spicy Tag

HOMEMADE INSTANT NOODLE MIX SERIES: INSTANT DANDAN NOODLE MIX

IS THIS THE BEST DANDAN NOODLE YOU’VE EVER HAD?  I DARE NOT SAY SO MYSELF.  BUT YOU JUST MIGHT.

WHAT:  The untimely demise of your pre-summer diet.  An instant dandan noodle sauce that will create, for you, this iconic Sichuan street food, any time any day, in under one hello-cellulite! minute.

WHY:  Because I now have a huge jar dangerously in my possession, constantly tugging my soul in between responsibility and liberation, misery and happiness.  And they both want company.

HOW:  There are as many variations to dandan noodles as the number of people making it, each altering the ratio between sauce and noodle, the style and intensity of the seasonings, the types of noodles and toppings, all to their own particular likings.  I, for example, have published this dandan noodle recipe a long time ago, which was decidedly more soupy and negotiated its way towards the peanut-y route back when I gave more shit about my sesame intolerance (it’s like lactose intolerance but only more niche).  Now, this version, aside from the difference that it is meticulously designed as an all-in-one sauce mix, is actually more authentic to the flavors that I often found myself slobbering over when I was still living in China, more sesame-based, assembled together more as a sauce than a soup, filled with savory beef-bits that are freckled with ground Sichuan peppercorns, and it doesn’t call for doubanjiang (broad bean chili paste).

Well, authentic, up until the pickled jalapeño comes in.

Now, why American pickled jalapeño as opposed to Chinese pickled mustard greens as authenticity would’ve commanded?  Well, A)  I don’t care about authenticity.  And B)  Even in Asia, Chinese pickled mustard greens tend to vary greatly in quality, saltiness and taste, making it a very unfriendly ingredient in recipe-development.  Then last and certainly not least C)  I happen to decide that, in this particular instance, pickled jalapeño actually works more marvelously than its traditional counterpart, more acidic than salty, more ready-to-use, and more fragrant in terms of the much desired peppery-ness that beautifully integrates and aids the layering of flavors in this beloved Sichuan dish.  Each seasoning functions as an distinct entity, accurately marking their highs and lows, sharp and creamy, spicy and numbing on the tempo of their own choosing, but ultimately all comes together as a harmonic yet active, single organism.

Is this the best dandan noodle you’ll ever have?  I dare not say that myself.  But you just might.

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Sichuan/Chongqing Little Slurp w meat sauce and chickpeas

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COULD THIS WORK?

THAT WOULD BE YOUR LAST THOUGHT, BEFORE THIS BOWL OF MAGIC POTION SUCKS YOU INTO AN UNSTOPPABLE WHIRLPOOL OF HAPPINESS.

Sorry I have been absent.

Boy, do I have a good reason.

Recently, I believe, we’ve all been experiencing a kind of peculiar surrealism in life.  I don’t know about you, but for multiples times during the span of my day, I found myself staring at the mundane occurrences of my perceived reality – the sound of cars brushing through the street… radios in the background… my farts – like Neo, wondering if this was all just an elaborate Matrix.  Am I going to be unplugged and wake up?  Or am I trapped here forever?  For one, Donald Trump is going to be the president of the United States.  And for two, which is completely unrelated and sinks even deeper on a much more personal level, my body and wellness has taken an unexpected turn to a place where my mind is scrambling to cope.

Actually, unexpected may sound understated.  Unfathomable, comes to mind.

I was diagnosed with a “condition” so to speak.  I want to share everything with you.  But the trouble is, I don’t know everything yet.  Something along the line of cicatricial alopecia, but let me urge you to think twice before Googling it, and the truth is, there are still a lot more to find out before arriving at a conclusion, so there’s nothing too informative I could tell you at this point.  It may come across as unnecessary and self-absorbed to talk about something without any provided informations, I get that, but I simply lack the talent to conduct business as usual, to roast a turkey, to make a pie, when my mind is in disarray.  In two weeks time, I hope, I will be able to tell you everything.  But before you frantically light up a cigarette, let’s just find comfort in the fact that it isn’t life-threatening, I hope, but let’s face it, not much more fantastic than that.

Meanwhile, on the other hand, something very fantastic.

