Sweet, Spicy, Salty, Bitter, Umami &... Ma La?!
Last month I wrote about my quest to create my own version of a Sichuan Hot Pot from a Bristol vendor, Chilli Daddy. This month I was determined to learn a bit more about what makes Sichuan food so special. Food from the Sichuan province of China is renowned for being intensely spicy but there is more to it than just that. Sichuan peppercorns add a unique taste sensation known as ‘Ma La’; Ma = spicy and La = numbing. I realised upon trying a few different dishes including sichuan peppercorn that this is exactly the sensation that is so addictive from Chilli Daddy. More than just a spiciness, the sensation is of a buzz within your mouth that is slightly numbing but weirdly pleasant. It sounds bizarre but if you’ve not tried it before, I highly recommend it. The first experience using ground Sichuan peppercorns was in making my own chilli oil - if you follow me on instagram, you may have noticed I’ve put it on practically everything I’ve eaten since. I added peanuts as well to give it extra crunch and I don’t want to blow my own trumpet too much but it is sensational.
Dan Dan Noodles
The second dish I decided to make including Sichuan Peppercorns was Dan Dan noodles. Perhaps one of the most famous Sichuan dishes, Dan Dan noodles get their name from the street sellers who would hang their stoves and ingredients from a shoulder pole or ‘dan’ and sell the noodles out of these.
For some bizarre reason I decided to go one step extra with these and make my own noodles. Not just noodles but hand-pulled noodles - with hindsight, I don’t know what I was thinking but I was feeling particularly adventurous that day. The process is similar to making pasta in terms of the dough and then once the dough is ready, you flatten it out and cut it into thin strips. At this stage you have a pan of water on the boil and then painstakingly pick up each individual noodle strand and stretch it out. As you stretch the noodles strand you bounce it up and down off of the worktop to encourage it to stretch. You then drop it into the pan of boiling water and repeat. Perhaps I was too slow in the hand-pulling effort as when it came to tasting the noodles they were a mooshy disaster. If I do brave noodles again, I will most definitely be putting my pasta machine to work.
Noodles aside, the actual Dan Dan elements were a resounding success - the sauce is easy to make and packs a punch in terms of flavour (it utilises chilli oil and so I used my home-made version) and the pork mince on top just finishes it off nicely. I will definitely be adding more heat next time though as I think the spice level of mine would not have been up to par.
Next on my Sichuan list.. ‘Strange flavour’ chicken.