27 Apr 2020
These five classic Chinese dishes, offered by these MICHELIN Guide-listed restaurants in Hong Kong and Macau, feature both the distinctive and the unifying characteristics of regional cuisines across China.
Given how geographically vast and diverse China is, there is little wonder that the country is home to a wide range of regional cuisines. Though they share the same foundational cooking methods and many of the same basic ingredients, condiments, herbs, and spices — particularly ginger, scallions, garlic, soy sauce, and vinegar — the differences lie in how they combine them together, with which local products, and in what quantities, to create very distinctive regional characteristics and flavours.
While Cantonese cuisine is typified by a more refined and delicate style of cooking that showcases the freshness of the available ingredients through a light touch of seasoning and sauces, Sichuan cuisine revels in the fiery flavors of fresh and dried chilies and the uniquely numbing sensation caused by the famous Sichuan peppercorns. Though the provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang are close enough for many to lump their cuisines together as “Jiangzhe” cuisine, they each have their own signature characteristics. Chefs in Jiangsu typically use a heavier hand with garlic, scallion and ginger — with those in Suzhou showing a particular affinity for sweet and sour flavours — while chefs in Zhejiang aim for cleaner flavours.
We’ve selected five classic regional Chinese dishes that feature both the distinctive and the unifying characteristics of Chinese cuisines.
Lazi Ji (Spicy Deep-Fried Chicken)
Where to order it: Chilli Fagara in Hong Kong
MICHELIN Plate, MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong Macau 2020
“Lazi Ji is a Sichuan staple that is commonly found on every family dinner table where I’m from,” says Chilli Fagara’s head chef Chan Kai Ying, who was born in Chongqing, a municipality that shares the same culinary traditions as Sichuan, having only been officially separated from the province in 1997. In fact, the spicy deep-fried chicken dish is thought to have originated from just west of Chongqing in the township of Geleshan.
Pictured left: Chilli Fagara's Lazi ji (Photo: Chilli Fagara)
This spicy and numbing dish is tossed with plenty of Sichuan’s signature, bright red chillies and pairs perfectly with a bowl of steamed rice, according to Chan. The basic preparation typically involves marinating chicken thighs and cutting them into small pieces before deep-frying them to a golden brown and then tossing them with dried chillies and spices.
At Chilli Fagara, Chan first stir-fries the dried chillies and Sichuan peppercorn together with ginger, garlic, celery and Chinese leek to fully release their aroma before adding the fried chicken to the mix. They also purposefully cut the chicken into larger pieces for a more tender texture. “This also makes the chicken easier to spot, so everyone can simply dig in,” Chan laughs.
Starting with the best ingredients is essential for achieving authentic flavours. To that end, the Chilli Fagara team makes an annual pilgrimage to Sichuan to source fresh spices from trusted farmers. “You also need to have a good understanding of balancing the heat of the chilli peppers with the right amount of peppercorn for the desired numbing effect, all the while pairing those with the flavour that comes from adding other fragrant and fresh ingredients.”
Chan also makes little tweaks to the dish to better cater to the preferences of her Hong Kong clientele. The lazi ji at Chilli Fagara has a slightly milder spice profile than the original dish served in Chongqing and Sichuan. To make her dishes healthier, she only uses vegetable oil, and she has created similar versions of the dish using alternative sources of protein.
“Fresh seafood goes really well with the dried chillies, taking this simple classic to new heights and making for a delectable and unforgettable dish,” she says. “We also offer a mock chicken option made with soy for our vegetarian customers. It retains a similar texture and is both healthy and delicious.”