Experience Sichuan Culture with Face Swapping and Kung Fu Tea at Chili House

Over the next few weeks, Chili House SF invites you to take a deep dive into authentic Chinese culture and experience one of the most unique and mesmerizing performances in the world, as we graciously host renowned artist Xumin Liu , master of Gong Fu (or “Kung Fu”) tea and Bian Lian, or “face swapping”.

kung fu tea at chili house sf

Kung Fu Tea is a traditional form of tea brewing that quite literally translates to “making tea with skill”, traces its roots all the back to the 3 rd century. The overall process, which puts heavy emphasis on quality ingredients, water chemistry, and temperature, helps to bring out and improve the flavors and aroma of the tea, heightening the drinker’s experience.

Liu’s accompanies his performance by serving his tea with complex and acrobatic pours, utilizing long spouted copper teakettles. As Liu has noted, the use of the teakettles goes far beyond the shear spectacle. The resulting pour from the special kettle helps unlock the flavors upon the pour , further heightening the experience.

bian lian or chinese face changing by xumin liu Bian Lain , or “face swapping” is an ancient dramatic Chinese art and staple of operas in the Sichuan province. Performers in ornate masks and costumes will conduct choreographed moves and dances, all while swapping the color and style of the mask they are wearing at what appears to be fractions of a second. The techniques utilized by the true Bian Lain masters are as heavily guarded as American magicians secrets, with stories of actors offering tens of thousands of dollars to learn the secrets behind the art .

Xumin Liu, a native of the Sichuan province, began studying and practicing the art of Gong Fu tea in his early 20’s, while under the wing of known tea master Shifu Chen. Liu complemented these skills by training in the martial art of Wushu at a Taoist monastery on the Quigcheng Mountian. His background in martial arts helps give his Gong Fu performances an added level of fluidity and athleticism, capturing the awe of all who come to see him (including world famous California chef Alice Waters ).

About ten years ago, famed face-swapping artist Shimen Lu took one of Liu’s Gong Fu performances in Korea and immediately recognized his natural talent and presence. That performance lead to Lu offering to take Liu under his wing and teach him the coveted art of face swapping. After years of practice, Liu includes a face-swapping aspect into all his dinner shows, rounding out a truly magical performance.

Liu will be gracing our diners with his one-of-a-kind performances over the next eight weeks, giving you ample time to come plan an excursion out to the our Inner Richmond location to take in a once in a lifetime dining experience. As we want all of our diners to be able to take in one of Liu’s shows, we suggest calling ahead to ensure Liu will be performing during your visit.

We hope to see you there, you will not want to miss it!

Chinese New Year Events Around San Francisco in 2018

Since the mid 1800s, San Francisco has been ground zero for the most vibrant Chinese New Year celebrations in North America. As a long time haven for immigrants and ex-pats looking to establish a life in West, the growing Chinese population quickly established cultural roots in the city and helped establish the worlds most well known Chinatown outside of Asia. By the 1860’s, community began using the New Year celebration to not expose westerners to their culture, but also incorporate elements of American holiday festivities, such as the parade. As a result, the Chinese New Year Parade was established.

Over time, the celebrations became bigger and bigger, evolving into a festival spanning two weeks and featuring a plethora of fun events. This year marks the Year of the Dog (year 4716 on the lunar calendar), and the city has been hard a work making sure this years celebration goes off without a hitch. Below you will find some of these years events you will not want to miss!

Mini Procession Preview and Ribbon Cutting (Feb. 10th)

The mini procession review is the perfect place to get a sneak-peek at some of the floats that will feature prominently in the upcoming larger parade. This event follows the original parade route used over 150 years ago. Beginning at St. Mary’s Square and ending at the Flower Market Fair’s main stage (on Washington below Grant), the parade concludes with a ceremonial ribbon cutting attended by city official and honored guests (signifying the official opening of the festival). Guests in attendance will enjoy lion dancers, drummers, giant puppets and other performances. Read more here .

