Chilli and Chilli Oil in Chinese Cuisine

Chilli is famous in Chinese traditional medicine for its properties: it can help improving poor digestion and increasing appetite. It also has, however, its disadvantages: possible diarrhea or stomach pain.

There is a famous Chinese saying: if a pregnant woman has a strong desire for chilli, she will most likely have a daughter. Also, pregnant women should not have too much chilli, otherwise the child will have very bad temper.

In China, different regions have different kinds of chilli. Of course, the most famous one is Sichuan’s chilli, which is well-known worldwide.

When I went to Sichuan for collecting data for my university graduation work, even me, who could have just chilli and bread for a meal, found it difficult to take. Every single dish in Sichuan had chilli in it, even egg fried rice was not an exception.

Apparently, it is because of the damp weather in Sichuan that people love to have chilli and have a good sweat to get rid of the dampness in their bodies. You may think that someone having so much chilli would have really bad skin. Quite the opposite, all the Sichuan girls I have met had the most smooth fine skin I have ever come across.

The spicy chilli in Sichuan regional food is different from the chilli we would normally find. Their chilli is not only just the red or green chili we normally use, but, and most importantly, it is comes from ‘Sichuan peppercorn’. Authentic Sichuan food is always characterized by the taste of its chilli.

This is how Sichuan chilli tastes: at first, it is difficult to tell that it is actually spicy, but after chewing and before swallowing, a mixed ‘chilli (cold)’ and ‘hot spicy’ feeling starts spreading out through mouth and throat. It is difficult to describe, you have to try it, you will know what I mean.

When people come to talk about chilli in Chinese food, they often forget about the chilli in Northeastern cuisine, since its chilli is not as famous as in Sichuan or Hunan. We do have, however, many dishes with chilli, and chilli oil can be seen in almost every restaurant.

I always like to have some chilli oil at home. It is useful for cooking dishes, preparing salad, or eating with dumplings or noodles.

Here’s how to make chilli oil from scratch.

Ingredients

  • Soy oil or vegetable oil.
  • Crushed red chilli or whole red chilli (the latter one is more spicy).

Preparation

  • Pour 1 cup of oil in a heated wok (depends on how much you want to prepare).
  • When the oil is hot, put the chilli in the wok. (I used 1/4 cup of crushed chilli).
  • Let the chilli get a little bit burnt (you can see the change of the colour or can smell it).
  • Turn off the fire, let it cool down, and transfer a bowl or a bottle for later use.
  • If you don’t like the chilli pieces in the oil, you can use a sifter when transferring the oil.