Sichuan: China’s Divine Providence

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Cow belly and throat swims in hot oil.
Cow belly and throat swims in hot oil.

I’m not exactly blowing the lid off a deep-dark secret, but the majority of Chinese food we eat in this country was probably invented in a New York City kitchen sometime in the 1950s. I base that statement on an admittedly limited amount of research, so do take it with a grain of salt (or MSG).

Dishes we know and love such as Kung Pao chicken, chop suey, beef and broccoli and General Tso’s anything are more than likely Americanized versions of dishes from different regions in China. In reality, if you were to jet to China, making stops in various provinces, such as Sichuan, Hunan or Guangdong, you would be hard pressed to find anything your American palate would even vaguely recognize. We Americans love sticky sweet and sour sauces. We love brown sauces. We don’t know why, we just do. And that’s okay.

But to better educate ourselves on the many wonders of different culinary cultures, it’s worth finding some authentic meals right here on our island. While some restaurants secretly have two menus (one for Americans and one for Asian-Americans), Chef Wang, www.chefwangny.com, at 1902 Jericho Tpke. in New Hyde Park, proudly places its authentic Sichuan cuisine right alongside the more traditionally Americanized Chinese dishes.

At this spacious restaurant with high ceilings and lots of charm from the staff, lesser-utilized animals and animal parts are given plenty of room to shine. The cold appetizer menu features items such as beef tendon, beef and ox tripe in chili sauce, spicy diced rabbit and sour and spicy jelly fish. I ordered the beef tendon, which is served with a mouth-numbing pepper rub. What’s truly amazing about beef tendon is its texture—it comes across as al dente noodles with a decidedly beefy background flavor.

The list of entrées on Wang’s authentic Sichuan menu will make any even remotely adventurous eater’s head spin. My eyes are tearing up just thinking about it. Pork intestines with bean pudding, cow belly and cow throat in hot chili oil, braised frogs with pickled peppers, spicy pork hock, grass carp head with minced spicy pepper, braised pork belly, griddle-cooked frog—Chef Wang expands multiple horizons with just one scan of its menu.

Griddle-cooked frog at Chef Wang
Griddle-cooked frog at Chef Wang

I settled on the griddle-cooked frog, along with the cow belly and cow throat in hot chili oil. While both were fiery in their own right, the cow belly/throat dish delivered an intensity that lit up the pain-pleasure section of my brain like Times Square. Long strips of cow belly and flat frayed squares of throat soaked up the hot oil, conveying a peppery bouquet of extreme heat.

The griddled-cooked frog had a smoky flavor with moments of charcoal-like depth. The prevailing opinion is that frog tastes like chicken. This is true to a degree, but it doesn’t tell the entire story. With frog, the eater knows this is an animal that spends time in the water, as a flavor reminiscent of shrimp peeks through with each bite.

Anyone familiar with Sichuan cuisine knows all about hot pots, an incendiary amalgamation of complex flavors simmering in a metal pot of stock, chili peppers, meat, vegetables and more. It’s a boiling pot of angry hellfire with a dizzying assault of flavor notes, including spicy, floral, sweet, sour, salty, bitter and smoky.

Best eaten inside the restaurant as opposed to take out, hot pots warm you during the winter months and help you sweat out any environmental toxins during severe summer months. It’s an experience to behold and it can be had without traveling to Chinatown or Flushing. New Hyde Park’s Chef Wang reaches deeper into Sichuan cuisine than hot pots. Be brave, take a chance and explore the menu. Just ask for extra napkins to dab the sweat from your brow.

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