Below is a blurb from July of ’08 for a dinner I hosted for a few out of town LTHForum members @ “Hunan Chili King”
Watchu know about Chinese food? Nothing? Read Vince’s diatribe 1st. OK, so you eat “Chinese” food… Watchu know about Hunanese cuisine? (Tome to follow…)
Chairman Mao was Hunanese. Among his fave dishes were the “Red Braised Pork”, and “Home Style Tofu”. Just last year, Ms Fuchsia Dunlop wrote a Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province “>recipe book on Hunan Province. General Tso’s chicken was invented in the ’50s by a Hunanese-Taiwanese (like my mother) who immigrated to New York in ’73. Apparently Henry Kissinger single handedly spread General Tso’s chicken to the American populace.
Bygones! Forget General Tso’s chicken. Wtf do I know about Hunanese food? Apparently more than this person and this person. First rule of bloggin’ club? Don’t talk smack about shit you know nothing. You will never see me write about poc chuc, huaxmole, mole de castillo & carnes en su jugo (tho I’ve eaten more bowls of CESJ and birria than I care to remember). My grandmother taught me how to make Hunanese braised pork hock before I turned teen, before she completely abandoned spiciness due to gastric problems. Some may wonder: what separates Hunanese from Szechuanese? Straight use of peppers. All kinds of peppers, white, red, green, dried, crushed, in oil form, ad nausea, along with a bit of sourness. Hunanese don’t use (as much) what Anthony Bourdain referred to as “flower peppers”, aka Szechuan peppercorn, the pepper with hydroxy-alpha-sanshool that makes your mouth numb. Hunanese folks, depending on region, really dig smoked/cured/preserved meats, fresh water fish, bambos, various forms of fungi (think woodear, etc.), game such as duck, turtles, frog, rabbits, etc.,
Remember those numbers because Hunan Chili King serves up 176 dishes of Hunanese chow. A popular American restaurant, “The Animal” (which everyone LOOOVES), has… not even 17. Front of menu poetically lists (in simplified Chinese only) 10 of the house dishes and folks, they are not messing around. The fish head? The size of a volleyball, steamed in a light soy jus, topped with crushed chili paste, cilantro, etc. Friggin sublime. Not at all like other commonly found “water boiled” fish heads. Had a pseudo-smoked/cured flavor that must be heralded. Stupendous bargain at $17
The steamed cured 3 item actually contains 4 meats: Chinese sausage, cured fish, cured duck and cured pork. After steaming, the entire hot mess is embalmed by half an inch of pork oil, euphemistic for lard. A bit salty, but perfectly “xia fan”, perfectly symbolic of Hunanese food’s rustic simple ways.
The “Spicy stir fried sour”: holy Mother of baby Jesus that’s fierce. When something’s that hot, do NOT drink water. H2O only spreads capsaicin around the mouth, bathing your every oral cell in incendiary nastiness. Eat rice, or just bear the pain like your mother did when she pushed your fatass through her vag. Btw, “spicy stir fried sour” is yet another perfect mixture of Hunanese flavors.
The cured beef stir fried with white peppers: strangely contrasting colors powered by nothing but salt from the cured beef and flavors of a hellacious wok. This is what Grace Young meant by “The Breath of a Wok”: simple, sublime.
Chopped On Choy (water spinach, kong xin cai, aka, empty heart vegetable) stem with dried anchovies & orange peppers: much like how my father prepped this vegetable. Unique, full of texture, reeking of whole garlic, again touched by the breath of the wok. Ask for them to toss in some dou ban (preserved soy beans) for an extra funkiness resulting in a combination of their 2 on choy stem dishes.
Saving the best for last, and I have no clue this was actually Hunanese but… Hunanese Cold “Fun”: Don’t get the noodles, get the “fun”, which was, IIRC, thick mung bean noodle with a green tint. Should’ve been served cold, but kitchen served it warm due to their lack of patience? Doesn’t matter., t’was a bowl of vingary fieriness and a major cause of this txt from my friend just now: “Dude, I was totally slain by HCK last nite”.
There are misses: the stinky tofu isn’t braised, merely fried with a side of spicy “Hunan” sauce. The beer duck tastes nothing of beer. But hey, a 98.87% batting average is still tremendous.
PS: To read more about Hunanese Cuisine – http://www.huawei.com/publications/view.do?id=3115&cid=5471&pid=127 and http://blog.hjenglish.com/chenjilong/articles/389587.html
You will now rightfully ask why the Hunan Chili King review is sitting above… well.. Hengyang Chili King and Hunan Chili King are 1 of the same. Both co-owned by a Chinese and American gents, both sportin’ the same menu, with the Chinese owner currently manning the new(er) Hengyan Chili King stop. So why announce Hengyang’s presence? 1) it’s only 3 month old 2) it replaced one of my FAVE Monterey Park restaurants: Northern Dumpling House and 3) waaaaaaiiit for it…
Order $20 and get a $17 huge plate of spicy stir fried head-on shrimp.
There was enough food to feed 5 people at less than $30. Everything was spicy, from the stir fried chopped chicken, to the stir fried pork, to the braised whole fish, to the $17 2 lbs of head-on shrimp. To tame the spices, sweet potato congee was served. To tame your waiting hunger, seasoned boiled peanuts with pickled green pickles were served before the congee. It was good the few times I’ve visited but…
Let me repeat 1 more time: 4 courses very high on the Scoville ratings, with amuse, with congee, for $30.
PS. $30 doesn’t even get you the regular dessert tasting menu at Providence.