When In Roam

Carl Chu's Food & Travel Blog

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Dining Al Fresco, Chongqing Style

Chongqing, sweaty, sultry, and skanky, sits smack the center of China. Located at the confluence of Jialing (嘉陵江) and Yangtze (長江) rivers, it is also the crossroads of Chinese society, a city of cascading hills, towering skyscrapers, and crowded tenements teeming with the best and worst of humanity—old and new, poor and rich, humble and proud, good and wicked. It is a city like no other in China.

Chongqing is also famous for its hot weather and hot food—San Francisco and San Antonio rolled into one. One thing you notice right away is that people prefer eating outdoors. At a vegetable market near my hotel, I sat down for lunch tasting some of the hottest dishes in all of China.

They were all classic Chongqing dishes. The first was Water Boiled Fish (水煮魚; shui▪zhu▪yu), a stew of sliced freshwater fish cooked in a seasoned broth covered with dried red chilies and Sichuan peppercorns. The stew was ladled over a bed of blanched yellow bean sprouts before serving. The words “water-boiled” are deceiving. This was not a bland dish by any means. Everything about it was hot, hot, hot!

Next was Tiger Skin Chilies (虎皮青椒; hu▪pi▪qing▪jiao) The name comes from the appearance of the pan roasted chilies, which become wrinkly and blistery in the searing heat, like the stripes of a tiger. The chilies are served simply with a dash of salt, soy sauce, and black rice vinegar.

The locals eat soft tofu (豆花; dou▪hua), served hot in its own whey, with these dishes in addition to plain rice. For some people, the tofu and the chili sauce served alongside are enough to call their entire meal. I trust the locals on this one—tofu is an effective way to cut down the heat of the chilies.

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