I struggled about this week’s topic because I have a couple of good ones.Having difficulty in making decision. I want to talk about the dish “Ants Climbing a Tree”, a simple and delicious Sichuan dish with an interesting name. Another topic is to talk about some dishes in other culture that in some way are similar with Sichuan dishes, just thought it would be interesting to make the connection. Eventually, I dropped the two ideas for now. But I promise I will pick them up in the near future.
I’ve talked a lot of Sichuan Dishes, and really hope you can understand more about Sichuan culture and know me, know Sichuan people as interesting human beings. That’s how I made the decision to continue my previous topic “snacks” a little bit more. Today I am talking about the “late night snack culture” in Sichuan.
Before I went to Shanghai to study in college, I thought late night snack is popular all over China. But I found out I was wrong, after I talked with a lot of students from other places in China. In fact, a lot of locations don’t have late night snack tradition, including northeast provinces, where night life activities are not so prevalent. Even places that have late night snack tradition, people’s interest, or obsession, I would say, is not even close to that of Sichuan people.
Yes, it’s kind of a unique culture for Sichuan and Chongqing, which used to be part of Sichuan. It might not be a healthy tradition, but it’s definitely a fun one.
* By the way, I need to mention, the night beer is only prevalent when weather allow it. We don’t do that in winter, and the peak time is summer.
For westerners who enjoy night alcohol at bars, this is a great alternative when you go to Sichuan. It’s a great way to experience the local culture at some local restaurants that offer late night food, or just some temporarily set up tables by some vendors. Nowadays cities are more concerned about the city image, so the local government agencies are cracking down the temporary night food places, which is a pity for some people.
The alcohol these places offer are usually just beer. However, the food is really really amazing. So let’s start with some snacks. I call them snacks because they are usually tiny in terms of size and volume, which makes them perfect late night food. You will see a lot of small plates when you go to these night beer occasions. Some snack dishes are usually excellent to go with beer.
“Beer accompany snack” dishes examples:
Salty boiled peanuts (super common and popular)
Toothpick meat (usually beef, I will explain later)
Cold vegetable dishes (such as cold green soy bean)
Pot-stewed meat or fowl (they were usually stewed for a long time in some delicious soup made of a lot of Sichuan spices)
I can name more if you’d like, but I think you get the idea of the typical “beer dish”. Toothpick meat is one of my favorite. It’s just amazingly good. It’s basically a piece of beef that is stick through by a toothpick, and is lightly fried with a lot of spices, including really spicy dry red pepper. The dish has a bold and spicy flavor, and you can’t resist it if you are into spicy food.
Other great options:
Barbecue meat and vegetables
Hot pot chicken, hot pot bullfrog (not the same with the boiled hot pot I talked about a few days ago.)
Barbecues are excellent choices for night beer occasions not only because they have great flavor, but also because they offer many many choices in terms of what food you want. Beef, lamb, pork, chicken wings,leek, lotus roots, sausage, dried tofu, egg plant, potato, green pepper, kelp……..It’s hard to not be able to find something you like!
Asides from the small size snacks and barbecues, there are some bigger dishes that will suit well for people who haven’t got to have dinner early and apparently want more than small plates.
Grilled fish is one example. I simply love it!! Grilled fish are featured by super fresh fish with some typical Sichuan spices and the unique taste resulting from the grilling method. I might have forgot to mention that Sichuan people love fish and eat at lot of them, especially those with heavily spiced flavor. Some people in other places might think low of our way of cooking because it destroyed the original flavor, especially Cantonese people, who love seafood with original taste. Yeah, everyone is allowed to be subjective when we talk about food.
One last thing to mention is the hot pot dishes in night beer occasions. It’s dry-fried chicken, bullfrog or other meat. You can add some vegetables if you want. Also wonderful food. But compared with other food I talked about today, it’s less of a late night special, because it’s a common dish in daytime dining.