Saturday, April 7, 2012

Transit: Sichuan in Beijing that was so so fine

I cast my memory back to my "send off" meal I had in Beijing early this year. Almost an impossible gig to select a place which gives you the final flavour snapshots of an incredible journey. So I let my expectations down thinking that it was just hopeless to expect too much. And then, by some lovely workings of the universe I wasn't let down at all.

Up the glittery escalator I went. I thought, "Hmmm fancy Sichuanese food eh? How can Sichuan be fancy?!".

Of course it can be, at Sanlitun's Transit restaurant. This was my first  introduction to exquisite Sichuanese cuisine. Even with the most elegant presentation, the spicy and numbing hallmarks of this Chinese food genre were punchy and powerful as I knew them but clean and refined. As simple as it looked, pickled bamboo shoots were a welcome appetiser and palate cleanser in between the fiery mains.

One of my favourite Sichuanese dishes, koushuiji口水鸡 or Mouth Watering Chicken. This version lived up to its name: salty and deep notes from fermented soya beans with chilli, meeting heat from peppercorns and ginger. Despite it being served cold, it holds so much flavour.

I suppose the dream couldn't have been all perfect: Dragon Beans with Ham were really non-halal kacang botol (four-angled beans, despite what Transit tried to call it) to a Malaysian girl. It looked pretty, sounded great but wasn't worth the fuss.

Back on track with a perfectly roasted quail. I'm not sure it exactly what it's marinade was but I'll hazard a guess it was a mixture of soy sauce and sugar. So succulent I'm not sure it needed the sweet orange sauce that came with it.

Without a doubt the dish that left the most impression on me (and which I still daydream about) were Glutinous Rice Spare Ribs.My Malaysian and Singaporean buddies will know what I mean by Loh Mai Kai, glutinous rice soaked in garlic, ginger, Chinese sausage, oyster sauce, light & dark soy and maybe some Five Spice which often makes a yummy teatime coffee shop snack. This was like Loh Mai Kai around juicy pork spare ribs, the rice firmly packed down so that in one bite you got rice and rib together. It's soy and aniseed flavour captured my heart and belly.

Trust them to have the most genteel of Dan Dan Noodles. I believe the only way I can recreate these is to make my own hand-pulled noodles and master that chilli bean sauce.

Finally the superstar of this spicy and numbing heartland, shuizhuyu or Water Poached Fish. Fish gets poached gently in water before a barrage of dried chillies, Sichuan peppercorns (those little culprits that leave the fizzy, tingly effect on your tongue) and endless spices in volcanic oil gets poured over. I ate this so often in Beijing but never tired of it, always mesmerised by its angry, bubbly redness. And became very addicted to this intense melange. Transit gives you the option of fishing out the fish (which is great fun) or just serving up the meat. I loved having more fun.

Everyone knows Sichuan food to be gregarious but there are really delicate and "cooling" dishes as well. There are so many that remain with me and I want to recreate. There are so many things I still miss and hanker for in Beijing. Transit for me was like so many other things I came to love in China after initial trepidation. When you open your heart and mind and let down your guard, there is a wonderful life-long journey of things to fall in love with. 

N4-36, Third Floor,
The Village North,
Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang district


Sean said...

"Mouth Watering Chicken" ... what a simple translation, but so succinct and sublime! another forte of the chinese :D

Hungry Female said...

Hi Sean! Exactly;-) Hope you're well! xx

The Yum List said...

Wow, I've never seen Chinese food look so 'gourmet'!

Hungry Female said...

Yum: Isn't it just? Noticed that many authentic Chinese restaurants in KL are moving this way too tho..