This is a recipe that I have been developing for awhile.  In Chinese, it is called wan-za-mian, meaning peas mixed noodles.  It was one of my most missed and pondered upon, single food item that I’ve tasted in Beijing, even though it originates from Chongqing (a city next to Sichuan).  It may look alarmingly laborious, that a bowl of noodle consists of 3~4 components, but oh gosh, nothing is more worthy of your time.  The amount of liquid in proportion to noodles lurks in between two categories, too little to be called a “soup” but a bit more than just “sauce”, and therefore may I say, just perfect.  It comes waddling towards your table in seemingly distinctive parts: the noodles half-submerged in soup, the soft and mushy stewed peas (which I’ve substituted with chickpeas) on top, the dark brown minced pork sauce made with sweet and spicy chili bean paste, and everything, I mean everything, glossed and covered under a layer of flaming rouge chili oil.  Could this work?  That would your very last thought before this mixture, under your anxious chopsticks, churns and folds into a spicy, oily, savory and deeply complex bowl of magic potion that sucks you, and your thoughts, into an unstoppable whirlpool of happiness.

Believe me.  I felt like shit, and this thing still made me happy.  Imagine what it could do to you.

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GENERAL TSAO’S CHICKEN WINGS

This is a seriously, seriously great General Tsao’s recipe.  I was never a General Tsao’s fan but this, this I can really down a bucket.

The recipe is roughly based on The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook, which I have, as I always do, rendered almost unrecognizable.  Besides sugar and ketchup, almost none of the original ingredients has remained intact (see note at the end of the recipe) but something tells me that it can stand proudly on its own.  The chicken wings are impossibly crispy, and more importantly, stay crispy even if they are hopelessly coated with this fruity, tangy, sweet and spicy sauce under that rich and deep rouge color with an almost jewel-like gloss.  Really, this sauce, a reduction of pomegranate and cranberry juice with a layering of vinegars, chili paste and garlic .  I don’t even care if you did it justice by frying your own batch of crunchy jacket-ed wings.  I mean drench your McNuggets in it for all I care and I guarantee you that you’ll still want to bottle your own.

I don’t have much else to add, especially about the mystical emergence of General Tsao’s chicken in virtually every Chinese restaurant in the US (I mean Netflix has a documentary on it for crying out loud).  When things are looking good, just shut up and wing it.

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THE PUNCH-IT BURGER AND HOUSTON, WE’RE READY TO TAKE OFF

I’ve waited six years… wow, six… to say this son-of-a-bitch line.

I’ve imagined saying it while beating its saggy ass with a whip rubbed with the most homicidal Mexican chilis as it wriggles in pain.  I’ve imagined saying it while twisting its balls with electrically charged clamps as it howls in my upmost amusement.  I’ve imagined saying it while watching, ever so pleasurably, as its ugliest face twisted angrily into an even uglier version of itself if that’s even grammatically possible.

I’ve imagined, for six years… wow, six… to say this line with a fuck-you.

And now, when the time has finally come, I can only feel it exhaling through the gaps of the keyboard, in a long heavy breath of bittersweet…

We’re leaving Beijing.

Can… can I say that again?

We are.  Leaving.  Beijing.

Yes, leave, move away, to Hong Kong if that’s important to mention, but more importantly the point is, out of Beijing.  I mentioned last week that I have “eeeewge news” to break it to you, but truth is, this is more than news.  It is a long-awaited, mental or physical, release.  Why is it such a big deal?  Well, I know, I know that the context of my predicament hasn’t been thoroughly explained on this blog.  Most of you are probably only aware that One:  I/we live in Beijing, and Two:  I don’t like it.  But why am I here and why don’t I like it, well, is a subject I thought was too boringly political or unappetising to be discussed on a, after all, food-blog.  I thought if I were to really explain it, I’d need a book to do the job.  But now that we’re leaving, I feel like I owe it to its final ending to, at least in a brief effort, paint the short story.

The first part of the question of why we’re here, is much simpler.  We left New York in 2008, Jason, our dog-children Dumpling, Bado and I, for what was thought to be a very logical career opportunity of his.  Our beloved island New York was, at the time, tilting like a breaking iceberg, and so we jumped into a less vogue but sturdier looking boat – China.  We actually lived in Hong Kong for 1 1/2 year  (so technically we’re moving back to HK) before moving to Beijing in 2010.  Then it was without any foresights to say the least, that what came after, the next following six years, was the unhappiest, destructive even, but also self-realising and perhaps fruitful period of my life.

