Leading up to this year's Best of L.A. issue (due out Oct. 4), we'll be counting down, in no particular order, 100 of our favorite dishes.
71: Hunan-Style Preserved Pork with Tofu at Hunan Chilli King.
Walking up to San Gabriel's Hunan Chili, located in a nondescript section of strip mall along Valley Boulevard, a woman standing near the door motioned over to me. "Is this place any good?" she asked, perhaps noting that I, like her, was one of the few non-Chinese people in the vicinity. "If you like spicy food it is," I said. Her expression turned into a look of uncertainty, and she asked me if they could make it non-spicy. Sure, I said, knowing full well that asking for non-spicy food at a Hunan place would be about as fruitful as asking for a NASCAR driver to keep the engine-revving to minimum.
The cooking of the Hunan province, a landlocked swath of fertile farmland in the middle of China, is not for the faint of heart: No Hunan dish is complete without a liberal dosing of sliced fire engine red chiles. At Hunan Chilli King, fresh chiles are everywhere. They're in the wok-seared shrimp, the cumin-spice lamb, the whole braised fish -- you name it. It's enough to make you feel for the dude in the back of the kitchen dicing up what must be endless parade of peppers.
The result is that every dish kind of looks the same, even if they taste complete different. A perennial favorite is Hunan's famous preserved pork belly -- bacon for all intents and purposes -- stir-fried with smoked tofu, bits of garlic and ginger, and an obscene amount of peppers. Historical records even suggest that this may have been one of Chairman Mao's favorite dishes. But take heart, even if you're not a supreme communist leader, you can brave the heat. There's plenty of white rice and Beijing-style yogurt drinks that come in cutesy Styrofoam cups.
Check out the rest of our 100 of our favorite dishes. Suggestion? Write us a comment.
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