Flower Market Fair (Feb. 10th – 11th)

Immediately following the mini parade, guests can enjoy the annual Flower Market Fair , where over 120 vendor booths and concessions showcase an abundance of fresh flowers, fruits and plants while enjoying traditional dance, music and art displays. There is a significant cultural relevance to flowers and fruits, especially surrounding New Years. Oranges and tangerines both symbolize abundant happiness, and tangerines with the leaves left intact represents a strong secure relationship with your partner. Fresh flowers are a staple of Chinese households as they symbolize good fortune. In fact, a flower in bloom on New Years Day is known to be a sign of prosperity in the New Year so having a house filled with fresh, lively flowers is incredibly important and the Flower Market Fair is the place to be to stock up!

The Chinese New Year Parade (Feb 24th)

The crown jewel of the Chinese New Year’s festivities, San Francisco’s parade is the gold standard at which all other Chinese New Year parades are measured. This year’s parade will feature over 100 participants, allowing attendees to enjoy scores of elaborate floats, displays, and performances from groups and organizations across the greater Bay Area. The crowd favorite is always the Golden Dragon, a 268 ft. puppet operated by a team of over 180 men and women that is truly a sight to see. There will also be plenty of fireworks, so make sure to pack earplugs!

Attendee the parade is free of charge, although spectators who wish to purchase tickets to sit in designated bleacher seats along the route may do so. Additionally, the parade will be broadcast live on KTVU Fox 2 or KTSF Channel 26.

Chinatown Community Street Fair (Feb 24th-25th)

As the festival begins to wind down, Chinatown plays host to the Community Street Fair , featuring over 100 different vendors and concessions selling a wide array of art, clothing and gifts to help commemorate the events of the festival. Attendees can enjoy traditional Chinese food and entertainment, while being given the opportunities to take photos with some or the giant dragons and puppets that were featured in the parade.

No matter what you choose to do to help ring in the Chinese New Year, San Francisco has something for everyone in the family to enjoy. Although it may be tough to attend them all, just going to one of the many great events this festival has to offer will give you a front row seat to immerse yourself in authentic Chinese culture.

How to Eat Dumplings Like a Pro

soup dumplings at Chili House SF

Soup dumplings are an essential part of any Chinese meal, but not everyone knows what they are or how to eat them. The bite-sized food consists of a shell made from dough, which can come from several different sources of starch. It is soft and chewy. The inside contains hot soup made from a variety of ingredients. Cooks often recommend that diners consume the soup dumpling in one bite to fully appreciate the combined taste of the thin flour wrapper, meat filling, and broth.

Common Mistakes When People Eat Soup Dumplings for the First Time

Since the Chinese eat most food with chopsticks, some diners assume that this is also the correct way to eat a soup dumpling. However, the dumpling is too delicate to pick up or poke with a chopstick and will leak the broth of the soup all over the table or plate. Another common mistake is to grab it with fingers or a fork and place the whole thing in the mouth. That can be painful when the dumpling breaks open and hot soup spills out.

Use a Soup Spoon

Chinese restaurants typically serve dumplings with a large soup spoon, signaling to diners that this is what they should use to eat the dumpling . However, the diner still needs to get the dumpling onto the spoon. He or she can accomplish this by using a pair of chopsticks and picking it up closest to the knot. For those not wanting to risk a puncture, asking the wait staff for a pair of tongs is the next best option.

How Diners Can Eat a Soup Dumpling without Burning Their Mouth

As mentioned above, it’s best for people not to put the whole dumpling in their mouth at once. Instead, they should take a small bite from the side of the dumpling while it’s still on the soup spoon. This allows some of the hot broth to drain so the diner can slurp on it first.

If the restaurant uses smaller soup spoons, it’s best to take a small bite from the top of the dumpling first. After allowing a few moments for it to cool down, the diner can suck the hot broth through the top of the dumpling and then place the remainder of it in his or her mouth for chewing.

It can take a few sessions of trial and error, but it won’t be long before the person new to soup dumplings eats them like a pro.

10 Underrated Activities to Try on a Trip to San Francisco

If you’re from out of town and planning a trip here to San Francisco, you could be among the nearly 69,000 people that visit the City by Bay each day. Tourism in San Francisco brings in approximately $8.9 billion in annual revenue to the city as people visit places such as Union Square, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Once you’ve seen Alcatraz, had some chocolate at Ghirardelli, and consumed an authentic meal in Chinatown , what else is there to do? Aside from visiting us here at Chili House on Clement St. (of course), there is a ton to do. Here are ten underrated activities in San Francisco that promise to delight and get you away from the typical tourist crowds.

view of Alcatraz from San Francisco's Presidio

1. Hike the Presidio

San Francisco is a city, but it’s one that makes it simple to get back to nature. A former military base within the city limits, The Presidio is now a national park with more than 24 miles of trails that wind through meadows, overlooks, and eucalyptus groves.

