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Taste of Sichuan, beyond peppercorns

( China Ddaily ) Updated: 2015-04-09 08:51:15

Taste of Sichuan, beyond peppercorns

Chengdu, the ancient gateway to the southern Silk Road, has long been a magnet for visitors who love food. Dinner at Shunxing Teahouse. Mike Peters / China Daily

When I was making plans to visit Chengdu, my Western friends wanted to know if I was going to see pandas. (Yes.) My Chinese friends asked if I was planning to eat a local delicacy: rabbit head. (Uh ... maybe? But on Easter weekend?)

The most authentic rabbit head restaurant, according to various reports, is Old Mother From Shuangliu's Rabbit Head, located near Shuangliu Old Station. Locals say "old mother" was selling hotpot at her shop-originally located where the airport sits today-but in the back she often prepared rabbit head for her son, who apparently craved this dish with the homemade sauce he grew up eating. Her hotpot customers "went crazy for it when they got a taste", and the rest is history, or at least her story.

How popular is eating rabbit head here? Local farm production can't keep up with demand-rabbits are now being imported from France for breeding, the Wall Street Journal recently reported.

I did in fact try rabbit's head while strolling along Jinli Street, also known as Chengdu's snack street. You might guess that eating these is a tricky business, requiring the patience and perseverance one needs to eat crabs or lobster.

Cooking these egg-sized goodies is involved, too. First, rabbit heads should be blanched in hot water, then soaked in a mixture of salt, rice wine and ginger for 12 hours. Next comes stewing and then steeping with different flavorings depending on the cook: cinnamon, fennel and chilies are favorites. Finally, they are seasoned with sesame and chili powder and served.

Most delectable, Chinese standing around one vendor tell me, are the cheeks, the tongue and the brain. To get down to business, crack open the jaw and tear the whole head into two halves. The cheeks were the easiest (to contemplate and to eat), and like the tongue these tidbits of meat are quite tasty. I fear I funked my tentative approach to the brain, but a young German girl traveling in our group pronounced the entire eating experience "excellent" and, you guessed it, "tastes like chicken".

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