Fu Qi Fei Pian
Commonly rendered on English language menus as ox tongue and tripe—has a romantic backstory. The dish is a mountain of cold, frilly-edged ribbons of beef tripe and tongue, often bolstered with translucent sheets of tendon and washed in spiced broth, chili oil, and Sichuan peppercorns, then topped with roasted peanuts, cilantro, and in some cases, fragrant Chinese celery. The husband and wife who purportedly invented the offal extravaganza were said to have such a harmonious union that the dish’s name, fu qi fei pian, translates to “man and wife lung slices.”
Kung Pao Chicken (gong bao ji ding)
The dish was a favorite repast of Ding Baozhen, a late Qing Dynasty governor of Sichuan, whose official title was gong bao. Its origins are lost in the steamy, languid air of Sichuan, but theories abound. One posits that Ding Baozhen brought it with him from his home province of Guizhou; another that he ate it in a modest restaurant when he went out in humble dress to observe the real lives of his subjects; and yet another had his chef inventing the finely chopped chicken dish because the governor had bad teeth.
Ma Po Tofu (pock-marked grandmother tofu)
This dish of wobbly cubes of silken tofu awash in a fiery ma la sauce, heightened by the addition of salty sweet black beans and ground beef, takes its name from its alleged inventor, a pock-marked granny whose name has been lost to history.
Water Poached Fish (shui zhu yu)
I like to think of this fiery fish dish as the pescatarian’s answer to ma po tofu, but only because it involves pieces of protein cooked in a somewhat thinner spicy sauce. Ma po’s heat is somewhat tempered by the sweet black beans, but shui zhu yu is a full-on ma la assault whose angry-looking broth includes dou ban jiang, Sichuan peppercorn, red chilies, and garlic. With plenty of cabbage and other veggies, it is as delightful on a winter’s night as it is on a steamy summer afternoon.
Zhong shui jiao
tender pork filled dumplings bathed with sweetened soy sauce and chili oil and crowned with a dab of garlic paste, take their name from their inventor, one Zhong Xiesen.
Dry Fried String Beans (gan bian dou jiao)
Sometimes known as “burnt toast” string beans, this dish involves stir frying the beans for a prolonged time in oil until they scorch, shrivel, and dehydrate. Smoky, savory, and spicy, the beans are crunchy yet tender, and go great with white rice.