Sunday, November 23, 2008

Heavenly Sichuan Food

I had to come out of hibernation to tell you about something really magnificent that may be only temporary. The restaurant on Homer that used to be known as Hong Kong is yet again under new management. They're running the place for a little while as a "trial" to see whether there is an audience in Lansing for very authentic Szechuan food.

How authentic? Well, the first indication is that they don't have any signs in English. The sign outside is in Chinese, and translates basically as: "Sichuan Food." (The three red peppers are actually in the shape of the character for Sichuan, which is "three rivers".)If you don't look Chinese, they'll give you a menu of typical Americanized dishes. If you want the good stuff, you'll have to ask for the Sichuan food menu. Those are mostly in Chinese, but they have at least one copy of that menu with English too. The problem is that the English isn't very descriptive. ("Boiled Pork." Hmmm.) The waiter was eager to help us find what we would like, but it took a little persuading for us to get him to tell us what HE would like. He recommended the Ma Po Tofu.

Oh my god. It was the best Ma Po Tofu I've ever had in my life.

No really, this was so good...well, one of the reasons I haven't been posting here is because I have been under extreme stress at the day job. One bite of this and all my troubles went away. This Ma Po Tofu was Xanax-good. It was "listening to Orson Welles speak" good.

The tofu was silky soft, stewed with chopped pork seasoned with toasted garlic, ginger and at least three different peppers. (Dried red pepper, pepper oil and Sichuan peppercorns, which are related to black pepper, but tastier.) Yes, it was hot, but no hotter than most hot and sour soups in town. (Less numbing than some, actually.)

We chose, as a less spicy balancing dish, the Pork With Green Beans. This was marked as spicy, but the waiter says it wasn't, and he was right. There was a sprinkling of toasted dry pepper along with the toasted garlic. The beans were fresh and perfectly done. Once again, the chopped pork acted as a seasoning, rather than a main ingredient. The salting, the seasoning, everything was just exactly right so you could taste and smell each element.

The waiter also pointed out a platter of deep-fried chicken pieces, sprinkled with peppers. We'll undoubtedly try that on another visit. I can't wait to try the Twice-Cooked Pork, which is a favorite of mine. There are also less familiar dishes that we'd like to try. The Fish With Preserved Vegetables soup is a famous Sichuan dish, which he also recommended. Preserved veggies usually give a slight sour taste to the broth, milder than hot and sour soup. There were also cellophane noodles in the bowl, it looked like.

If you are eager to try it, but aren't sure you know enough about Sichuan food to order properly, you might look up a book by Fuchsia Dunlop called "Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking", which is much more than a cook book. More of culinary cultural history with recipes and stories and techniques.

There is a Chinese saying: "China is the place for food, but Sichuan is the place for flavor." True words of wisdom, if this place is any indication.

Hong Kong Sichuan Food is at 315 S Homer St, Lansing. (South of Michigan and north of Kalamazoo, near Frandor, behind Oadies and Bake 'n Cakes.)
Read more reviews of Hong Kong Sichuan Food at:

Hong Kong Sichuan, More Heavenly Dishes
Hong Kong Sichuan, Even More Heavenly Dishes