It stopped raining here. I didn’t stop reading. I’ve spent the majority of my third day of summer engrossed in Mexican historical fiction/magic surrealism/one of the many things I inherited when many of my friends left Chengdu/aka perfect book to start the summer, Luis Alberto Urrea’s Humingbird’s Daughter. It’s good, read it.
Yesterday I made a list of all the blog posts I wanted to write in Chengdu this summer. One a day if I could keep things interesting, but as unlikely as that is I couldn’t kill the dream in the first week. So rather than backdate an entry or skip a day I figured I’d start tackling the list by sharing one of my favorite Sichuan dishes with you.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present, Jia Chang Dou Fu (家常豆腐)
or Homestyle Tofu. Homestyle cooking is, in my very humble opinion, the heart of cooking here in Sichuan and this dish hits my top five of possible things to consume in a mom and pop shop here in Chengdu (for a semi-complete run-down of Sichuan eateries go here).
This tofu dish often stands in the shadows of the far more famous “bold and tingling” mapo dou fu and is often only ordered a la carte, not being included on many menus or being given only a easily overlooked, unappetizing, thumbnail picture in the corner of the back pages of the novel-esque menus here.
But maybe because it’s rough around the edges, more rugged, and less refined. Maybe it’s because I get a little extra nod of approval from waitresses for my off the tourist track culinary choices. I’ll go on the record and say I’ll take Jia Chang Dou Fu over Mapo any day.
Picture the deliciousness: fried tofu squares (or triangles), in a spicy paste, with endless possibilities of pickles, sauces and vegetables served by a mom, auntie, cousin or sister who is usually simultaneously shrieking the neighboring table’s order to the kitchen in the back of the restaurant as she sets your dish on your slippery table. If that doesn’t feel like a family dinner, I don’t know what does!
One of the greatest things about Sichuan dishes is that everyone has their own take. Looking at the blogosphere you can see the variations already, yi reservation uses chicken (really? chicken?) and wood ear, Waitrose keeps it healthy with ground nut oil (minus this and the recipe is pretty close to the almighty Fuchsia Dunlop) and finally this site, while hard to see through overexposed photos stays true to the simplicity of the dish.
The above photo was taken at one of our semi-routinely (read: we’ve gone there more than once) visited, plastic stool-ed, and loud waitress-ed Leshan-style fly restaurant behind the Tongzilin Carrefour (directly behind the supermarket, facing the entrance to the management office). The gan bian niu rou si here ain’t bad either.