Why do I hate it here?  Why is this “an angry food blog”?  This to me, is a funny question, as if asking why wouldn’t I like a burger soaked in whiskey then force-fed to me in a rubber tube?  I mean, where do I begin and how much time do you have?  There’s nothing wrong with burgers, nor is there with whiskey, but they just don’t mash well together, like me and this place.  Maybe if I was a politically indifferent outcast who enjoys pale skins more than sunlights, and the scent of burning coals in the atmosphere because it marvellously reminds me of BBQ briskets… Maybe if I was a juvenile man-child who sees uncivility as a safe haven to misbehave like an utter douchebag…  Maybe if I simply like being somebody here because I was a nobody back home, or better yet, just plain too self-secured to be emotionally affected by any shenanigans…  Then I believe, I would have a shot of being happy here.  But I’m, unfortunately, not.  I don’t mean it sarcastically.  I’m not “gifted” in that way, to see the vanilla ice cream behind the annoying chocolate chips and be able to happily eat around the obstacles.  They bother me.  Internet censorship bothers me.  Authoritarian politic bothers me.  Pollution bothers me.  Blind nationalism bothers me.  Douchebags bother me, and worse yet, blindly nationalistic douchebags who are happy being douchebags, reeeaaally bother me.  Hey look, I’m sure this city is more complicated and deeper than that, so I guess, I’m just too simple for this city.  I have no problem being too simple for bullshits.  But aside from political factors, and maybe (just maybe) for no faults of its own, Beijing is also where we lost Bado and Dumpling.  Two of the most spirit-breaking episodes of our lives happened here, skin-deep, back to back.  It used to be just an angry place – the good old times – but now it’s a sad place.  And though it might not be fair, but the feeling that we came here in whole and now left in pieces, is a negative association I don’t need.

IN TWO WEEKS TIME, WE WILL BE GONE.

NO, NOT FROM YOU OR THIS BLOG, BUT FROM THE PLACE THAT BROUGHT US TOGETHER, WHERE IT ALL STARTED

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SICHUAN MALA BUTTER CRAYFISH

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DO NOT MISTAKE THE LIKINGS OF LOUISIANA-STYLE CRAYFISH-BOIL TO THIS,

WHICH ONLY SHARES AS MUCH SIMILARITIES AS COFFEE HAS TO A FLAMING LAMBOURGINI

Just a small note for the weekend as you’ll need it.  OK, maybe it’s not small.  In fact, it’s a huge… epic… cardinally sinful and despicably addictive note that will forever change your summers, and you’ll probably regret it, hate me for it, really hate yourself for it, while being lost in a summer-long trance somewhere in between nuclear pains and unbearable pleasures.

Did you know, that Chinese loves crayfish?

Yeah, in fact, fanatical, is the more appropriate word.  So much so that in Beijing, they have an entire street called Gui, a whole freaking parade lined by jam-packed and neon-lighted restaurants that dedicates almost solely to the cult of this practice.  Now, do not… and I mean, do not mistake the likings of the southern Louisiana-style boil to this sichuan-style mala (numb and spicy) crayfish bloodbath, which only shares as much similarities as coffee has to a Flaming Lambourgini.  Underestimate these mean little fuckers, and you’ll be punished.  This is a dish that transcends the crayfishes through a condensed and ferocious red bath made by extracting every last bit of flavour molecules from a intense mixture of spice-blend, aromatics and sichuan fermented chili paste into the thick gravy of lava and glisteningly red butter.  Just a couple of bug-crushing and head-sucking into the whole thing, and your every taste-buds and every sensual nerves that link to the pleasure and plain receptors in your brain, will be spanked and whiplashed ecstatically by the unbelievable amount of flavours, happiness really, trafficked to you on high speed with an ill intention. You can’t eat just one.  No one can eat just one.  Even when every pores on your forehead and dripping sweats is begging, howling for you to show mercy.  You just can’t stop.  And after the irreversible damages done, you’ll want to robotically mop up the death-gravy with any carbs lying within an arm’s length.  There’s just no other ways for this to happen.  So think long, and think hard, before taking the plunge.

This summer, are you ready to go down the rabbit hole?

