you most often see potatoes cut in matchsticks and quickly stir-fried with a hit of vinegar. They’re just barely cooked, really, still crunchy and crisp, and as weird as that sounds to a Westerner, they are delicious. This recipe for a similarly prepared potato stiry-fry just fills it out with pork slivers and green chili peppers to...

Chengdu Challenge #4: Good-Luck Fish Head (Hao Yun Yu Tou)

Lucky in Fish, Unlucky in Friendship~~ “I have a weird request for you,” I said to Hobo Mike, a commercial fisherman and the head fishmonger at my local Whole Foods.  “I need a giant fish head. No body. Just head.” “That’s not weird,” he replied. “Lots of people ask me for fish heads. I’ll put you on the waiting list.” “Cool,” I said. “But in that case, I’d like to place an order, because I don’t want just any old little snapper or salmon head. I need the biggest fish...

Chengdu Challenge #3: Yu Xiang Eggplant (Yu Xiang Qie Zi)

  ‘Fish Fragrant’ Husband Treat~~ This Sichuan classic is many people’s, including my husband, Craig’s, favorite Chinese dish. If dan dan noodles was my aha moment–You mean this is what real Chinese food actually tastes like?—yu xiang eggplant was his. We first had it on our first trip to Chengdu, in 2007, where despite all the amazing pork-centric food we gorged on, this vegetable dish stood out for its luxurious texture and perfect sweet-sour-salty-bitter-umami balance. We’ve had it many times since, both in Sichuan and at home in the U.S.,...

Sourcing Pixian Doubanjiang (Chili Bean Paste)

Pixian Doubanjiang: The Soul of Sichuan Cuisine~~ If Sichuan pepper and chili pepper are the heart of Sichuan cuisine, then doubanjiang is the soul. The secret weapon in twice-cooked pork, mapo doufu and scores of other Sichuan dishes, douban is little known outside China—and the authentic version is little known outside Sichuan. Asian cuisines have various fermented bean pastes/sauces, usually made with yellow or black soy beans. But Sichuan’s version is made with dried fava beans, also known as broad beans, mixed with fresh red er jin tiao chili peppers and salt (and...

Chengdu Challenge #2: Cold Chicken in Sichuan Pepper-Scallion Oil (Jiao Ma Ji)

The Jiao Ma Ji Challenge~~ For the most part, chicken is chicken. But jiao ma paste, now that’s a discovery! Jiao ma refers to Sichuan pepper, and the paste is made by mincing the peppercorns together with a load of scallions and adding oil to make a sauce. Combine that with red-hot chili oil and Sichuan pepper oil and a little starter of cold chicken is the most exciting thing on the table. That’s what’s so brilliant about Sichuan cuisine. It has a million ways to make plain old protein...