I have a craving for Sichuan. Of all the Chinese regional cuisines, I may like this one the most, dare I mention that it tends to be quite greasy, but I don't fault French cuisine for its uninhibited use of butter, do I? I reserve judgement on my favorite call until I can fairly try them all. I better get to China again, huh?
Though Beijing isn't anywhere close to Sichuan province, it's the biggest city in China, so not only can all the food of China be found there, it tends to be trustworthily authentic.
I can't believe I didn't post these photos because just looking at them makes me drool just a bit in the corner of my mouth. This place was pretty packed, and the word on the street was that the service wasn't stellar, but as long you know this from the get go... All this to say that details aren't their forte, so there was a lot of sloppiness when the dishes came - sauce running over the sides, disheveled appearance, etc. But the taste is what matters, and in that department, it was more than fine.
Dan Dan Noodles is such a classic Sichuan dish. Spicy, a bit sour, a tad sweet, it's always what I start with because I see it on the menu and I just can't help myself. But whatever you do, don't wear a white shirt. It's oily slick with the Sichuan essence and if you're not an expert chopstick user, don't say I didn't tell you. This is one of my gauges for comparison across different Sichuan joints.
Ah, yes. This is pork strips stir-fried with strips of hot peppers. You would think this would be the most fiery of the bunch, but if you're careful with the veins and seeds, as most of the restaurants are, it's manageable and can be maddeningly addicting.
Here's my other go-to - Sui Ju Niu Ro, or Boiled Beef. See what I mean by a bit slick? But that is one of the best oil slicks to ever touch your lips. This is probably the spiciest of everything we had on the table. Underneath that pond of red goodness is extremely tender slices of beef and Chinese vegetables. On the right, you can see the elements I had fished out. If I didn't think I might immediately die of a coronary, I'd mix some rice into all that saucy yumness and eat it all up.
We finished off the evening with these lightly deep fried (hmm - is this an oxymoron?) pumpkin balls. One of the things I really like about being in Asia is that their version of "sweet" pales in comparison to the sickly sweetness that you'd find in the States. These were made of glutinous rice flour, so it had a chewy consistency, but the flavor was fairly delicate, with the crunchiness of the crunchy broken rice on the outside. The more amazing thing of it all? We had a lot of food left over, and my coworker asked to take these back to the hotel. I remember thinking, man, bad idea. These things are only going to be good right now, right here. I was wrong. The next day, she heated them up, and they were almost as good. I like to be pleasantly surprised.
Now, what to do about my Sichuan craving here in Lancaster, PA?