Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sichuan home cooking: an evening to cherish

I was fortunate to have been invited to a Sichuan dinner last week at my colleague' s house in Shanghai, cooked by her mother visiting from Chengdu - an experience I will cherish for a long long time. An unfussy, uncomplicated, homely meal, crafted with care, served with grace , and reflective - it seemed to me - of the history and culture of Sichuan province and the Sichuan people in a few simple unadorned bowls.

Our hostess and chef: Mrs Huang

And her labour of love

Ten wonderful dishes. A beautifully choreographed yin-yang of meat and vegetables, hot and cold, sweet and spicy. Using fresh ingredients, and pastes that had been put together painstakingly. Unique cooking techniques that have probably been passed down generations. Evocative of everything home is about.


The Star Ingredients

* 4 kinds of chillies: chillies preserved in salt, chillies with
hot bean paste, dry red chillies, fresh red chillies

* Sichuan Peppercorn: the tongue-numbing, slightly
metallic tasting, strangely addictive Fa Chiu

* Sesame oil: the last-minute flavour enhancer

* Garlic, Star anise, 3 day old ginger, chicken powder , pork fat

* The meats: pork, rabbit, frog, duck

Sichuan Chilies preserved in salt for a week in a big claypot

Mrs Huang's favourite brand of sesame oil

Home-made hot bean paste with chillies

French chefs call this mise-en-place.
Mrs Huang simply calls it her " material"

The Cold Dishes

Fried Peanuts
A simple dish with an unusual twist. Peanuts mixed with
salt and sugar and lightly fried in an egg and flour batter.
Sweet and salty, crunchy and with a little eggy aftertaste.

Cold Rabbit with chillies
Chopped rabbit on the bone, cooked with three day old ginger, garlic, dried red chillies, soy sauce, chicken powder, star anise and a white Chinese herb that got lost in translation.

Sichuan Salami
Cured pork from a small town near Chengdu

Beancurd Salad
An edgy 'hot n cold' salad of beancurd,
cucumber and red peppers - all sliced fine - tossed with
sugar, soy sauce, home-made chillie sauce, preserved chillies,
hot bean paste. Few drops of sesame oil drizzled
at the end for extra flavour.


The Hot Dishes

Rabbit with Lettuce
The killer dish. Fresh rabbit meat imported from Chengdu,
cooked with generous doses of hot bean paste, red chillies
and Sichuan peppercorn.
Served with lettuce stalks , crunchy
and sweet and a wonderful counterpoint to the otherwise hot dish.

Frog with Peppers
Small chunks of frog meat cooked with red and green peppers,
garlic, Sichuan peppercorn, chicken powder, hot bean paste
and preserved chillies. Great flavour and texture

Duck with Peas
A dry dish cooked with finely chopped red chillies, preserved chillies,
hot bean paste, 3 day old ginger, chicken powder and
Sichuan peppercorn. Lots and lots of peas, a little firm to the bite.
A Huang family dish

Pork with Potatoes

Rough-cut chunks of pork and potatoes sauteed in

peppercorn-infused oil and cooked with a little soy sauce and star anise


Rice and Soup

Sweet Sticky Rice
The rice is brushed with a little pork fat and steamed
with dates, raisins, candied pineapple, star anise, and
dried orange peel. The ladies then mixed the cooked rice with
sugar at the table and served it hot with
fried sweet potato balls.

Egg and Tomato soup, a light, sweet n sour, cleansing finale

I have had fabulous meals in Sichuan restaurants in Chengdu, Guangzhou and Hong Kong before, but this was different. This wasn't as searingly hot, didn't have as much oil, and was bereft of any fancy restaurant flourishes. It was more wholesome, more interesting and much more satisfying at a deep personal level.

Mrs Huang didn't speak English; I don't speak a word of Chinese. Yet there was a connection. It was not only the language of food, but also the language of love that a mother speaks.

Other recent food posts

Recent posts

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Made in Manila

Favourite Filipino Food

I have never understood why Filipino food is not so popular outside the Philippines.
Everytime I go to Manila I find the food delicious, the dishes varied, the cooking earthy and innovative, the ingredients fresh and often pleasantly surprising. Pinoy cuisine certainly deserves to be much more well known around the world than it is today.

