March 2021: Sichuan Dipping Chilies and Yunnan Sweet Soy Sauce

March 21, 2021

March 2021: Sichuan Dipping Chilies and Yunnan Sweet Soy Sauce

Porky Goodness 

Greetings, Friends of The Mala Market!

We've got some new products for you this month! They include Sichuan dipping chilies (you know you want to know what that is!), a famous sweet soy sauce from Yunnan and two of the most frequently used noodles in Sichuan. 

We've also got several new recipes and our usual newsy tidbits, so let's get to it!

🌶Taylor & Fongchong 🌶

P.S. Please read to the bottom to see how you can help stir-fry guru Grace Young save  Manhattan's Chinatown—one of America's oldest, and most endangered, immigrant neighborhoods—with oyster sauce!

Sichuan Dipping Chilies (Gan Die)
Sichuan Dipping Chilies (Gan Die)

This irresistible blend of chilies, Sichuan pepper and numerous other seasonings and secret ingredients is called gan die in Mandarin, meaning dry dish, but a better translation for this condiment in English is chili dip or dipping chilies. 

This ready-to-eat spice blend makes a frequent appearance in Sichuan, served as a dry dip with Sichuan hot pot, and especially with the kind of hot pot called chuan chuan where the food is cooked on skewers. It is also sprinkled on and served alongside Sichuan-style shao kao BBQ. We've seen it served with small dishes like cured meats, salt-roasted whole new potatoes and fried snacks. Though it's usually eaten as a dip, feel free to sprinkle it on fresh fruit, raw vegetables and popcorn too. 

This particular blend of dipping chilies is the best one we've ever tasted, made for us in Chengdu by a small company that also supplies it to a famous hot pot chain. It is nicely spicy, but not too hot to enjoy in generous amounts. Eat our dipping chilies straight from the jar or mix them with crushed roasted peanuts for a second popular and addictive dip.

Sichuan pepper-studded little crispy pork (xiao su rou)
Sichuan Pepper-Studded Little Crispy Pork


This dish called xiao su rou, or little crispy pork, is deep-fried fatty pork studded with plenty of numbing Sichuan pepper. I adapted the recipe from the WeChat cooking videos of our partner Sichuan Pixian Douban Co., after having eaten it in Chengdu several times—often preceding hot pot. 

If you like pork and fried things, I probably don't have to convince you how good this is on its own, especially since there are Sichuan peppercorns embedded in the batter—but why not take it over the top with Sichuan dipping chilies on the side? It's the perfect drinking food. 

Kunming Tuodong Sweet Soy Sauce
Kunming Tuodong Sweet Soy Sauce
Yunnan famously uses sweet soy sauce in the sauce for cold noodle dishes. It is also very similar to what is called aromatic sweet soy sauce used in Sichuan sauces, though perhaps a bit less salty. We suggest using it in "strange flavor" sesame noodles and for making Sichuan's Zhong dumplings—mix equal parts sweet soy sauce and Zhongba soy sauce with ZinDrew crunchy garlic chili oil (or your favorite chili oil) for a mind-blowing dumpling sauce. We routinely add it to marinades for meat and to braises as well. 
Chinese cured pork belly (la rou)
Definitive La Rou Guide

In our last newsletter we pointed you toward our managing editor Kathy's step-by-step guide to making her family's Sichuan wind-cured pork belly and invited you to join us in the curing process. 

Now that your la rou is done, she has followed up with recipes for not one, not three, but seven (easy) ways to prepare your cured-pork project in what we're calling the Definitive Guide to Cooking La Rou

You can:
  • smoke it (traditional but optional)
  • boil it
  • steam it
  • steam it with rice
  • steam it with rice and a Cantonese sweet soy sauce glaze
  • stir-fry it with vegetables such as cauliflower
  • stir-fry it with bell peppers and fermented black beans, or douchi (top photo)
Now that the weather is cooperating in more parts of the country, spring may be the perfect time for you to attempt making this gift that keeps on giving (especially if you're like Kathy's family and make enough for a year!).
Stir-fried la rou in bean sauces
La Rou Stir-Fried in Bean Sauces

As if the seven recipes above weren't enough, Kathy and Mala Mama couldn't help themselves from stir-frying la rou with The Mala Market's fermented bean sauces for a savory, smoky cousin to twice-cooked pork. Our 3-year Ye Feng He Hao Pixian douban, 1-year red-oil douban and tian mian jiang (fermented wheat sauce) mingle with green chilies and dougan (pressed toufu) in a total love match. 
Sichuan Wheat Noodles (Lamian for Dan Dan Mian and Soups)
Sichuan Wheat Noodles (Lamian for Dan Dan Mian and Soups)
Because you've asked for it, we're doing another trial run of some of the most popular noodles used in Sichuan. We sourced these in the U.S. from another importer, but they are made in Nanchong, Sichuan, as a go-to noodle for dan dan mian and other dry noodles (zajiang mianYibin ran mian ) as well as soup noodles (so good in Instant Pot Sichuan red-braised beef noodle soup). 

This is a giant, 4 pound bag—making about 18 single servings of the typical 100 gram size—because if you are going to pay to ship noodles, it makes sense to stock up! 
Sweet Potato Noodles (Glass Noodles, Gluten Free)
Sweet Potato Noodles (Glass Noodles, Gluten Free)

These medium-thick, round noodles are made from sweet potato starch and are gluten-free. They have a springy, chewy texture that stands up to liquid, which makes them quite distinct from rice or wheat noodles. Also called glass noodles in English, they don't get sticky or gooey or fall apart but retain their bite and heft, while also being a slippery challenge for chopsticks. Many of us think they are the perfect noodle.

Try them in suan la fen (sour and spicy noodle soup), the famous "ants climbing a tree" or as a delicious addition to mala hot pot.

Frankie of Vegetarian Dim Sum
Help Grace Help Chinatown

Because our friend Grace Young, the iconic Chinese cookbook author, introduced us to Megachef Oyster Sauce and suggested we carry it, we are now donating $1 from every bottle sold to help her help Chinatown. 

Grace has been working tirelessly to bring attention to the fact that the pandemic has been devastating for Chinatown businesses (in Manhattan and elsewhere). Restaurants report having 20% to 30% of the business they had pre-COVID and are hanging by a thread, which is draining the life out of one of New York City's most vibrant neighborhoods. 

Grace spends part of almost every day in the neighborhood, visiting restaurants and assessing the situation. So every month Grace will select a Chinatown restaurant in dire need of short-term assistance to receive our donation—directly from us to her to the business owner (no fees attached or deducted). 

Here is Grace's note to me about her March choice:

"My heart is aching from a day in Chinatown. I met Frankie Chu, owner of Vegetarian Dim Sum, who told me there have been days he makes [almost nothing] in sales. Pre-COVID he worked the front of the house and would occasionally help out in the kitchen. Now on Mon, Tues and Wed he is in charge of all the cooking. The food is so good at Vegetarian Dim Sum. The restaurant is known for their excellent mock meats and they make their gluten in house. He’s been in business since 1996."

If you can get to Chinatown, please pay Frankie a visit!

And if you'd like to further assist Chinatown, you can contribute to Grace Young's Support Chinatown Fund through March 15.  Administered by the nonprofit Welcome to Chinatown, these funds will go to four of the oldest legacy restaurants to keep their doors open by purchasing meals from them to feed the community's low income, food-insecure senior residents.