I love chilli in food. Well, I used to love chilli even more.
I guess I have the chilli-loving gene from my grandpa. After grandpa moved from countryside to the city, he realized that there was no good, real ‘spicy’ chilli in the city, so he got a small chilli plant from where he used to live to grow chilli at home.
I remember every time when we had meals, he would pick up one little green chilli to go with his food. In my mind, that plant forever had chilli hanging on the little branches, like a magic tree.:)) I guess it was a very special chilli plant, after grandpa passed away, my uncle took over the plant, and kept on having his chilli meals.
Chilli in China
Chilli in Chinese food has its famous benefits, for example, improving digestion and appetite. I also has its disadvantages: possible diarrhea or stomach pain.
Oh, one of the famous saying is about some pregnant women, who have strong desire of chilli, which means that they are likely going to have a daughter. :)) And it is not suggested for pregnant women having too much chilli, otherwise the the temper of the unborn will be … not good … Ha…
In China, most different regions have their different taste of chilli; of course, the most famous one is Sichuan chilli sauce – which is well-known worldwide.
When I was traveling to Sichuan for collecting data for my university graduation work, even me, who could have just chilli and bread for a meal, found difficult to take it — every single dish had chilli in it, even egg fried rice was not an exception.
Apparently, it is because of the damp weather in Sichuan that people love to have chilli and have a good sweat to get rid of the dampness in the body. But you would think, somebody having so much chilli would have really bad skin. Quite the opposite, all the sichuan girls I met had the most smooth fine skin I ever came across.
However, the spicy chilli in Sichuan regional food is different to the chilli we normally come across. Their chilli is not only just the red or green chili we normally use, but, and most importantly, it is from ‘Sichuan peppercorn’ — well, not really the Sichuan peppercorn you can find here. So we always judge if it is real Sichuan food by the taste of chilli.
I have a really good friend, whose husband is from Sichuan, and is a very good chef. He showed me what is the real Sichuan peppercorn they use locally, it is called ‘chuan jiao’, looks very similar the normal ones, but slightly bigger, and has stronger taste.
This is how Sichuan chilli tastes: at first, it is difficult to tell it is spicy when you put the food in your mouth, but after chewing and before swallowing, a mixed ‘chilli (cold)’ and ‘hot spicy’ starts spreading out to the whole mouth and throat. I know, I am not talking clearly， it is difficult to describe, you have to try it, you will know what I mean.
My mum used to travel to all different regions in China for her work, every time, she would buy me two things, one is the local ethnical bags, and another one is local chilli sauce. I used to be able to distinguish different regional chilli taste. But my mum has forbidden me to take too much chilli for a long long while now, because of the problem of my stomach. — very unfortunate. :(
When people come to talk about chilli in Chinese food, they often forgot about the chilli in Northeast cuisine, since its chilli is not as famous as in Sichuan or Hunan, but we do have many dishes with chilli, and chilli oil can be seen in almost every restaurant.
I always like to have some chilli oil at home, it is useful for cooking dishes, salad, or eating with dumplings or noodles. And the nice smell from making the chilli oil is just irresistible.
The recipe: Chinese chilli oil
I made some today. There are different kinds of taste of chilli oil, for example, in Wagamama, the chilli oil is not only spicy, but has five spices taste in it. But I made in a simplest way, a Northern way — with just oil and chilli.
Here you go.
Crushed red chilli or whole red chilli (the latter one is more spicy)
(I mainly used crushed red chilli, but sometimes I feel it is not spicy enough, so I put in four pieces of whole red chilli).
1） Pour 1 cup of oil in a heated wok (depends on how much you want to prepare)
When the oil is hot, put the chilli in the wok. (I used 1/4 cup of crushed chilli)
2）Let the chilli get a little bit burnt, (you can see the change of the colour or can smell it), then turn off the fire, let it cool down, and transfer a bowl or a bottle for later use. If you don’t like the chilli pieces in the oil, you can use a sifter when transferring the oil.
The smell of chilli oil is a very good seasoning for the dish, you can use less chilli in the oil, just for getting the taste of the nice fragrance, not for the sake of spicy.
For use in the dishes, I prefer to drop some chilli oil after turning off the fire; or if you have noodles, da lu mian for example, you can drop some chilli oil on the top; or leave a few drops in the dumpling dip — you will know what I mean by the fragrance. :))