Inching towards that numbing sensation


  • Eating Out
  • Wednesday, 11 Mar 2020

Mushroom Herbs Seabass (front) and Spicy Fragrant Seabass. — Photos: P. NATHAN/The Star

EXPECTING to be assaulted by the bold, spicy and numbing flavours of Sichuan food is a reason why some shy away from the cuisine.

Its hot and spicy flavours have the ability to stop diners in their tracks with some reaching for iced water to douse the heat while others brave on. The cuisine from China’s southwestern province is certainly not for the faint-hearted.

Distinct for its use of chilli peppers and dried red chillies, there are also other common ingredients such as broad bean chilli paste, cloves, star anise, garlic and ginger, which are used in braising, stewing, dry-frying and stir-frying methods.

Sichuan food is known for that fiery punch and numbing sensation and is by far, China’s most popular export, food-wise.

Neighbouring Chongqing, which was once part of the Sichuan province, shares similarities in the food culture with familiar red and hot notes.

One aspect of Chongqing cooking is its grilled fish served in Sichuan hotpot comprising over 20 herbs and spices.

Spicy Chicken Cubes packs in a lot of heat on the palate at Chong Qing Grilled Fish.Spicy Chicken Cubes packs in a lot of heat on the palate at Chong Qing Grilled Fish.

Today, Chongqing flavours can be experienced right here in the Klang Valley.

The popularity of hotpot meals that centre around the tradition of family and friends bonding over food encouraged Chong Qing Grilled Fish, which has restaurants in Singapore, to venture into Kuala Lumpur.

What makes Chong Qing’s hotpot interesting is that the fish is grilled then served in a savoury broth.

With the fish’s charred appeal lending aroma to the hotpot, a harmonious blend of flavours caress the palate with generous inclusion of peanuts and sesame seeds offering crunch and texture.

Thankfully, not every hotpot item is fiery and dangerous. There are eight hotpot options with spicy fragrant, spicy numbing, pickled cabbage, hot and sour, mushroom herbs, fermented black bean, fresh chillies and chopped chilli pepper.

There is a choice of sea bass, golden snapper, red tilapia, Temerloh patin and silver pomfret offered.

While the tendency among locals is to opt for the spicy fragrant hotpot, I was told that Chinese nationals have no qualms placing an order for the spicy numbing broth.

The difference between the two is the peppercorn oil in the spicy numbing flavour.

Fragrant and crunchy Mala Fish Skin (front) and the flavourful Double-cooked Spicy Pork Slices.Fragrant and crunchy Mala Fish Skin (front) and the flavourful Double-cooked Spicy Pork Slices.

While chatting with the restaurant manager, I learned that some ingredients are from China as these are essential to replicate the burning sensation Sichuan cooking is known for.

We played safe with the spicy fragrant and mushroom herbs with sea bass for the hotpot bath.

So, step 1 is to choose the fish; step 2 – pick the broth, step 3 – identify your preferred level of spiciness before step 4, which is choosing the sides.

There are more than 30 sides here with a variety of bean curd, mushrooms, fish balls, pork balls, quail eggs, crab sticks and pork slices, among others.

Boiling over constant fire, this hotpot experience is unlike the steamboat fare common in the city where diners keep throwing ingredients in the pot and soup is replenished every time it runs short.

In the Chongqing hotpot, the sides are included in the deep platter that the fish is served in. Have this with rice and other side dishes to complete your meal.

Salted Egg Calamari with Thai Herbs (front) and Lijiang Fragrant Spicy Fried Rice with Shredded Pork.Salted Egg Calamari with Thai Herbs (front) and Lijiang Fragrant Spicy Fried Rice with Shredded Pork.

It being my first experience trying Chongqing hotpot, the bean curd skin, enoki mushrooms and vegetables filled me up nicely so there was no need for carbohydrates.

Instead of rice, deep-fried mantou buns would have been ideal to soak up the rich broth brimming with flavour.

We also ordered other dishes to taste the signature items there.

The notoriously hot Spicy Chicken Cubes is a must-have, so are the Salted Egg Fish Skin, Salted Egg Calamari with Thai Herbs and Double-cooked Spicy Pork Slices.

Other dishes that are customers’ favourites include Stir-fried Garlic Butter Clams, Oyster Omelette, Lijiang Fragrant Spicy Fried Rice with Shredded Pork, Pork Knuckles and Dry Pot Prawns.

The extensive offering helps assure diners averse to spicy food that there is something in there for them too.

CHONG QING GRILLED FISH, 1st Floor, VO6-01-06, Signature 2, Sunway Velocity, Kuala Lumpur. (Tel: 03-2382 1786). Business hours: Noon to 3pm, 5pm to 2am (weekdays), noon to 2am (weekends). Non-halal.

This is the writer’s personal observation and not an endorsement by StarMetro.

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