China’s spicy food is legendary. While much of it is region-specific; from spicy Hunan to numbing Sichuan, there are also the nationwide favourites. The Nanjinger presents ten of the very best.
10. Suan Cai Yu (酸菜鱼）
“Suan Cai Yu” can be simply described as poached fish with pickled greens. The latter provides the sourness, which is the main taste of the dish, so the heat of chili is relatively low, compared with other spicy foods. It is a wise choice for beginners to spicy Chinese food for their first try.
9. Kou Shui Ji（口水鸡）
Literally translated as “Saliva Chicken”; you are sure to salivate when you even think about it. Stewed chicken is cooled and marinated in chili oil sauce and sesame paste, with additional fresh chilies and dried peanut. Different from other spicy dishes, this one is a cold appetiser, which means it is very suitable to eat in the summer.
8. Chuan Bei Liang Fen（川北凉粉）
Like Kou Shui Ji, this is also a cold appetiser, and always popular everywhere in China during summertime. “Liang Fen” is one type of jelly noodles, usually made of mung bean starch. It is crystal, smooth and cool just like jelly. “Liang Fen” itself is quite tasteless, so the sauce inside and other ingredients contribute the overall taste most.
7. Gong Bao Ji Ding（宫爆鸡丁）
Also going by its Cantonese moniker, “Kung Pao Chicken”, this dish got its name in the late Qing Dynasty, from a governor of Sichuan, Ding Baozhen. In Sichuanese, “Gong Bao” means “small stir-fry”. The chicken is evenly cut into small pieces and then cooked over a high flame, and stirred constantly. Other ingredients, such as crunchy peanuts and juicy spring onions, work together to improve the dish’s oral sensation.
6. Ma Po Tou Fu（麻婆豆腐）
Originally obtaining its name from its creator, Ma Po, it is recorded that there was an old woman (indicates the word “Po”), who got some pock marks (indicates the word “Ma”) on her face, and was famous for her tou fu dishes. However, some guests told her that they wanted some meat rather than just tou fu, so now, not only tou fu, but also some beef or pork and other vegetables are included. Besides, broad bean paste and fermented black beans contribute a complexity of flavours; at the same time, the freshly grounded peppercorn powder enhances the level of the dish’s numbing taste.
5. Ran Mian（燃面）
This dish originated from Yibin, Sichuan Province, and its name can be directly translated into “burning noodles”, for there is so much oil added inside, the noodles can even be burnt with a match. In fact, it is also composed of green vegetables and chopped peanuts with a salty and spicy meat sauce. The vegetables precisely balance the oily taste, while the peanuts taste especially good with the meat sauce.
4. Suan La Fen （酸辣粉）
Some people will call it “Hot and Sour noodles”, but in fact, in Chinese, “Fen”, made of sweet potato noodles, is chewier than common noodles, “Mian”, which is made of wheat (like “Ran Mian”), and usually translucent. Together with chili oil, a large amount of vinegar is added to create a both spicy and sour taste. There are numerous versions of “Sour and Spicy Fen” everywhere, but the most basic ones always contain ingredients such as dried peanuts and caraway.
3. Mao Xue Wang （毛血旺）
Personally, this one is my current favourite. It is like an “all-in-one” dish; ingredients comprising ham, duck blood jelly, tripe, large intestine, chicken gizzards and so on. For foreigners, this dish can be a little bit difficult to accept because of these weird ingredients and the heat level, but actually it is very popular among local people. So if you fancy a challenge…
2. Gan Guo（干锅）
This can be seen as another member of the hot pot family; I would rather express it as “hot pot without water” or “Dry Pot”. So basically, Gan Guo is not soup based; its spiciness comes from seasonings such as ginger, chili, pepper and garlic. The bigger, main ingredients depend on personal taste; you can order whatever you like.
1. Huo Guo/Hot Pot （火锅）
This one is absolutely many people’s all-time favourite (including me). With the flavour depending on the soup base, one of the most popular is always the spicy option. However, if not everyone in your group can bear the chili, luckily, a new style called “Yuan Yang Pot” has emerged, one half spicy, and the other mushroom-based or tomato-based. You choose!