Several years ago, I undertook a wonderful journey through China. I spent about six months there, studying in the north east, then crossing the country through the middle, to the south west and back again. There’s a new cooking program on SBS Food TV called ‘Exploring China: A Culinary Adventure’ that’s bringing back all my wonderful food memories so I’ve decided to go reminiscing through my favourite dishes, trying to make them at home.
There are several dishes I love from Sichuan. Gong Bao chicken was an absolute favourite, and I simply adored a dish they prepared of shredded potato. To be honest, most days I merely at vegetable noodles, or the house specialty, if I could afford it; I was on a pretty tight budget. But I remember sneaking around a quiet street to a food vendor selling all sorts of xiaochi (small eats) cooked on a skewer, spiced with the traditional ma la seasonings of Sichuan, the hot and numbing mix of Szechuan peppercorns and red chillies. There is a lovely park in Chengdu called Renmin Gongyuan (People’s Park). It’s not only a lovely place for people watching, but the tea house is a great place to sit and play cards, or indeed do more people watching.
I was lucky enough to be visiting Chengdu during the Longquan Hill Peach Flower Festival. In addition to being a lovely fruitful day trip (excuse the pun), it was the perfect place to enjoy a cup of Eight Treasure Tea and on the way out, we saw a clever vendor crafting melted sugar into the shape of the animals of the Chinese zodiac. I grew quite a liking for Eight Treasure Tea. It’s a herbal blend including chrysanthemum flowers, red dates, goji berries, tangerine rind and rock sugar. It’s said to have medicinal properties to decrease body heat, promote digestion, induce appetite and relieve fatigue. In fact, it’s about time I found a retailer to replenish my supplies.
So, I cooked the first of my reminiscent meals last night. Although I hadn’t eaten it in Sichuan, there is a lovely traditional dish of fragrant crisp duck. It’s usually done with a whole duck, but I thought it would be lovely to do with duck wings, which are very cheap, and fit well with the idea of xiaochi. My shredded potato was a great success, and I simply stir-fried some Chinese broccoli with ginger and soy sauce. Next up I’ll be trying my had at Gong Bao chicken. I’ll let you know how I go.