Here's a great meal I had last week at Recipes restaurant, SM Megamall, Trinoma, Manila.
A tiny, unpretentious restaurant serving local classics that had me and my Filipino colleagues licking our spoons.

Pic courtest
Gising Gising ( which I believe means 'wake-up wake up') a spicy combination of ground pork and very very finely chopped green beans, cooked in coconut milk spiked with chilies and fish sauce. I absolutely loved it.

Pic courtesy www.
Lechon Kawali. Pan-roasted pork - in this case the belly of suckling pig - boiled and then pan-fried till the skin makes a crispy crackling and the inside is soft and sweet. Served with a broth of soy sauce and vinegar, over a bed of kangkong greens

My only decent pic from the lunch. Other shots didn't work well, so I had to borrow the other images from
My first taste of the Filipino classic Kare-Kare. Rich, creamy, peanut sauce stew of oxtail and tripe, cooked with eggplants, okra, and banana flowers. The thick creaminess comes from a mixture of peanut butter and ground roasted rice. Nutty and delicious. Served with Bagoong, a fermented shrimp paste which frankly was a little unncessary.

A nice photo-review of Recipes restaurant


Next day over lunch I was introduced to some more delectable dishes at the top floor of Serye Restaurant & Cafe in Eastwood City, Libis, a restaurant with a bit of old world charm and a menu laden with many delights.

Laing: a mixture of chopped taro leaves and pork, stuffed into little bundles of whole taro leaves, and cooked in coconut milk.

Inihaw Bangus: A simple grilled milkfish, the fish very fresh, the grilling just right.

One restaurant I never miss is Lasa, at G/F, Podium, ADB Avenue, Ortigas Center
Hearty al-fresco dining, cheap San Mig, and lots of local specialties.

Chicken and Pork Adobo: chicken and pork stewed in vinegar and garlic, a dish that carries both Spanish and Mexican influences like many other things in Philippines

Mechado: beef stewed in tomato sauce

Pic courtesy

Bicol Express: sauteed pork strips cooked with coconut cream, shrimp paste and chilies

Pic courtesy;

The ubiquitous Sisig: pig ears and liver, onions, garlic and pepper, all chopped up and cooked till crunchy and served on a sizzler plate. Once you start you can't stop.

Chicken Inasaal: barbecued chicken marinated with citrus and anatto seeds. A specialty of Bacolod ,a small town in the Visayas region of Central Philippines.

Pata: crispy, deep-fried trotters

Sinigang: tamarind soup broth that seems to be served complimentary with most meals at Lasa

Lots more to be discovered, so looking forward to my next trip to Manila.

Meanwhile I found this fascinating blog


My recent food posts

Street food in Taiwan

Sichuan food in Cheng du

7 course degustation menu, Taxi, Melbourne

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Eating Asia
'Lost' whisky distilleries of Scotland

Bacon and Chocolate

Schmap Melbourne Guide

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Three at The Sevens

I've just completed 3 years in a row at the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens, but there are people here who have done it 33 years in a row, so I have a long way to go.

Do these people have a @#* #@) life ? How could they do it ? 33 years x 2.5 days, that's 82.5 days over 3 decades ! 82 beer-drenched, sun-soaked, bleary-eyed, hoarse-voiced days gorging on beef pies and fries, screaming sweet obscenities at the cross-dressers, ogling at gorgeous women, hooting at the sight of naked men streaking across the field, being dunked with plastic beer jugs, queuing up for four hours to enter the South Stands and then being turned away, dancing to ' heyy baby', swaying to ' Sweet Caroline', booing the Aussies and the French, roaring, yelling, jumping, stomping, mexican-waving and generally making an utter fool of themselves.

Oh and watching some rugby on the field too, when time permits.

Tough life, but I believe, they, like me, wouldn't miss it for anything. The Sevens is everything that is typically Hong Kong - loud, hi-energy, international and full of surprises. But it is also everything that Hong Kong is usually not - irreverent, politically incorrect, risque, and host of a coveted sports event that's the " jewel in the crown" in the international rugby sevens circuit. I guess it is this heady combination that brings them back again and again and again ( repeat again 33 times)


"3 Years at The Sevens" video. 2 clicks and 3 seconds to start playing
With one of the Sevens anthems in the background ...