Dry Pot hits with a big flavorful punch
Dry Pot, or GānGuō, is the ultimate ALL THE FLAVORS ALL THE TIME dish of Chengdu. The crispy fried goodness hits you in the face with a spicy, tingling, umami punch. It is packed with potatoes (let’s be honest they’re basically French fries), veggies, peanuts, all the spices you can think of and your choice of meat(s). This can range from rabbit to ribs, duck tongues or chicken feet.
Dry pot shares many of the same base ingredients as a traditional Sichuan hot pot – douban, fermented soy beans, ginger, garlic, chili oil and a liberal dose of chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns. It is fried on high heat though, without soup, and comes out crispy, spicy and aromatic with a deep flavor you can smell coming all the way from the kitchen.
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While much of Sichuan food is based on a delicate balance of flavors, dry pot is heavy handed, in a good way, and as such has become a great ambassador for the bold flavors of the region for those that seek them out. A relatively new creation (given the long history of the food here) the dish’s popularity has recently spread across China, and now across the world. It is the big, bad-ass Sichuan dish you have been dreaming of.
We talked with our friend Amelie Kang, a Beijinger who moved to NYC and opened a dry pot restaurant called Mala Jihua or the Mala Project (not to be confused with the amazing Mala Project blog run by our other friend Taylor Holliday). She is sharing the Sichuan food love and helping bring a new style of dishes to a new demographic of eaters in downtown New York. Here’s what she has to say about Gan Guo, Chinese food in the US, and Chengdu.
How did you get into dry pot (your from Beijing not Sichuan) ?
I became a fan of Drypot when I had it for the first time in Beijing about 10 years ago. During that time, Drypot was a big thing there, in fact it still is. It’s not just loved in Sichuan. My family would go at least once a week to gather around that one giant bowl of meats and veggies and embrace the tremendous flavors.
Being a fairly new creation in Chinese cuisine, drypot is’nt one of those dishes with hundreds of years of history, but it fit in well in big cities in modern China. It’s customizable, fast, festive, and incredibly flavorful. So my two main reasons for opening a drypot restaurant were 1) to solve nostalgia, since the only drypots you can find in New York are from food courts with mediocre flavor; and 2) I thought New York would appreciate something like this – fast, customizable, and full of flavor.
Who are your clients/where are they from?
Approximately 50% of them are New Yorkers (including Asian Americans), so the local demographic makes up the biggest part of our market. After that the biggest group (around 40%) would be Chinese people who are working or studying in New York and looking for a taste of home. The remaining 10% are tourists from all over the world.
How do Americans react to authentic Sichuan Cuisine?
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Sichuan food, authentic or not, is definitely a major focus of many Chinese restaurants right now, primarily because Americans love it (in both forms). While we still get phone calls asking for General Tso’s Chicken and Orange Chicken, people are definitely becoming more educated about authentic Sichuan cuisine and Chinese cuisine in general. They also love the idea of our spices – they often ask about the medicinal roles of the traditional Chinese ingredients that we put in our drypot and how that fits into TCM. We hear lots of clients explaining this to friends they bring along the next time they visit.
Many customers are also comfortable with our Super Spicy drypot! At the same time, we are trying to promote the idea that Sichuan food doesn’t exclusively mean spicy. There’s non spicy food that has an important place in Sichuan cuisine and our American customers are accepting that idea as well.
What role does this food play for overseas Chinese?
Sichuan food is dominating Chinese restaurants in New York right now, especially in Manhattan. No matter where you are from in China, Sichuan food (drypot too, hopefully) is a reminder of the tastes of home. I guess the role of Chinese food is simply as a form of nostalgia, and it has served as a solution for Chinese immigrants for the longest time to help reconnect them with the feelings and lavors of the homeland. Recently, many new Chinese restaurants have opened with great branding and ambiance and a different feel than the standard Chinese restaurants of the previous generation – hopefully we are finding another way to express ourselves through our food culture.
Where is your favorite memory of drypot?
It’s tacky, but Chuan Cheng Yuan (川成元) has always been my family’s go-to place. The flavor actually isn’t the best, but it’s a tradition so I still only go there if I’m in Beijing. However, I am also in love with the gan guo at 情妹妹干锅锅 (Qing Mei Mei Gang Guo), although its a but of a different version of drypot than we make.
What’s your impression of Chengdu?
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It is incredible and doesn’t know it!!!
I mean people in Chengdu are very proud, in such a down to earth way. You can have one of the best meals in your life at the most random little shop by a sidewalk. Chengdu made me fell in love with tea as well. The people there really know how to live a good life.
When you come to Chengdu, what is the first thing you eat?
Rabbit heads. And I’ll do it again, first thing, next time I land in Chengdu.
Amen to that!
Want to get that Gan Guo? Let us know and we can work it into a tour for you. Our pleasure….really.