In the March 1st issue of the New Yorker, the most fun piece to read is "Where's Chang?" by Calvin Trillin. Despite being a big eater of
Szechuan ( ) cuisine, I'd never heard of Peter Chang before, but I’ve converted to a "Changian" afterwards. :-) I also didn't know a restaurant critic's writing could be as delicious as the food – just read Todd Kliman's description of Chang's Roast Fish: Sichuan
…really, a heaping plate of expertly fried fish, dusted with cumin, topped off with chopped ginger, fried parsley and diced chilies and served in a thatched bamboo pouch.
And John Binkley's comment on an off-the-menu special provided by Chang:
…crispy eggplant cut like French fries and salt-fried with scallion greens, a hint of cumin, and hot pepper. To die for!
Why not. From now on I'll be searching for Peter Chang whenever I travel.
Calvin Trillin is such a poised essayist, who is capable of turning a food piece into a thriller. This essay about Peter Chang is structured like a detective story, following each clue from Chang's frequent disappearances and his loyal followers' persistent efforts at tracking him down.
Those eaters' faithful following of Chang's authentic cooking seems to indicate an increasingly more sophisticated taste for Chinese food among Americans. As a Sichuanese living in
New England, one thing I hate the most is the pervasive existence of take-out places that produce Americanized, fake food. Whenever I hear an American praising that kind of food I immediately get a toothache. Worse, the majority of Sichuan chefs fall into the awful demand trap and cater to American’s taste expectations; as a consequence it has become very hard to find great Sichuan cuisine in the Sichuan area. Boston
Fortunately, as I mentioned in a previous post, an excellent newcomer in the Framingham area is Red Pepper, whose chef is a down-to-earth Chongqing man nick-named Old Black, who really knows how to cook. He doesn't use cumin often, as cumin was not commonly used in traditional
dishes, but Red Pepper does offer a dish named "Cumin Flavored Beef with Chili Sauce," which sounds like a variation of something that might be on Peter Chang's menu. It tastes great. Sichuan
Even Red Pepper sometimes caters to American tastes. When we lived in
, one dish Bob and I loved was Dan-Dan Noodles. Naturally that was the first thing we ordered from Red Pepper. The noodles tasted not bad, but were unlike their Sichuan namesake, without even the signature ingredient of sesame butter. The manager told us "Americans don't like real Dan-Dan Noodles," so they modified it. Thankfully, under our persistence, they’ve added back the sesame. Chongqing
On a related note, if you are interested in international recipes, it might be worth checking out Matthew Lubin's blog The Laowai Kitchen, written in both English and Chinese.