The first time I went to Chengdu Taste, a Sichuan restaurant in Los Angeles, everything was a revelation. The dan dan noodles, the dumplings in red oil, all the things I’d eaten a million times before: suddenly I was seeing them in neon, fluorescent color when they had once been in black and white. It reminded me of a section in Land of Plenty, Fuchsia Dunlop’s cookbook that runs down the twenty-three combinations of flavors that define Sichuan cuisine. Usually, the only thing we ever really taste is ma la—numbing and spicy—and this place deals from a full deck: the real thing, done right and done well.
I couldn’t have been more excited by the news that Chengdu Taste had spun off a noodle shop, where they serve big tin mugs of noodle cooking water as a beverage and the Chengdu ZaJiang, a minced-pork noodle dish that chef Alex Feng so kindly shows us how to make here. —Peter Meehan
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 C water
- + vegetable oil
- 1 lb ground pork
- 5 T soy sauce
- 2 T Chinese sweet sauce (tian mian jiang) or hoisin sauce
- 1/2 C chicken broth
- 1/4 C jarred crushed Chinese chiles in oil
- 2 T ground Sichuan peppercorns
- 4 t melted pork fat
- 4 t sesame paste
- 1/4 C chopped scallions, plus more for garnish
- 2 lbs fresh ramen or lo mein noodles
Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat.
Make the garlic water: In a small bowl, combine the garlic with ¼ cup water. Set aside.
Heat a slick of vegetable oil in a large wok or sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the ground pork, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. When the pork begins to brown, add 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and the Chinese sweet sauce and cook through, another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the broth—the pork should look almost soupy—and cook for another 5 minutes. Keep warm.
Pull out 4 serving bowls. Into each bowl, add 1 tablespoon of chilies in oil, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, ½ teaspoon of Sichuan pepper, 2 teaspoons of the garlic water, 1 teaspoon of pork fat, 1 teaspoon of sesame paste, and 1 tablespoon of scallions.
Add the noodles to the boiling water and cook for 2 minutes. Drain the noodles and divide them among the serving bowls.
Top each bowl of noodles with a quarter of cooked pork. Garnish with scallions and serve.