“The road to Shu* is hard, harder than climbing the sky.” –Li Bo, translated by Elling Eide
*Shu is the ancient name for Sichuan, from the Warring States period—when it was an independent kingdom (one that probably did not speak a Sino-Tibetan language).
The line from the Li Bo poem captures my trepidation at attempting Sichuan-style cooking. The region’s cuisine is of course famous, and one might imagine it’s as hard to master as the mountain passes that lead to Chengdu. But my wallet needs a rest, and I wanted to keep exploring local ethnic eating options, so I decided to spend some time at New Golden Sparkling Inc, the local Chinese grocery, and put together a Sichuan-style stir fry.
Despite the frankly noxious smells that often radiate from New Golden Sparkling Inc, especially late in the day, the store is very popular with locals. It is large, and has foodstuffs from all over China, Taiwan, and Japan. In addition to fresh seafood (augmented with live frogs and sometimes soft-shell turtles), they have a wide selection of fresh mushrooms and other fungi, seaweeds and jellyfish, and even Hell Bank Notes and other aids for sending loved ones to the after-world.
The dish:小煎鸡 (Xiao jian ji, or stir-fried chicken)
The shopping list:
笋 (Bamboo shoot)
木耳 (Wood ear fungus)
豆瓣酱 (Chili bean sauce)
绍兴酒 (Shaoxing wine)
I also picked up a chilies, carrot, an Indian cucumber, and onion to add to the mix.
The first step in preparation was to mix a marinade with the Shaoxing wine, some soy sauce, and flour with a pinch of salt. Then slice and marinate the chicken, at the same time soaking the wood ear fungus. Then dice your veggies. Heat up some oil, preferably in a wok, though I just used a non-sticking pot, and start frying the chicken, onion, garlic, and ginger. Fry for several minutes, then add the wood ear fungus and vegetables. Keep frying until the chicken is done.
The result was quite tasty.