28 October 2016
Yun Yan has possibly the best twice-cooked pork belly (inset) in Hong Kong. Photos:, HKEJ
Yun Yan has possibly the best twice-cooked pork belly (inset) in Hong Kong. Photos:, HKEJ

The art of Sichuan cuisine: broad and profound

Dining at Yun Yan (雲陽), a restaurant in Causeway Bay, with its executive chef, Kenny Chan Kai-tak, and Wang Jie, a famous chef from the Sichuan Cuisine Museum in Chengdu, Sichuan province, I am overwhelmed.

I discover that Sichuan cuisine is not restricted to the well-known mala (麻辣, numbing and spicy) flavor but is of infinite variety.

Tea-smoked duck (樟茶鴨), pork belly with garlic mash (蒜泥白肉), steamed Chinese cabbage in soup (開水白菜), sauteed sea cucumber with spring onion (葱燒海參) and dry-fried green beans (乾煸四季豆), for instance, are extraordinary Sichuan dishes that rely neither on numbness nor piquancy.

Sichuan cuisine also varies in style, between the exquisite dishes of the affluent business class and the more commonplace ones of ordinary households.

Thanks to the enthusiasm of Chan, who still endeavors to make breakthroughs after 30 years of experience in the culinary arts, we are lucky to be able to try out many new and exciting dishes he and renowned chefs from Chengdu have created.

Chan’s latest project is a collaboration with Wang.

Their purpose is simple: they would like to do their best to bring out the many facets of the cuisine to the general public, breaking the stereotypical view of Sichuan food that is only spicy.

This Sichuan banquet to which I am introduced is an eye-opening experience.

The sauteed sea cucumber with spring onion is especially fragrant, as chicken fat is used to cook it.

Braised fresh abalone is juicy and has fully absorbed the essence of the broth from a fresh, five-catty chicken.

The most memorable item is no doubt the doubanjiang, a fermented bean paste that Wang brought from Pixian, a county in Chengdu that is famous for it.

It is the soul of the twice-cooked pork belly dish.

The five-year-old sauce is strictly handmade, with no artificial additives.

The fermentation requires three steps.

Every day the broad beans are turned over by hand, so that they are evenly exposed to the air and sunlight.

They are mixed with salt and chilli, fermented and then moisturized by dew.

The sauce alone is so delicious that all you need is a bowl of rice to go with it.

Slightly salty and sweet, it spices up the pork belly so well.

When the pork is chewed and swallowed, its just-right spiciness tingles every taste bud.

I daresay this is the best twice-cooked pork belly in Hong Kong and no other restaurants could come up with a finer version.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 6.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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