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  1. You are very lucky to have found a source of real Pixian chilli and broad (fava) bean paste! As other people have said, it is one of THE classic Sichuanese seasonings, and vital for making ma po dou fu, twice-cooked pork, fish braised in chilli bean sauce etc. You can also use it to make fish-fragrant or yu xiang sauces (my favourite is aubergines/eggplants) - although posher chefs often use pure pickled chilli paste (without the beans) in fish-fragrant dishes. Pixian is a county just outside Chengdu where there is a famous chilli bean paste factory. Some of the most discerning chefs prefer to get their chilli bean paste from small-scale artisan producers rather than the factory, though. When I've run out of the real Pixian stuff, I use the Lee Kum Kee, which is very tasty but doesn't have the same mellowness, deep colour and rich flavour as the classic version. The Pixian stuff is matured so it is a darker red. The really mature stuff (which is exported to Japan) is such a deep purple it can look almost black. The only thing to watch out for with the real Pixian stuff is that sometimes it is sold whole, i.e. with large pieces of bean and chilli in it. If the stuff you bought is like this, you need to put some on a chopping board and use a cleaver to chop it to a coarse paste before you cook with it. The Lee Kum Kee, of course, is already made into a paste. To the person who was looking for it in London: sometimes you can find it in See Woo in Lisle Street in Chinatown, in the bamboo packaging as described. They stocked it for a while and then ran out, but I'm hoping they will get some more in! Also worth trying that shop on the corner of Newport Place, opposite the Jen Cafe, as they sometimes have it, but I think just in plastic packets rather than shelled in bamboo - but it's the same stuff. Fuchsia Dunlop
  2. I heartily second the Da Dong recommendation - the duck there is excellent. Quanjude and Bianyifang are disappointing by comparison, to put it mildly. F
  3. Phoenix Palace is EXTREMELY good and very authentic - always filled with smart Cantonese people. Went there last week for dim sum and it was better than my last visit to one of the Royal Chinas. Dinner is pretty good too. Fuchsia
  4. The branch of Royal China near Canary wharf is superb, and there is a carpark underneath at Westferry Circus. I've never had any problems parking there at weekends, and it's one of my favourite London restaurants - especially on a sunny day when you can lunch outside and look at the river. I THINK there is a lift for disabled people to get up from the carpark to the riverside - if not there are stairs (not too many). But I imagine the restaurant can tell you about this if you call them. Fuchsia
  5. The English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote a powerful polemic about vegetarianism, 'A Vindication of Natural Diet' http://www.ivu.org/history/shelley/prose.html Fuchsia
  6. In China you can get Sichuan pepper oil - good for using when you don't want the grittiness of the whole or ground pepper. But I find the flavour inferior, usually - nothing beats the fresh, whole pepper... Fuchsia
  7. Belle Epoque on Newington Green is a treasured local patisserie/cafe - Parisian patissier Eric used to make pastries at Caviar House, and they do wonderful bread, Viennoiserie, quiches etc etc... A delight Fuchsia
  8. I found chefs and food-writers in Taiwan to be generally quite disparaging about Mainland Chinese food on my last visit there. They saw it as being unsophisticated, and too heavy and oily. In particular, the Ding Tai Fung chain of xiao long bao restaurants are a bit snooty about Shanghai xiao long bao and INCREDIBLY serious about perfecting their own recipes and maintaining standards. I have to say their xiao long bao were pretty excellent, and the ones I had today at the Nanxiang place in Shanghai were probably less fine though the general atmosphere there is fun. Generally speaking, I think the old-established Mainland places sometimes rest too much on their laurels, and you often find greater culinary finesse in newer restaurants... Fuchsia
  9. By the way, if anyone is shocked at the culinary conservatism of Chinese tour groups in the West, they should see the dreadful way many Western tourists behave in China. I've been witness to many examples of extraordinary chauvanism and rudeness - mainly to do with the expectation that they will be served in China with the kind of food they are used to in Chinese restaurants in the West. Lots of tourists think they want to eat Chinese food but don't in practice - which is why they often get steered in the direction of such dismal restaurants by their tour guides. Fuchsia
