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Posts Tagged ‘Spicy


Since the first morning I spent wandering around the streets of Shanghai three years ago, I’ve had a mild obsession with street food. It was my first time outside of the U.S., and really my first time ever seeing food prepared on the street — if you don’t count the pretzel and roasted nuts trucks in some areas of Los Angeles.

Despite all the warnings I had from teachers at the local university to my Lonely Planet guide about staying away from street food, it was hard to ignore the sizzling sounds of a batter being spread over flat griddles to make an eggy crepe (dan bing 蛋餅), or the sight of fresh soybeans being pressed to yield hot soybean milk, all coming from these tiny stalls densely lining the bustling streets of one of the most chaotic metropolitan areas in the world.

The Bund/Wai Tan, Shanghai, China

Being cognizant of American snobbery surrounding eating food in foreign lands, I tried my best to eat the same way locals ate, whether that meant eating food out of street stalls or going into tiny and dingy mom-and-pop type shops that were recommended to me by native Chinese friends I had made. It was exhilarating to see all the energy along the streets with people shouting their orders and street vendors quickly stir-frying these noodles or mixing up those sauces. In less than five minutes, a plate of yum could be ready for you to carry and take off wherever you’d like.

Although my experience in China was only in Shanghai and surrounding areas, being there helped me learn more about Chinese culture in general, as well as the prominence of street food in China. Many of the comfort foods that Chinese people who leave China crave and miss are ones that are prepared on the street. These treats, also known in Mandarin Chinese as xiao chi (小吃) or “little eats,” are generally made by vendors who each create a specialized snack, from spicy cold noodles to steamed dumplings to pudding-like bean curd (dou hua 豆花). In the past, street vendors would travel all over the cities or towns where they lived in China to get as much business as possible; it’s been said that in the early twentieth century, street vendors lived or died by the quantity of their food sold, so they consumed themselves with creating unique dishes that would keep people coming back.

Fresh mung bean sprouts

Fuchsia Dunlop, an East Asia Specialist at the BBC World Service, was the first non-Chinese educated at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine in Chengdu, China. After her culinary education in Sichuan, in 2001 she published a cookbook called Land of Plenty, the first-ever Chinese cookbook written by a Western author in English specifically on Sichuanese cuisine. Land of Plenty devotes an entire section to little eats, consisting of many noodle dishes, dumplings, sweets, and other dishes that can be seen being prepared on streets in Chengdu today.

Sauce ingredients

One of the street foods in the book that has most recently been prepared in my kitchen is the spicy cold noodles with chicken slivers. It’s a xiao chi that is distinctively Sichuanese. Thick, cold noodles are served with blanched bean sprouts, cooked chicken slices, and a complex, mouth-tingling sauce that is all at once sweet, salty, sour, hot, and numbing.

Spicy numbing sauce for noodles

The “numbing” sensation comes from the Sichuan pepper, or in Chinese, hua jiao 花椒,  which literally translated means “flower pepper.” It’s probably the most important and dominant condiment/spice in Sichuanese cooking. Before being roasted and ground, the Sichuan peppercorns look like this:

Whole Sichuan peppercorns - hua jiao

Once roasted whole, they are then ground finely and added to hot dishes, cold dishes, sauces, and dressings. Sichuan pepper’s strong scent is unmistakable — flowery and spicy at the same time. It adds a distinct taste to Sichuanese dishes and never fails to make your lips tingle after eating it. This is what the pepper looks like after being grounded:

Ground Sichuan pepper

In Chinese supermarkets, Sichuan peppercorns are often not labeled in English, so be sure to look out for these Chinese characters: 花椒.  One problem I’ve had with the peppercorns is that the twigs and leaves of the plant are often still attached to the peppercorns in the packages, so when taking them out to roast and grind, carefully sort through the peppercorns and remove the excess beforehand.

Putting lunch together

This dish makes a satisfying lunch for 2-3, or if you have a full pound of noodles, you could easily double the sauce ingredients and add more chicken if you’d like for a bigger crowd. In case you like heat but not too much of it, try to add about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the chili oil to the sauce to start, and increase it if you’d like more of a kick. The list of ingredients for the sauce seems long, but all of the ingredients are extremely versatile and can be used in any type of Asian cooking. So don’t be afraid to buy them, as you will use them over and over again.

Cold noodles mixed with sauce and chicken

Spicy Cold Noodles with Chicken Slivers
ji si liang mian 雞絲涼麵

Adapted from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty
Serves 2-3 as a main lunch dish


  • About 1/2 pound fresh Shanghai-style wheat noodles (slightly thicker than spaghetti)
  • 1 tablespoon peanut or canola oil
  • 5 ounces bean sprouts
  • 1 cooked chicken breast, 2 chicken thighs, or some leftover chicken meat
  • 4 scallions thinly sliced, green parts only


  • 2 tablespoons sesame paste, thinned with about 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Chinkiang or black Chinese vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground roasted Sichuan pepper 花椒
  • 2-3 tablespoons chili oil with chili flakes
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil

Cook the noodles in a medium sized pot of boiling water until they are just al dente; take care not to overcook them. Rinse them with hot water from the kettle, then shake them in a colander and quickly spread them out to dry. Sprinkle over the oil and mix it in with chopsticks to prevent the noodles from sticking together.

Blanch the bean sprouts for a few seconds in boiling water, then refresh in cold water. Drain well. Squash the chicken breast or leftover chicken pieces slightly to loosen fibers, and tear or cut into slivers about 1/4-inch thick.

When the noodles and bean sprouts are completely cold, lay the bean sprouts in the bottom of your serving bowl or bowls. Add the noodles.

To serve, either combine all the sauce ingredients in a bowl and pour the mixture over the noodles, or just scatter them over one by one. Top the dish with a small pile of chicken slivers and a scattering of scallions. Allow your guests to toss everything together at the table.



  • itsgrant: I want to goooo! Me next vacation, hopefully
  • Jesslyn: Thank you so much for posting this! My husband (who spent several years in Korea) and I have been searching for a good recipe that will produce Ho Duc
  • Didi: I have been searching everywhere for a recipe for this dish and this was spot on!! Thanks for making me and my boyfriend VERY happy :)