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THAI SPICY TOM-YUM-GOONG TOMATO GAZPACHO

I FELT LIKE MY MOUTH HAS TAKEN A BEACH VACATION DOWN IN  THE SOUTHEAST, THAT I COULD HEAR THE SOUND OF TURQUOISE WATER MASSAGING MY TASTE-BUDS

Something is happening here, and if you had any loved ones residing in Beijing, you may have felt this.  Perhaps from the shaken jitters that come through their voices, perhaps even traceable within their text messages… the emotions, raw and rampant, running uncontainably even from the choices of their emojis on Instagram.  Because over here, since about 3 days ago, something big is happening.  The most freakishunfathomable… borderline-scary natural phenomenon is rioting through the very air we breath, and the very reality we see, and frankly, it’s freaking everybody out here.  Emerging from the darkness, the elderly are moving cautiously and slowly out of the shadows of their dwellings, looking up, teary in disbelief.  The children, curious and enthusiastic, holding their hands out into the rare glistens and ask, Mommy, what is this?

What it is, is that for the past 3 consecutive days, the historically soupy and oppressively smoggy sky of Beijing, has been, impossibly blue.

I’m not talking about the-government-patting-themselves-on-the-back or the this-should-be-harmless-enough-to-leave-my-house-without-my-gas-mask kind of greyish relative blue.  I’m talking about… the Swissland-kind of blue, the 3D clouds-kind of blue, the mystical, unicorn-kind of blue that the Chinese has only seen or heard in movies or from the tales of strange, faraway travellers.  And maybe, it’s no big deal to you, but in Beijing, it’s nothing short of a miracle, like Moses parting the Red Sea and finding a 20 dollar-bill on the sea-floor while crossing.  Which is, literally, impossible.  As pathetic and outrageously sad this may sound, in a day like this, we almost owe it to ourselves to go outside and do something as mundanely rare as… having a fucking picnic.

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M(Y) SHANGHAI’S COLD WONTONS IN SPICY PEANUT SAUCE

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YOUR ULTIMATE REVENGE TOWARDS THE COMING ASS-BINDING HEATWAVES

A REFRESHINGLY PLEASURABLE PAIN, BEST SERVED COLD

It might say something about me, perhaps not in the most positive light, whenever I fell for a Chinese dish-inspiration from half way around the world while living right inside the epicenter of it all, where the “real things” are or so they say.  What kind of a food-blogger, who eats and breathes right off of the ground-zero of a very old, very diverse and rapidly morphing food-culture often generalized as “Chinese foods”, would cook you a Chinese dish that comes from an Instagram of a New Yorker who took it at a restaurant that are, out of all places, in Brooklyn. Lazy?  Perhaps.  Utter dumb luck?  That’s for sure.  Because you see, without this inconvenient loop around the globe it has traveled, the inspiration for this down-home Shanghainese summer snack, in one form or another, would have otherwise never found its way to melt in my warm embrace.  And this is, I guess especially for those who have experienced living abroad, a perfectly explainable social phenomenon.

Thing is, I believe across all cultures, that the restaurants indigenous to where they are located, often times with great effort, focus on serving what they perceive as “restaurant-style/worthy” dishes only.  It is a limiting but reasonable box that excludes the slightly less glamorous, homemade gems that are more commonly celebrated within the contentment of one’s own home.  It really isn’t hard to understand why.  Just imagine, that it would also seem odd, if not lazy, to see PB&J on the menu of a respectable American restaurant sitting in the heart of Manhattan, no?  However, when the citizens of such comfort are residing in a foreign land, say, a Shanghainese in Brooklyn, and decided to open a restaurant to selfishly serve his/her personal home-sickness, then guess what, dishes like these start to pop up.  And my friends, dishes like these, are always my favourite kind to eat.  Take this for example, M Shanghai’s wontons in spicy peanut sauce.   Something that I would have taken gladly from its bare and natural implications – burning hot pork wontons slurped cautiously from an even more inflammable pool of peanut sauce and chili oil – let alone after the discovery of its true, counterintuitive ingenuity over a much needed research.  It turns out (whether or not this is how it’s served in Brooklyn) that this fabulous summer-snack regrettably overlooked in most-if-not-all Shanghai restaurants in Beijing, is actually… eaten cold.

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