2. Sample Craft Beers

Northern California is known for its wines, but San Francisco also has an exploding craft beer industry. If wine isn’t your thing, or you just don’t want to make a trip to Napa, spend some time touring some of the city’s craft breweries. A few notable ones are Toronado , Monk’s Kettle , and Hopwater Distribution .

3. Explore Chinatown’s Alleys

A visit to San Francisco isn’t complete without some time in the city’s Chinatown. Once you’ve sated your appetite with some authentic Chinese cuisine, be sure to explore all that Chinatown has to offer. In particular, the surrounding alleys, such as Ross Alley, have some interesting shops and bakeries.

4. Go to North Beach

Also known as San Francisco’s “Little Italy,” North Beach is a neighborhood that is often overlooked by tourists. Visit here, and you’ll be delighted to find some excellent Italian food, coffee shops, bakeries, boutiques, and bars.

5. View Clarion Alley’s Street Art

If you find yourself anywhere near the Mission District, be sure to track down Clarion Alley so that you can view the iconic street art. The entire alley is full of colorful murals and street art, some of it political in nature.

6. Climb the 16th Ave Tiled Steps

After you’ve walked up the winding Lombard Street, head over to Moraga Street between 15th and 16th Aves for another treat. This neighborhood project of 163 tiled steps is stunning from the bottom, and once you reach the top, you’ll have views of the city and the ocean.

7. Check Out the Free Museums

You can certainly pay to go to some museums in San Francisco, but you’ll also find some interesting history in a few of the city’s free museums. The Cable Car Museum shows the inner workings of the city’s cable cars and its system. The Wells Fargo History Museum teaches visitors how to properly drive a stagecoach. You can meet native animals at the city’s Randall Museum .

8. Hang Out in Dolores Park

Golden Gate Park is a must-visit but if you want to hang with the locals, be sure to put Dolores Park on your list as well. This massive expanse of green is the perfect spot to catch some rays, have a picnic, people watch, and view San Francisco’s skyline in the distance.

9. Climb the Batteries on Bluffs Trail

If you go to Baker Beach, you can find the “Batteries to Bluffs Trail,” which will take you on a scenic stroll along San Francisco’s coastline. A stop at Marshall’s Beach will give you some incredible Golden Gate Bridge photo ops, where you can also view and climb the massive batteries.

10. Explore the San Francisco Zoo

The San Francisco Zoo is one of this nation’s top zoos. Located in the Sunset District, the zoo hosts more than 1,000 endangered, exotic, and rescued animals in the midst of lush gardens and plant life.

Of course, you’ll want to visit all of the standard spots on your upcoming San Francisco visit. But, use these underrated activities to fill in the gaps and make your experience in the City by the Bay as unique as possible.

Gou Bu Li Bao Zi – A Tianjin Specialty in San Francisco

A quality of any great restaurant is a love and respect for traditional dishes and recipes. Those recipes, weather followed to a tee or used as inspiration for a new dish, can help restaurants use their menus to tell whatever stories they want. At Chili House, we are proud to announce a new addition to our menu: the Gou Bui Li bun, a fiercely popular dish and a culinary staple in the Tianjin.

goubuli buns

A Baozi bun is a steamed bun that can be filled with a variety of different meats and vegetables. As portable as they are delicious, bouzi buns are often enjoyed in restaurants and as a take away street food. There are two different versions of the baozi bun; the Xiabao, (or small bun) which are generally served in restaurants three to ten to a plate, or the Dabao (or big bun), the preferred version of most street vendors. According to some accounts, the famed scholar and military strategist Zhuge Liang invented the baozi bun during the Three Kingdoms period.

