China is huge. Many non-Asians will generalize Chinese cuisine as one entire cuisine. In fact, Chinese cuisine is very rich and diverse. The ingredients and styles of cooking vary depending on the geography, climate, and religion. As a rule of thumb, Southern China focuses on bringing out the freshness and natural flavours of seafood, meat and vegetables. Central China is famous for its use of spices particularly the numbing and spicy characteristics. Northern China is known for its wheat abundance so noodles and baos are prominent.
Regional Chinese cuisines. Source: China Highlights
In this food extravaganza, Steve and I explored central Chinese cuisine at Aunt Dai at their new location in downtown on rue St-Mathieu. One cuisine that many foreigners know and love is the bold and pungent flavours of Sichuan cuisine. This cuisine is best defined for its málà (numbing and spicy) characteristics. To experience true Sichuan flavours, you must order these dishes:
– ‘Mouthwatering chicken (kou shui ji)‘ – cold poached chicken served with Szechuan chili sauce. Not only the sauce is spicy, it has a balance of salty, sweet, vinegary and numbing flavours
– Dry fried green beans – it might look like simple strands of green beans, but once you bite into it. It is packed with umami flavours with the smokiness of wok hei (essence of the wok).
– Fish in Chili Oil – Fresh slices of tilapia cooked in an aromatic chili broth. This is a true representative of the numbing and spicy flavour of Sichuan cuisine. It is loaded with chili peppers and Szechuan peppercorns. To add some freshness to this dish, it is loaded with bean sprouts. You only need to eat the fishes and bean sprouts. No need to eat the peppers unless you feel adventurous.
Other dishes that we recommend ordering are the cumin beef, ma po tofu and Sichuan cabbage stir fry.
Central Dishes from Aunt Dai. Photo: @randomcuisine
Aunt Dai also serves dishes from other parts of China. Red-cooked pork belly (hong shao rou) is one popular dish throughout mainland China. It is pork belly cooked in soy sauce, ginger, garlic and aromatic spices until it is tender and melts in your mouth. This is served in a claypot with Korean sweet potato noodles.
After eating all this spicy food, dairy is the solution to cool our palate down. We went to Zoe’s Dessert et Thé, a block from Aunt Dai. East Asian desserts are rarely considered as sweet. It is rich in fruits, legumes, spices and tea.
On the left, we order their ‘injelmo bingsoo’ – Korean shaved milk, sweet rice cakes (mini mochi), cornflakes, sweet red bean paste and almonds.
On the right is a popular modern Hong Kong dessert called ‘mango pomelo sago’ – a cold mango soup served with diced mango, pomelo (Asian grapefruit but not sour), and tapioca peebles.
Desserts at Zoe’s Desserts and Tea. Photo: @randomcuisine