  10. One of the most extraordinary and fascinating food experiences of my whole life so far was taking three top Sichuanese chefs on their first visit to 'the West', and in particular taking them for dinner at the French Laundry in Yountville, California. I had known these chefs for years, and for years they had been feeding me the most fantastic Sichuanese food, so I was dying to show them some of the best the West could offer. Given the near-omniverousness of the Chinese diet and the great curiosity and culinary talents of these men, I thought they'd love it - but the meal was a disaster! The whole structure of the experience was completely alien for them - dinner was too late, and they found it so slow and tedious having dish after dish, for hours into the night (we had the tasting menu). They were appalled by rare meat - raw blood is NOT good in Chinese cuisine, hated the taste of olives ('like Chinese medicine'), didn't much like the creamy things, and were not much excited by the exquisite procession of desserts. Beyond that, they just didn't have the tools to appreciate the meal - they had nothing to compare it with, no context, no idea at all. (Let me assure you that as far as I was concerned it was a magnificent meal.) One of them told me he found the food interesting , but had no idea if it was good or bad, he just wasn't qualified to judge. It was just what you would get if you took Westerners with little experience of Chinese food and made them sit through a banquet of rubbery sea cucumbers and so on - little pleasure, just miscomprehension. For me, all this was a revelation. I guess that even after all these years of studying Chinese food, I had somewhat naively assumed that Chinese food WAS inherently more challenging than 'Western food'. This experience showed that culture shock was really a two way thing. And personally I think taste is not the most important thing here - I think people are actually responsive to new tastes. What is most difficult to deal with is challenges to familiar STRUCTURES and CONTEXTS - eg having 'desserts' mixed in with savoury foods; having the wrong sort of food for BREAKFAST. This is really where most people's comfort zones lie, I reckon. And my Chinese friends seem better able to eat 'Western' foods when they can fit them into a Chinese meal context - eg cutting up roast beef into small chopstickable pieces and eating it with chilli sauce; having a small piece of apple tart with a mouthful of pig's ear etc. What they can't stand is a meal without rice, for example. And of course texture is completely baffling to most non-Chinese, it takes ages to really enjoy eating goose intestines and things. By the way, I wrote a piece about the French Laundry experience for Gourmet in August 2005 if anyone's interested - great fun to write! Fuchsia
  11. Thanks very much for your comment Ah Leung! Actually I have to say that my recipe for fish-fragrant aubergines/eggplants is my favourite in the book, and the one that I cook most often for my friends (everyone seems to love it). It's a really cheap, common, everyday Sichuanese dish, but fantastically delicious. My mouth is watering now, just thinking about it - perhaps I'd better go and make some! Fuchsia
  12. Jo-mel I can't see ya cai pictured there - I think the picture is of pickled mustard greens (known in Sichuan as suan cai, Hunan as pao cai), which are preserved in brine. Sichuan ya cai is a dry preserve - the leaves are rubbed with salt and spices. So they are moist but not actually wet, and they look much darker than pickled mustard greens. Confusingly, the Hunanese call this type of preserve suan cai! Fuchsia
  13. The Sichuanese preserved vegetable used in this dish is not usually zha cai (榨菜), but another one called ya cai 芽菜. Ya cai is preserved mustard greens rather than preserved mustard tuber (zha cai), so it looks very dark and crinkly. In Sichuan you can buy it in small sachets. I can't find it in London, but Tianjin preserved vegetable (天津冬菜) is a fairly good substitute. You usually need to rinse it first to get rid of excess saltiness, and then squeeze it dry before frying. But look out for real Sichuanese ya cai - it's delicious! Fuchsia
  14. I often find myself at the New Mayflower on Shaftesbury Ave - hearty, generous, usually delicious Cantonese food (and check out the Chinese menu if you can). I like their clams in black bean sauce, deep-fried mixed seafood (can't remember exact name, but its basically jiao yan hai xian I think - pepper-and-salt seafood), stir-fried water spinach (ong choy) with fermented beancurd etc. And they also offer on-the-house pickles and sweet soupy desserts if you are Chinese, or if you are not Chinese and express an interest (I think they assume, rightly, that most non-Chinese don't really like them). It's usually packed and you may have to queue, but in my experience not for too long. They are open until very late at night. Imperial China in Lisle Street does rather good dim sum. Fuchsia
  15. Does the "purple amaranth" plant actually have purple foilage? or is it just the blooms as in this photo of purple amaranth? Or does it have purple in the center of the foilage as in this edible amaranth[/ Or is it red? ←
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