Over the years as the popularity of the dish grew leaps and bounds, different names and variations of the dish began to pop up and reflect how the steamed buns made their mark in various regions of China. One area particularly fond of baozi buns is Tianjin, where they are known as Goubuli Baozi. The story goes that the dish was introduced by a man named Gao Guiyou, whose nickname growing up was Gou Zi (translating to “baby dog”). As an adult he started selling the baozi buns for a living, and they got so popular in Tianjin that he could not be bothered to talk to customers while he worked. Locals started calling his buns “gou bu li baozi”, literally translating to “stuffed bun that dogs are not interested in”.

gou bu li bao zi buns

The term Gou bu li became so synonymous with the food in Tianjin that locals don’t call it anything else (think how everyone call facial tissue “Kleenex” here in America). In fact, the name is lent to one of the Tianjin’s oldest and most established food brands. Goubuli was founded in 1858 and continues to produce baozi buns in the same vain as Gao did. While seniority has been on their side, sales over the years have dwindled and the company has been looking for ways to expand their reach globally. Last year they signed a deal for rights to Gloria Jean’s Coffee’s , an American coffee chain. The deal is said to have opened the doors to Goubuli establishing the Goubuli baozi as a perfect pairing with coffee.

A combination of traditional ingredients and the unique styles and flavors of our chefs, the Goubuli buns we will be serving at Chili House will truly be the best of both worlds. Don’t be surprised if San Francisco becomes the newest destination for Goubuli Baozi!

The History of Peking Duck – an Authentic Delicacy

One of the most wonderful and fascinating aspects of the culinary arts is the history behind each and every dish we enjoy. From the four course meals at Michelin Star-rated restaurants to the every day comfort food whipped up at the neighborhood “greasy spoon”, every dish has a unique story. The same can be said for traditional Chinese dishes, whose origins are as vibrant as the flavors they are known for. Today we are going to look at a staple of Chinese cuisine (as well as a staple of our menu!), the history of Peking Duck.

Peking Duck ready to be carved by Chili House chef

The earliest incarnation of the dish dates back to the early 14 th century. Hu Sihui, the official dietitian for the emperor and rest of the royal court during the Yuan Dynasty, included the recipe in his highly influential book Yinshan Zhengyao (Important Principles of Food and Drink) , which to this day remains a pillar of both Chinese medicine and cuisine. At this time recipes like these were considered highly guarded secrets, being perfected and reserved for only the highest members of royalty.

The fall of the Yuan Dynasty in 1368 brought about many changes in China and paved way for the rise of the Ming Dynasty. By this time, the recipe took on the name “Peking Duck” , named for the capitol city in China (no more commonly referred to as Beijing). The dishes association with nobility continued, becoming a regular feature on imperial court menus. It was last during this time that Bianyifang, the first and oldest restaurant specializing in Peking Duck, was established the Qianmen area of Beijing.

Popularity only grew as time went on, and it was during the Qing Dynasty that Peking Duck became world renowned. During this period of time that the upper class populous began enjoying the dish along with members of royalty. In fact, the dish became so popular that it began to be mentioned in the works of poets and scholars. It was also during this time that saw the establishment of Quanjude in 1864, a world renowned restaurant still operating to this day well known for perfecting the hung-in-the-oven roasting technique.

As a result of the dishes prominence over hundreds of years, Peking Duck became a must-try for world leaders and dignitaries looking for a slice of authentic Chinese culture. In fact, Quanjude has hosted and served notable figures such as George H. W. Bush, Fidel Castro, Yasser Arafat, and Kim Jong Il. Legend has it that Quanjude’s Peking Duck playing a significant role in the normalization of relations between the US and China in the 1970’s.

During a secret visit to the country in 1971, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and his advisory team dined on a 12-course lunch at Quanjude that featured Peking Duck. Impressed by the dish and the hospitality received during the lunch (It is said that then-Chinese premier Zhou En-lai personally showed Kissinger how to wrap a Chinese crepe around the duck), Kissinger and his team were put at ease during the trip. The very next year President Nixon personally flew to China to formally normalize the countries’ relationship, marking the first time a sitting president visited the People’s Republic of China and ending 25 years of separation between the countries.

Peking Duck is the quintessential Chinese dish, and should tried by any and every budding foodie looking to explore authentic Chinese cuisine. For the absolute best Peking Duck in the Bay Area, look no further than Chili House!