I have traveled to Sichuan province (China) in 2003. Departing from Beijing with a friend, we had made the decision to experience traveling like the Chinese do when they go home, twice a year, when come the National Holidays, the first week of May and then the first week of October. All transportation modes included, it was said back then that “only” 15% of the Chinese population was traveling over a period of time of one week, and for China that meant about 210 millions people taking planes, trains, buses and minivans, all of them millions at the same time on October 1, 2 and 3, spending the week over in their hometown, and again traveling back to their work town on October 7, 8 and 9. In the year 2003, most of these traveling people could not afford plane tickets and would travel by train. So would we, for the experience.
With my friend, we rode the train from Beijing to Chengdu (capital city of Sichuan province) for 34 hours straight. That was one trip that left one of the biggest and most memorable impression ever on me, meeting amazing people from the deepest countryside along the way, sharing a bag of peanuts with our wagon’s neighbors, playing cards and dice games – Chinese style -, listening to the ongoing loud sound of noodles slurping and dried-beef chewing – sweet! Big lol. I couldn’t say the landscapes were amazing along the way because they were not really (the railway goes through nude areas), at least from what I have seen in daylight (we spent two nights in).
I do remember really well our arrival in Chengdu in the early hours of the day. The morning was chilly, but breathing fresh air was priceless and being able to walk outside was “new” again. Fifteen years ago, Chengdu was not yet very modern, but very stylish and simple, I thought. The afternoons were warm and humid in town, and old people were hanging out in the main Park everyday, drinking afternoon tea while sitting on bamboo chairs, and receiving massages under the nice shadow of huge trees. It was that very day that I discovered what spicy food really meant down in this world – guess I had no real (I mean, no real) idea about that before. I had Sichuan Gongpao Chicken, and I still remember there were more hot peppers than any other ingredients on my plate. It was a tough first experience, but I loved the surprise and the curiosity of such a cooking choice from the locals. When later in the month I got back to Guangzhou (Canton) where I lived, I went to a Sichuanese restaurant just 30 meters away from my building (The Bamboo Restaurant) and ordered for the very first time the famous Sichuan Eggplants. That was the beginning of my love story with this dish, that I am glad to share here. Most commonly it is a healthy vegetarian side dish that is served with plain white rice, but it honestly can go with just about anything you like, preferably something that ease the hot peppers fire down.
For the occasion, coincidence has it that I went to my grandmother’s this morning, and she gave me a bunch of old bowls she had at home, including that very bowl that I used for this eggplant dish. It looks kinda Chinese to me, but is that because of the typical colors or just because I know my grandma’s love for China and everything Asian? Have I ever mentioned this whole “love my expat life in China” is because of my grandmother who offered me my very first trip ever to China in 2000 before I moved there, and came along with me to visit and tour the country!? Great memories, amazing memories even! Now on to the food!
- 1 large eggplant
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 1 tsp of minced garlic
- 2 tbsp of sesame oil
- 1/2 tsp of ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp of ginger powder
- 1 tbsp of ground coriander
- 1 tsp of Cayenne pepper flakes
- 2 tbsp of clear soy sauce
- 1/2 tbsp of dark soy sauce
- 1 tbsp of oyster sauce
- 1,5 tbsp of Shaoxing wine
- 1 tsp of cider vinegar
- 1,5 tbsp of water
- Sesame seeds, for garnish
- Scallion greens, for garnish
- Cut the eggplant into wedges (not too thick)
- Prepare the sauce in a small bowl. Combine both soy sauces, oyster sauce, Shaoxing wine, vinegar and water.
- In a large pan or a wok, heat the oil and cook the eggplant wedges until they turn golden brown and sticky. Reserve.
- In the same pan, add a bit more oil if needed, and stir-fry the shallots.
- Add the garlic, the Cayenne, ginger and coriander, and combine it all until it all gets really fragrant.
- Put back the eggplants into the pan and immediately pour the sauce over. Stir well to coat well the eggplant wedges.
- Garnish with sesame seeds and scallion greens.
- Serve warm.
Created and Written by Sophie Rebibo-Halimi. © 2017 All Rights Reserved.