I first discovered Szechuan/Szechwan (Sichuan) cuisine on a hot summer afternoon in New York City, USA in the mid 70´s. At my friends insistence we stopped a small dimly lit restaurant on W. 46th Street. Much to my surprise, the restaurant was charming and the food delicious.
The greatest surprise was the food. It was like nothing I had ever tasted. Hot, but not so hot as to cause my head to explode. This heat had a sweet under-taste of ginger and sugar which made the meat incredibly flavorful and tender. We ordered beef which was brought out in one piece and sliced very thinly at our table. It was then dipped in a marinade in a small bowl and put on a small charcoal grill next to the table. While it cooked we were given the usual sticky rice, but we were also given a bowl of Kim Chi, an extremely hot and spicy pickled cabbage. I have been advised that Kim Chi is a Korean dish, however, it was the name given to us when we asked about this very hot and delicious cabbage. I must say by any name it was absolutely the hottest cold vegetable I had ever tasted, but for some reason I could not stop eating it. My friend who was balding ate so much that the top of his head was fire red and held beads of sweat. I guess we both found the Kim Chi delicious in a perverse kind of way. I still enjoy it. Other vegetables were brought to the table julienned, along with a hot pot filled with broth. We chose the vegetables we wanted and put them in the pot to cook. Our waitress then placed the grilled beef on our plates along with the vegetables she removed from the broth. Oh yes, I remember it as if it were yesterday. We spent many evenings at what was to become our favorite restaurant. We also became the owner´s darlings. Funny thing is, I can´t remember the name of the place. But it does not matter, that summer changed my palate forever.
Szechuan food is no longer unique, there are countless hot and spicy foods to try. Each has its own unique and distinctive flavor. I am not sure what has lead to this fiery food revolution. It may be that as people continue to travel to other countries they have begun to be more adventurous. Whatever the reason, it has become abundantly clear that consumers have developed a taste for heat and chefs in fine restaurants as well as fast food restaurants are catering to those tastes.
My love of hot and spicy foods led me to the ethnic foods section of my supermarket and I have never looked back. I discovered that there is adventure in trying different spices and new recipes.
In future columns I will give you recipes, the best hot and spicy cooking sites and tips, pass on information about spices, herbs and much more.
Hot and spicy foods go beyond Asian or other ´ethnic´ foods. You can take your own everyday meals up a spicy notch. I´ll show you how. If you have not tried any hot and spicy food, give it a try. Spicy foods are not always pepper-filled; garlic, cumin, cloves, ginger, and other spices, all add a spicy heat without the hotness (is that a word?)of chili peppers.
I do understand that when enjoying or cooking hot and spicy foods, the emphasis is not always on the heat, sometimes it is the lovely combination of spices or simply the spiciness that pushes the food to another level.
Come into my world, your mouth will thank you.
Oh, don´t forget to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ABetterCook
Your Hot and Spicy Food Host/Editor
Vanette Ryanes (Vannie), is a New Jersey based freelance business writer and consultant. She is the editor of two BellaOnline.com sites, a former contributing editor for The Open Hearth and the moderator of "Home Business on a Shoestring" at www.womanowned.net. Additionally, Vannie is a book reviewer and is listed with BookZonePro, Cooperative Reviewers. She is a member of the Women´s Board Association of the New Jersey Performing Art and a former 15 year volunteer member of the Essex County Friend/Advocate Program for senior citizens. She chairs two community organizations. Vannie has been a Watkins home business owner for more than 10 years. It is not a coincidence that Watkins, the company she works with have gold medal herbs and spices as well as other household products; you can visit Watkins site at www.watkinsonline.com/ryanes and her A Better Cook site at http://abettercook.tripod.com
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