This Ain’t Chinese Take Out
From the food chronicles of Marco Serrano.
Check out his kigo drive high kick on the Great Wall…
With eight unique cooking styles of Chinese cuisine, the food options are endless.
From grilled fresh scallops topped with delicate handmade glass noodles served up by a street vendor to an exotic dim sum restaurant featuring beef spleen, heart and tendons capped with a bird’s nest tart for dessert, the quality of the dishes is amazing.
Venturing to the markets for a behind the scenes glimpse of Chinese cooking, I discovered an impressive selection of ingredients, half of which I have never seen before. Dried or fresh, swimming, crawling, slithering or flying, in China you can find it all. Navigating the expansive markets became a little overwhelming, and left a feeling of needing more time to learn and admire all the goods being sold at the stalls. But eating is learning too, so back to the streets.
Scorpions in Beijing, donkey meat in Shanghai and handcrafted noodles in Guangzhou, my meals always prove to be something delicious. After exploring and trying various Chinese preparations, I’ve found my favorite, which immediately took a special place in my taste buds – Szechuan cuisine. The addictive and dangerous chili oil suits my spicy palate like a perfectly fitted tailored suit.
Here I bring you bright red oceanic oil, contrasting beautifully with the carved white fish flesh that was swimming moments ago in the restaurant’s tank. Topped with chili flakes, sesame seeds and garnished with chives, the intense nutty and spicy aroma of the oil is a warning to the non-spicy lovers.
My first bites bring on a very pleasant sensation. The full-bodied rich oil fills my entire mouth with a silky and soft felling. The clean and flaky fish blends perfectly with the nutty warm flavors of the oil, and just a few seconds pass before my face starts sweating, my lips are burning and a desire for more is calling. A generous portion of crunchy bean sprouts and refreshing cucumbers give the dish crisp and fresh characteristics, creating a fantastic balance to the complex components of the dish.
I keep eating. Effervescent, acidic and numbing tones start to appear, giving much-needed relief to my mouth. I wonder which ingredient is creating this sensation. I see small peppercorns floating in the oil, but the usual flavors of hot and pungent black pepper are not matching my rational association with the small ball. I communicate in gestures with the waitress, sticking out and pointing to my exposed tongue. She laughs, points at the peppercorn and tells me it is qing-hua-jiao (青花椒, Szechuan pepper).
At this point my lips are tingling and the rest of my mouth is completely numb.
With a lot more fish to consume and enjoying the bizarre sensation as it passes, I chat with my beautiful wife and travel partner, and after only minutes my palate is clean and refreshed, the spiciness has significantly come down and I dig in for more.
This cycle repeats itself multiple times, making the dish one of the most intense foods I’ve encountered throughout my travels. It is not only the flavors delivered by a perfectly balanced and eye catching presentation, but also a sensorial experience taking a usual meal to a whole new level.