Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Eating Hong Kong: Yu Sichuan

"Am I crying?" I asked my sister at one point during our meal at Yu Sichuan in Causeway Bay.  My face was numb at that point, and I wasn't sure whether I just sweating profusely or tearing up.  At one point earlier in the meal, my tongue was en fuego, but now I couldn't even feel my tongue.

There's an expression in Sichuan cuisine called "ma lat," meaning numb-spicy.  This is not your quick burn cayenne pepper kind of spicy; the pepperiness of real "ma lat" food slowly takes over your whole mouth and almost paralyzes it.  It hurts so good, and I love it, even if pepper oozes from every pore in my body for days afterwards.

We started our meal with a few tapas-like cold dishes, like this thinly sliced pork and cucumber medley.  Like all of the dishes at Yu Sichuan, this one came with a liberal dosage of chili oil and pepper paste on top.  On your first bite, you get the unami of the soy and vinegar in the sauce, but then a slow burn begins to invade your mouth.  By the second bite, you are scanning the table for the cold beverage you're going to chase the food down with.  By the third bite, you've already downed the cold beverage and are desperately signaling the waiter to bring you another drink.

Next came a vegetarian cold salad sampler, with wood ear (a fungus), braised eggplant, and cucumber.  These cold dishes are like pickles at Jewish delis -- ubiquitous, obligatory, but also an indicator of the quality and spiciness of the restaurant.  All three were excellent at Yu.  And all very spicy.

Can you see the amount of chili oil that's in this soybean salad?

Or this cold chicken dish?  And this is after we already told them to make everything "mild."

Next came our starches, which we were hoping would offer a respite from the burn.  The dan dan noodle was excellent: they make their own noodles, I think, and they were cooked perfectly al dente.  But there was to be no break from the chili.  Although you can't tell from the photo, the noodles were sitting in chili paste.  I think it was at this point that my eyes started watering.

We did order one "non-spicy" vermicelli noodle dish, which came in a clear broth.  The broth was peppery, but not overtly spicy like the other dishes.  Not initially, anyway.  We ended up dipping so many of the other dishes in it to make them less spicy that eventually the broth took on the same shade as the chili oil.

I gulped down two iced milk teas during the course of the meal.  I don't think they helped.

Here's documentation of the amount of chili oil in each dish -- and this is what was left over in the dish after we ate it.  Oy.

I know it's masochistic, but the whole meal was kind of exhilarating.  I don't run unless I'm being chased, but I'm imagining this is probably akin to what it's like to do a marathon: painful in the beginning, numbingly painful in the middle, and numbingly painfully awesome at the end.  Then you chug water, curl up in a fetal position, and ask yourself why you are stupid enough to have submitted yourself to such torture.


Try Anything Once Terri December 22, 2010 at 8:26 AM  

This all looks so good! I'm glad that you're having a good time in HK.

Mrs. Hot Cocoa December 22, 2010 at 10:42 AM  

@ Terri: Thanks! It's nowhere near as exotic as Bali and the other locales you've been this year. But I'm eating well at least. ;-)

lavenderpug December 22, 2010 at 12:33 PM  

you're killing me with this posts. seriously killing me. my salivary gland are in hyperdrive. i actually just had dan dan noodles the other day--probably nowhere near as good as the ones you had, but i know what you mean about the addictive thrill of the insane tingliness.

Katie December 23, 2010 at 8:30 AM  

Oh my freaking goodness...I want to go here STAT! Hot and spicy foods are definitely my favorite...I would love to have that experience! Everything looks fantastic.

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