January 2024: Aged Mandarin Peel + Asian Chocolates

January 11, 2024

January 2024: Aged Mandarin Peel + Asian Chocolates

It's a New Year

Greetings, Friends of The Mala Market

I hope your year is off to a delicious start. I ended 2023 and kicked off 2024 by reading Fuchsia Dunlop's magnum opus Invitation to a Banquet, the history of Chinese food in all its glory. Rather than devour it all at once, I'm taking my time with it, slowly savoring every thought-provoking, hunger-inducing morsel. If you missed your chance to get a signed copy during her U.S. book tour, it's not too late because we have a few more signed books newly in stock. But act fast, because when they're gone, they're gone...

Also newly in stock is our annual selection of premium handmade chocolates with Asian flavors—a Valentines treat for you or someone you love. 

And making its debut is our newly imported Xinhui Chenpi, also known as aged mandarin peel from Xinhui, in Guangdong. It adds an intriguing bittersweet citrus flavor to orange chicken and so much more. 

No sooner has the calendar new year celebration ended than we start counting down to the lunar new year, which this year is February 10. We'll be launching a couple new products before then that will make your Year of the Dragon celebration particularly festive. Watch this space.

Happy 2024!

🌶 Taylor & Fongchong 🌶

P.S. Our Chili Oil and Crisp Collection is also back in stock, for those who weren’t quick enough to snag one when it launched. 

Aged Mandarin Peel (Sun-Dried Tangerine Peel, Xinhui Chenpi)
Aged Mandarin Peel (Sun-Dried Tangerine Peel, Xinhui Chenpi)

Often translated as tangerine peel, chenpi is actually the peel of the mandarin, a small, slightly flat citrus native to China. The loose skin of the mandarin is the most valuable part of the fruit. It contains 24 kinds of volatile oil components and a high number of flavonoids (according to Baidu Wiki), making it desirable for both culinary and medicinal purposes. 

Like many heritage products in China, Xinhui chenpi, or dried mandarin peel from Xinhui, has national geographical indication, officially honoring the district of Jiangmen city in Guangdong province as the maker of the most prized chenpi in China. 

Dried mandarin peels are used to impart a bittersweet orange fragrance and flavor to braises and to a few famous dishes such as chenpi beef or duck, orange chickentangerine peel fried pork ribs and Cantonese stir-fried clams (recipes from our affiliates). 

The mandarin peels are sun-dried and aged anywhere from 1 to 30 years, becoming darker, harder and sweeter over time. For Traditional Chinese Medicine, the older the  peel the better, with the oldest commanding luxury-goods prices. 

For our purposes here, which are first and foremost culinary, we have sourced an affordable 2-year-old Xinhui chenpi cut in large segments. Soak them in warm water to soften, for no more than 30 minutes, before use. Scrape the pith from the softened skin to remove bitterness. 

If using chenpi in a braise, you might want to complement it with other aromatic and healing Chinese spices, as in photo at top. 

Deux Cranes Collection (Milk Chocolate Ginger, Matcha Sesame, Dark Miso Almond)
Deux Cranes Collection (Milk Chocolate Ginger, Matcha Sesame, Dark Miso Almond)

Milk chocolate with crystalized ginger and sesame; white chocolate with green tea and caramelized sesame seed; dark chocolate with almonds roasted in miso. Need we say more? 

No, other than that they are handmade in California and are as delightful to look at as they are to eat. Make someone swoon with these. 

Andrew Zimmern's Chinese sesame noodles

Thanks, Andrew

Do you subscribe to Andrew Zimmern's Substack newsletter? We do, and it's not just because he so frequently uses and recommends Mala Market products (see above). It's also because he has a great mix of content: video recipes; chats with readers where he answers any and all questions; and extensive restaurant recommendations for every town from Omaha to Singapore. 

I don't believe we've ever sent him freebies (we don't have the budget for much of that), but he's a longtime paying customer nonetheless. We are eternally flattered and grateful that he spreads the word. 

Check out this video and recipe for his unique take on Chinese sesame noodles, using our knife-cut noodles, caiziyou and 6-year Zhenjiang vinegar

Chili Oil and Crisp Collection
Chili Oil and Crisp Collection

The message here is, You don't have to choose! The varying modern versions of the age-old Chinese condiment provide different tastes and textures for different dishes and days.

These four brands are all moderately hot and have no additives or preservatives. Take the lids off and taste them all for a magical mystery chili oil tour.

Blank Slate Kitchen Sichuan Chili Oil
This is a traditional-style fragrant chili oil flavored with only aromatics and Chinese spices. It is about 2/3 oil, 1/3 crisp, and can be used as an ingredient in sauces or as a condiment. Its main flavor note is numbing Sichuan pepper backed by multiple Chinese warm spices.

The Mala Market's Chengdu Crispy Chili Oil
This is a Chengdu-style chili crisp, built on a base of Chinese chilies, Sichuan pepper and roasted rapeseed oil with crispy nuts and hints of soy-sauce umami. Made by national-level master chefs in Sichuan, it is about 2/3 oil and 1/3 crisp and is meant to be used in Sichuan sauces as well as as an everyday condiment.

KariKari Garlic Chili Crisp
Crispy, crunchy KariKari features whole slices of garlic along with bits of peanut, fermented soybean and shallot soaking up every last bit of the oil. Use this Japan-inspired crisp hand-crafted in Seattle not so much in cooking, but as a crunchy, super-umami condiment.

Hot Pot Queen Wild Mushroom Chili Sauce
Showing another face of chili oil, this one is truly more of a sauce than a chili oil—thicker, chunkier and more chewy than crispy. Similarly, while it also features hot chilies and fermented soybeans, its defining taste is the titular wild mushrooms, namely varieties of shiitake and porcini from the mountains of Yunnan. Made in Chongqing.