I’ve been training myself to eat spicy food. It all started around a year ago when I was on vacation in China. While looking for restaurants to dine at, I found that spice (chili) was an important player in many of the dishes favored by the locals. Most of the spicy dishes had heat beyond my capacity, and I was left to believe that spicy food was just not my thing, that I would go on living a dining life that was contently void of the red bits.
After returning to Vancouver, it became clear to me that I had missed out. I’ve rejected a style of cooking that was in every way as significant as, say, sushi (of which I can’t imagine life without). Saying no to food is not a habit I want.
From then forth, I was determined to remove “too spicy for me“, “just a little“, or “I’ll have the mild” from my restaurant ordering vocabulary. I had a plan. When given the choice of mild/medium/hot, I’d pick hot, and where there were chili’s on the menu, I’d favor the chili.
It wasn’t pretty at first. Stacks of tissues, glass after glass of water, red faced choking at times, panting like a dog. Now, a year later, I seek for the red stuff. ‘Hot’, on most menus draw little sweat from my brow, and “can I get some hot sauce” is not an uncommon saying when dining out.
Some people hold the impression that when food is spicy, it just masks all other tastes. I use to feel that way. But that also means building up a tolerance for spice was the only way for me to start detecting the layers of flavor in dishes, and to be able to tell the difference between using spice as flavor cover-up, and flavor complement.
A friend introduced Si Chuan First to me when we went together for one of their 6 person set dinners, which includes over a half dozen different dishes typical to the region (not all of them are pictured in this post). Though we went with the medium spice option, the plates all had generous helpings of red chili and chili oil. Perfect. It was what I was looking for at the time, as Golden Szechuan in Richmond and Alvin Garden in Burnaby had both left me disappointed a week prior.
The cold dishes come first. The correct way of serving in China. The tangy bean noodles, roasted peanut shavings, and fragrant cillantro prepares the palate for the main dishes. The spice level on these two were mild, and I suspected them to turn it up the heat with the more pungent, meat dishes. My glass of water remains untouched at this point.
Get ready to sweat.
In the next few dishes, flavors are fuller. Mouths already watering from the introduction, will hopefully cushion the blow of the chili. I’m on my second bowl of rice now, glass of water’s had a few sips, tea gone, beer half ingested. Brain thinks mouth is being attacked, releases dopamine in response. My dinner mates must be feeling the same, as a heightened sense of energy can be felt at the table. Voices become louder, movements faster. Chopsticks race from dish to dish.
I returned a week later and had their 4 person set meal, which has a few dishes removed, but still a broad sampling. The dishes are well prepared, and would stand well along any level of spiciness. My next visit will no doubt be ordered with 大辣 (lots of spice).
Si Chuan First (map)
6611 Buswell St
Richmond, BC V6Y
Best enjoyed with a few salivating friends.