Szechuan. Melbourne style.

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Having taken a recommendation from a certain american chef with a loose tongue and a passion for spice, we made our way to the Szechuan House for dinner. The dining room looks a lot bigger on the Travel Channel and the restaurant itself a lot more prominent. Wrapped tightly into a small, dark alleyway in the depths of Chinatown the Szechuan House was both culinary perfection and a cultural experience. Walking up the stairwell and into the restaurant, we temporarily left Melbourne and entered China. There was little English spoken. And we were a spectacle entering this room.

The menu was a picture book of duck tongues and blood custard and things we’d never seen in photographs, let alone in a kitchen. For the first time ever, we ordered carefully- nothing too daring. We teared through the menu considering the best option… Finally deciding on the pork in hot and spicy soup. Rice on the side. Seemed safe enough for two first timers: our new label in this jungle of food.

A huge pot soup arrived that appeared to be nothing but a heavy layer of chili peppers and oil -still sizzling. Two perfectly formed steaming bowls of rice. No spoons. No soup bowls. We stared at the soup. We looked at each other. I waved down the waiter and tried to ask how to eat the dish… Do we need bowls? He looked at me blankly, confused. He turned and walked away, came back just as confused with two empty bowls in his hands. They were set on the table in front of us with no explanation.

Still completely confused.

Dave dipped a chop stick into the deep abyss of oil-laden broth and peppers, exposing an underbelly of chopped chilies with a thicker broth bellow.
Dave: ‘this tastes better than any Chinese we’ve ever had’
Me: But how do we eat it?
Dave: I don’t know..

Panicked, we stared at the nearby tables, trying not to be too obvious. Watch and learn… Dip chop stick into broth, pull out first thing you catch, eat with rice… Leave broth in bowl. Repeat.

The table behind us got up to leave, and one of the men came over to us.
‘How do you like?’

‘It’s very good, we’ve never had anything like this before.’

‘Mmmm.. It’s usually too hot for people like you’ (pointing to our skin)

‘Yes’ we acknowledged, staring at the pile of chili peppers still sitting in front of us. ‘We imagine it is. But we’ve been practicing for a long time.’

His son laughed. He nodded his approval. ‘You’ll come back?’

‘Oh yes, we’ll be back.’. We will…

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