Sichuan Must Be Chinese for ‘Burn a Hole in Your Belly’

My travel-buddy-for-life XFE and I often discuss where we might want to go for our next Really Big Trip. You know, the ones that require using lots and lots of miles, and all of your 25 vacation days and crossing many, many time zones.

The last Really Big Trip was three weeks in Australia for my 40th birthday last year where I hung out with pop stars, watched kangaroos sun themselves right off my porch, ate some of those poor kangaroos (ok, not the ones I saw, but some other ones, probably related), avoided sharks (mostly), and hugged koalas.

Koala and Poe

There have, of course, been trips since then (including an apparently undocumented short jaunt to Austin for New Years – bad travel blogger here), but none of these trips have been quite on the scale of the Australian one.

One of the many, many places that XFE keeps mentioning is China. We’re usually pretty simpatico on potential destinations but I am not really feeling the whole China thing.

Actually, come to think of it, despite our lovebird status, we are NOT always simpatico on travel destinations. He always wants to go to dangerous places where we might be killed or taken political prisoner while I want to go to nice, climate-controlled museums located near shopping.

We are, however, fairly good at blending the two travel styles. I look forward to finally visiting a climate-controlled museum where you can purchase weapons used by political prisoners.

I have a few reasons why I think China might not be my cup of oolang. For one thing, I have very vivid memories of the toilet situations in Hong Kong (ie: hole in the floor), and I fear that those would be considered spa-like by Chinese standards.

Chinese bathroom
Exceptionally unpleasant in the winter when you’re wearing pants, a coat, sweaters….

And there’s that whole Chinese sense of humor business – somehow I feel like I would smart mouth the wrong government bureaucrat and find my butt in a nice prison complete with “special suicide watch cells with walls made of rubber so prisoners could not commit suicide by running into the walls.”

And that’s just no fun.

chinese prisoner
I totally agree with this woman, whatever she’s saying.

But one of the main reasons we probably won’t be going to China anytime soon has to do with the food. And that’s our own damn fault.

We thought we’d get all “The Bitten Word” on things this past weekend (wonderful blog, go check it out. But then come back.) and actually make something from one of the many cooking magazines we receive each month.

XFE actually does adapt a very few recipes from our magazines once in a while, but we’d never attempted anything as ambitious as this.

Chinese cooking at home
Page 70, if you feel inclined.

We made Sichuan pork dumplings and stir-fried pork belly with Chinese chives from the current issue of Saveur (the one with the donuts on the cover).

We have an entire kitchen cabinet with Asian oils, spices, vinegars, pastes and other potions, but we use them so infrequently that we decided to go to our nearest Asian market and procure new ones. This turned into an hour-long confusion-fest as we tried to find three different bean pastes, none of which appeared to be on the shelves we were looking at.

Here’s a snippet of the typical muttering to be heard in that aisle on that day:

“It says we need sweat fermented broad red bean chile paste. I see sweet bean paste. I see fermented bean paste, and I see dried fermented black beans, but not in paste form. I also see fermented bean curd paste, and sweet tofu chile paste. Do you think any of these would work whatsoever?”

Chinese cooking at home
Some–or all of these –might be part of the recipe.

Also: no sherry. All other kinds of wine/vinegar permutations, but no dry sherry.

After best guessing it, we went home and XFE started cooking, including grinding his own pork for the wonton filling. The recipe for the wontons made like, 2 dozen, so we cut that in half. We did not, however, remember to cut the ingredient list for the sauce we tossed them in by half.

Chinese cooking at home
Ladies, here’s a gift tip: men love a meat grinder.

XFE also pulled out our old electric wok, which was purchased for $3 at a garage sale about 6 years ago and has been used a grand total of once. That was for a bacon tempura recipe that stunk up our whole apartment so bad I screamed bloody murder every time XFE even mentioned using it again.

(FYI, our apartment reeked of dirty grease for a week. It was winter and we could not even open a window to air things out. No fancy candle could cut through that smell.)

The wok has sat unused and unloved taking up valuable cabinet space every since. It almost met its long overdue demise during our last two moves, but somehow, has been spared each time.

Finally, that wok was going to earn its keep.

Chinese cooking at home
Old Red, the unloved wok sizzling away in the background.

The wontons came off the stove first and got a good dousing in the sauce. The first one was delightful. Very good. But as I reached for a second one, my mouth began to burn. I quickly pushed it aside and popped another drenched wonton into my gullet. Yep, definitely tongue tingling.

I knew – because I do have eyes – that there was some chili oil in the sauce. But I’m from Texas. And not just Texas, but El Paso. On the border of Mexico. I grew up eating hot stuff.

However, I vastly underestimated my tolerance for chili oil.

Chinese cooking at home

You know how when something’s so hot, you just can’t stop eating it, because to do so would allow air to hit that surface and send the flames higher, therefore, you have to just keep eating? Yeah, that’s what was going on here.

XFE caught on a lot quicker than me and stopped at just a few.

Next came the stir fried pork belly, which also had some chili oil, but we’d learned our lesson and cut the chile oil portion. Plus, the oil from the pork helped cut down the heat a bit. It smelled amazing and looked just like the picture. But it was fried in approximately three cups of vegetable oil and made us both feel kind of greasy and gross.

Chinese cooking at home

So, Chinese cooking was a bust for us. Not sure how we’d fare on visiting the actual country.