So we all got together recently to try out some of the spicy cuisine China has to offer. In our own private Projects Abroad room (Chinese restaurants often have private rooms for groups of friends) the twenty of us; 2 large round tables of 10, got to playing the spicy turntables that are rather oddly called lazy Susans and reaching for the pepper based dishes with our chopsticks.
Upon hearing of spicy food you’d be forgiven for assuming that we must have gone for some Sichuan food as this is the most well-known spicy food in China, but in fact it wasn’t; we were eating Hunan food which is a different province within the country. Although both types of food are break-a-sweat spicy quality in common, they do have distinctive features. For instance, Hunan food tends to be fresher and oilier than Sichuan food which uses a lot of dried and preserved ingredients. Due to these and other cooking techniques Hunan food is referred to in Chinese as ‘dryly hot’ (干辣) as opposed to Sichuan food which is considered ‘numb and spicy’ (麻辣). We can see from these terms alone that the Chinese appear to have a rather more advanced way of understanding spice. I guess that with the usage of so many different seasoning and peppers that exist in these respective provinces things start to get a bit more complicated.
There was nothing complicated about the ingredients of the evening though. Good food, good company in a vibrant environment."