Sweet flavour can be found in candied snacks, like this malt sugar horse (糖人), good-looking, and deliciously sweet. It used to cost 2 yuan in the 80s, but now even in a 15th tier city it costs 10 yuan.
糖葱 Sugar spring onions. Don’t be fooled by the name. There’s no onions inside. The entire thing is made of white sugar. It’s called that only because the shape of the cooled sugar syrup looks like spring onions.
熏鸭 Smoked duck
Ingredients to make the sauce include brown sugar made from sugarcane, five-spice powder, salt, and vinegar.
Even freshwater fish: Wuxi sweet and crispy rice eel 梁溪脆鳝
And buns: steamed buns with crab roe 加蟹开口小笼包 . It’s made with white granulated sugar and Shaoxing wine.
Handmade wontons 手推馄饨.
酱排骨Cured spare ribs. Almost 10%of the weight of the entire dish comes from sugar (diabetes alert).
甜包 Sweet buns
酿苦瓜 Bitter gourd stuffed with minced pork (good choice if you are on a diet)
陈皮鸭Duck steamed with sun-dried tangerine peels. The duck stuffed with condiments have to be marinated for 10 hours, then fried. Then tangerine peels are added, and the duck is steamed for another 2 hours.
By the time it’s done, you won’t see the tangerine peels, but you can taste traces of the tangerine peels in every bite of the duck.
陈皮 Tangerine peels are like wine, the older the better. The first bite of the tangerine peels tastes sweet, then bitter, then the sweetness comes back.
Salt evaporation ponds 1km from the ocean.
盐焗鸡 Sea salt-baked chicken is a dish from the Hakka people. The entire chicken is wrapped in paper, and buried in a pile of coarse sea salt.
镇江香醋 Zhenjiang vinegar is a black vinegar. Its slightly sweet taste comes from glutinous rice. It goes well with steamed buns with crab roe.
肴肉 saltpeter-cured pork, with ginger slices and Zhenjiang vinegar
镇江醋排 sweet and sour pork ribs
紫菜鱼丸煲 fish ball soup with seaweed
清蒸鱼 steamed fish. The flavour comes almost entirely from the fish used. Other than some decorative ginger and garlic slices, no seasonings are used.
白切鸡 steamed chicken
(I saved the best flavour for the last, even though technically, spiciness is not a flavour.)
My favourite plant in the world.
Peppers can be eaten directly, or made into pickled pepper,
which goes into the making of 鱼香肉丝 fish-flavoured shredded pork. (I’ve eaten the dish for more than two decades before I realised that there is no fish in the dish. The fish flavour comes from a combination of pickled pepper, spring onions, ginger, vinegar, and sugar.)
Peppers can also be made into 豆瓣酱 chilli bean paste, together with broad beans, salt, and other spices. The most famous chilli bean paste comes from Pixian, Sichuan.
Chili bean paste is a must-have condiment in the dish 麻婆豆腐 mapo tofu.
And then there is the ingenious combination of pepper with Sichuan peppercorn to create the flavour of 麻辣 “numbing and spicy”.
藤椒鱼 grass carp with peppercorn uses a very specific kind of peppercorn that comes from the winged prickly ash.
Dried peppers are used in hot pot seasoning. The exact recipe for each hot pot restaurant is often a trade secret. The world’s biggest hot pot weighs 13 tonnes, has a diameter of more than 10 metres, and can serve 80 people.
The love that Sichuan and Chongqing people have for hot pot is unrivalled.
Back when I was still in kindergarten and the neighbours or relatives had a banquet (which was very often–weddings, funerals, passing a major exam, birthdays, etc), there would be so much food on the table:
And there was never enough time to finish sampling each dish.
And kids are thick-skinned and have no shame, so by the time the guests were supposed to leave I’d be like: