What is Hunan Cuisine? Our first experience into Hunan.

Me and my sister have a disturbing Mala Addiction. For those in the Know it’s a beautiful balance of Chillies – Spicy – Sichuan Peppercorns – Numbing – Garlic – MSG – Salt – Sesame – and alot of other herbs and spices depending on the menu. Stuck in a Traffic Jam in a really quiet awkward area of Condos, Roads and pretty much nothing else we noticed some restaurants in front of the Entrance to several Condominiums. We were surprised by the amount of Chinese Restaurants within a few meters of each other. Our eyes widen as we saw pictures of fish swimming in red colored oil. Szechuan FOOD!!! Without any hesitation we walked in and was greeted by that familiar smell of pungent mala oil.

Upon opening the menu and trying to communicate with the waitress we found out that we stumbled into a rather big Hunan Community in Bangkok. All the restaurants and people eating here were Hunan. I’ve never really had an experience with Hunan Food but it looked and smelled like Sichuan Cuisine. So where is Hunan?

Credit: Wikipedia

Just on the upper right is Chongqing and Sichuan so i believe that’s why the close proximity has the influence in the cuisine. Will try to learn more but lets take a look at the food. First we ordered the popular and everybody’s favorite Mapo Tofu.

Mapu Tofu Hunan Style is more Spicy than Sichuan Mapo Tofu
Less Gravy but waaay Spicer!

Nice firm chunks of tofu with bits of minced pork – The star really was tofu and what i noticed was there was really less sauce or oil / gravy. I didn’t feel so much of the bean paste here because usually you taste bean paste with the mala but this one was very very spicy. Less emphasis on the MA or the numb but a lot of heat. I do think it was still nicely flavored although intensely hot, you need to eat it with rice and my spice level is quite high. Then the next craving we had was for boiled fish in Mala. They actually had like 3 types so we just picked one. I guess we picked the less spicy one or the Mapo Tofu was just like a nuclear blast of spicy.

Boiled Fish Slices in Mala Oil Hunan Style
Boiled Fish Sliced in Mala Oil & Broth

The fish was perfectly cooked delicate and not over at all – Strangely it was quite brothy and with the oil it was a nice balance of oily and spicy. Underneath there was enoki mushrooms and the sesame provided a nice creaminess to the overall dish. I can’t put my finger on it yet but there is a definite difference to the Szechuan Style and the Hunan Style. I feel that this dish had a more simpler flavor than the usual Szechuan Style. I feel there’s more layers to the Szechuan style.

In “some” chinese restaurants they have these cold salty chicken feet. I’m really not sure which province is the heritage but they would be a bit yellow and mostly served cold. If anyone knows please let me know. It’s rally fun to nibble on the cold and salty gelatinous feet however here they serve it warm and very plump and juicy not dry and chewy like i mostly have had it. For those who have never tried chicken feet it’s quite a yummy snack. It’s like nibbling on a jerky that’s paper thing with tiny bones. A jellyish jerky.

cold salty chicken feet
Cold, Salty and quite yummy! Have to try at least once!

Since we are on feet and gelatinous food – I had to order non spicy food for my parents who my dad’s strictly cantonese – He doesn’t really like spicy food as Cantonese food is quite bland compared to other chinese cuisine and my palate actually leans to the Cantonese Side (Aside from Mala) The Pigs trotters was full of gelatin the and sauce was thick with porky flavours and sticky from all the collagen and marrow that boiled in the sauce. Quite similiar to many trotters i had before with a slight spice which we all thought it was white pepper as we can’t see much in the sauce. Good with piping hot rice as it came with ample sauce.

Juicy Pigs Trotters
Peanuts gave a lovely crunch!

Definitely a must for every table is vegetables. This dish is also popular in many Chinese Restaurants not sure of the heritage although it came with smoked ham and sausage which i’ve never seen before. I did read that Hunan cuisine involved alot of these ingredients so it could be a signature twist to the normal Spinach, Salted Egg, Century Egg and soupy vegetable dish. The taste wasn’t really different elsewhere due the the power of the salted egg and century egg flavors but this dish was definitely milder (Again maby the mapo tofu was so strong) I like this vegetables as it’s a good stepping stone to those wanting to try Century Egg .

Century & Salted Egg spinach Chinese Cuisine
Garlicky, delicate flavours!

Last but not least every Cantonese meal cannot start, last and end without soup. I have never seen a chinese soup with a kombu like seaweed before. It didn’t have the same strong taste but somehow the soup was actually a creamy mouthfeel and a umami taste of the sea flavour with the creaminess of pork “fat”? It was quite a good bowl of soup. The pork spareribs were falling off the bone. It was really good mixed with rice and chinese level boiling hot soup. A really good meal and a great introduction into the world of Hunan Food. Maybe next time we will try those skewers not in the menu that other people were eating.

Hunan Pork Bone and Kelp Seaweed Soup
Really delicious hearty soup!

Please leave any comments and more knowledge for me would love to learn more about Hunan Cuisine. Thank you!

Fusion Vegan Dinner Experiment

Continuing with trying to go Vegan, one of the dishes I can’t live without is Nam Prik. Originally Thais eat alot of Nam Prik which literally translate to “Water of or from Chillies”. People would pound chillies, garlic, shallots, with either shrimp paste or Pla Rah – Thai anchovies to make a dip which is eaten with rice or sticky rice and an assortment of boiled and raw vegetables. I love Nam Phrik Pla Rah even more than cheese. I can almost give up cheese but i can’t give up my Nam Prik. On a Sunday with no one to feed but myself i went on an experiement of making a Vegan Nam Prik that i would be ok. First with no charcoal grill i used to oven to roast an assortment of Thai Long eggplant, chilies, garlic, shallots and tomatoes.

Roasting Vegetables for vegan dip
45 Mins roasting at about 200 Degrees

After peeling the veggies and shredding the eggplants and chilies i started to pound my dip.

Vegan Dip Recipe
The veggies were piping hot! Smelled delicious!
Vegan Dip Thai Style
Ready to Pound in my Thai Stone Mortar

I added some Pink Salt, white pepper and a tiny tiny amount of sugar and pounded.

Vegan Thai Dip Nam Prik
Less than a minute of pounding

I felt it lacked the umami taste of fish sauce and the fermented anchovy “Pla Rah”. Right now it tasted spicy, garlicky and sour with the limes. The eggplant has a nice mouth feel to it. But i felt it needed a savory aspect to it. So i added some vegan miso to it. It didn’t replace the Pla Rah but it gave i that savory kick i was looking for. Now what to eat it with as it was a hot day and i didn’t feel like rice. So i used a Konyakky seaweed noodle. Completely vegan as well. After poaching it briefly in hot water and rinsing it this is what it looked like.

Vegan Konyakky Noodle
A strange crispy and crunchy noodle

It is a very strange noodle. It feels like an over set jelly with too much gelatin. But it has an interesting texture i felt will offset the soft Nam Prik Veggie Dip. So now let’s arrange our plate.

Vegan Dinner - Konyakky noodle and Thai Nam Prik Inspired Recipe.
Added some boiled chives to give it a pop of color.

Now mix it all together and eat.

Vegan Noodle Salad with Eggplant Nam Prik
Spicy, Sour, Crispy, Crunchy. Delicious!

A great dish for a hot day. Simple to make and nothing complicated. A good solid Vegan dish ūüôā Maybe it’s easier to eat alot less meat with more weird experiments. Anyone with ideas please feel free to share them!

MALA Hotpot – A plethora combination of addictive deathly ingredients…

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A duo of soups – Spicy and Calm…

What is a Mala hotpot you may ask.  It is a deathly delicious combination of bubbling stock, oil fried with Szechuan Peppercorns, dried chilies, garlic, Chinese bean paste, dried jujubes, and a mix of other herbs and spices.  Each restaurant blends their own special recipe or they just use a ready mix.  This is my favorite style of hotpot, usually you would get a half and half which you can numb and burn yourself on the spicy mala side and cool down with the normal stock.  I believe that in the olden days this was used to help mask not so appetizing smells from using the cheaper cuts of meat.

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Hand cut shank is tender and melting

This restaurant is a gem hidden in on of the off sois located in Silom called Boon restaurant. ¬†We ordered just enough for two and it was a great way to cure a hangover…. Amazingly the fishballs had a soft chewy texture, not too fishy and went well with this spicy oil.

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Watercress, Taro and Fishballs

Taro is usually flash fried to help keep it’s shape in the bubbling broth. ¬†Personally i like to mash the taro in my soup. ¬†It gives it a creamy texture to the soup. A creamy spicy, hot and numbing mouthful of soup.

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Pig’s small intestines – Gross but delicious

It may look gross but it’s got a chewy, porky flavor that is either a favorite or you can’t stand the look of it at all.

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Lightly Battered Squid – Garlicky, Spicy – Very delicious!

Hard to understand why this battered squid works so well.  Its lightly crispy, spicy when chewed with the Chilies, extremely garlicky and just so soft and perfectly chewy.  No calamari can beat this dish.

This restaurant doesn’t rank high is nice atmosphere, clean bathrooms and smiling service. ¬†It’s a no frills, inexpensive family styled restaurant – the menu has pictures!!!!! ¬†Drop by for a good time.

Boon Pochana, 152/8-9, Silom Rd.,

Bangkok, 10500 Thailand

Fiery Spicy Szechuan Cuisine

My knowledge of Szechuan Cuisine or Sichuan Food is actually limited to Ma La Hot Pot, the bubbling stock with hot oil, szechuan peppercorns, garlic, five spice ingredients and extreme amount of dried chillies.  It is actually my favorite type of hot pot.  Going to a szechuan restaurant was interested or so i thought.  Would it actually be the same approach?  All food just topped with the spicy oil / spices?  I was in for a treat.

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Waste Nothing!

Organ meat is a very chinese thing, we eat everything. ¬†Most likely it’s a waste not mentality. ¬†If i’m not istaken this is the stomach from a cow. ¬†It’s got a chewy crispyish texture more than any taste actually but the spicy garlicy oil made it a nice appetizer to whet your appetite before the fire starts. ¬†I appreciated the green cirpsy and watery thin celery stalk to help add some coolness to my poor tongue.

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Decadent Pork Belly

This was not spicy at all, i think it was great over piping hot rice. ¬†I’m not entirely sure how they made that sauce but it was more sesame in taste, i’m sure there’s ginger in there somewhere. ¬†I understand it looks oily but it doesn’t feel too oily, it doesn’t coat your tongue like when you chew on a blob of butter or margarine. ¬†It seems to melt away leaving this comforting taste. ¬†Really good. ¬†Too salty to eat alone although i preferred it with some rice.

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Nice hit of crispy greens

In Thailand food we usually stir fry cabage with fish sauce, over thre it’s oyster sauce i presume with a few dried chillies thrown in for good measure. ¬†Done correctly cabbage¬†shouldn’t¬†soggy but ¬†with a nice crisp texture and juicy freshness. ¬†This helped balace out all the rich meats so far.

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Ma La Craziness!

My absolute favorite is the Ma La spices, this arrived smoking hot and you can actually feel the dried chillies sizzling in the hot oil. ¬†It’s probably palm oil, with dried chillies, garlic, szechuan peppercorns and other crazy goodness. There is a thick vermicelli noodle which is sticky and chewy in texture and sliced beef. ¬†It was a bomb of chillies, numbness and savory saltiness in every bite. ¬†The beef was tender and the soup underneath was quite delicious. ¬†However you do have to sort your way through the pool of oil. ¬†People may cringe at the amount of oil, but i’m actually ok, it’s not like we eat this every single day.

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Chilli Power!

Now this is everyone’s favorite, the MAPO TOFU. ¬†You see in japanese restaurants but you dont really find it in every chinese restaurant. ¬†Chinese food is quite vast with different regions serving totally different food. ¬†This was like bolder MA LA crazy version, it was so spicy, a hint of sweet with a bit of minced prok thrown in for good measure. ¬†It was so delicious over piping hot rice. ¬†You can’t really eat it on it’s own, it starts to burn after the third bite.

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Best Potato I have ever Tasted!!!!

This potato dish arrived and i though it was just short strands of spaghetti stir fried.  To my amazement it was round strands of potato, stir fried.  Its so hard to explain, it was mushy, but it was al dente but not under cooked.  It was salty, savory, not too oily.  It was very interesting.  It was the highlight of the night, it seemed so normal but the taste and texture was just so interesting and delicious.  I must find out how they cooked this dish.

Szechuan cuisine is really more than just the hot pot but i do believe it’s an acquired taste, it’s very different from my day to day chinese food but it’s a great lift to a cold gloomy day washed with some cold beer. ¬†Definitely for people who love spice, and dont mind a bit of oiliness. ¬†Only warning is for your stomach and it’s a scary addiction.