• The Origins of Xiao Long Bao (XLB)

    xiao long baoXiao Long Bao, casually known as XLB, is a much-loved Chinese cuisine known for its delicate wrapping and flavorful soup filling with a powerful aroma. As famous as Xiao Long Bao is today, it comes from humble beginnings. Its creator, Huang Mingxian, was the owner of a restaurant called Ri Hua Xuan. It was while working here that he created Xiao Long Bao in the 1870s. It happened somewhat by accident as he added aspic to minced pork and then steamed it. Mingxian quickly noticed that the aspic turned liquid and the dumpling filled with soup.

    The Early Marketing of Xiao Long Bao

    After tasting Xiao Long Baoand realizing it was delicious, Mingxian knew that others in his village would enjoy it as well. He came up with the name Nanxiang da rou mantou, which means large bun filled with meat. He reasoned that the petite size of the soup dumplings would surprise diners and create a memorable experience for them, which turned out to be true.

    Although customers came to Ri Hua Xuan in droves to taste what is now known as Xiao Long Bao, they weren’t crazy about the name that Mingxian assigned it at the time. They took to calling it by a name that they felt better described its appearance and origination. That name was Nanxiang xiaolongbao. The first part of the name described the region where the memorable dish originated from while xiao meant small, long meant basket, and bao meant bun. Over the years, people separated the words and then eventually begin referring to it as XLB.

    Another Version on the Origin of Xiao Long Bao

    While most Chinese credit Huang Mingxian with creating the delicious dumpling dish, some hold to an alternative theory that it was Emperor Qianlong who actually brought Xiao Long Bao to prominence. The emperor, whose life spanned from 1711 to 1789, was traveling through the Wuxi, Jiangsu province in the mid-1700s when he tasted the dumpling for the first time. People of the region called Emperor Qianlong the Swimming Dragon, which translates to Youlong in Chinese, because he typically traveled along the river.

    The Emperor’s ringing endorsement of the new dumplings made it famous throughout the region. In fact, some people believed that the word long in Xiao Long Bao should be replaced with dragon instead of standing for basket. Even so, the XLB moniker has stood the test of time for at least two centuries.

    Eating Xiao Long Bao Today

    When a person bites into a soup dumpling for the first time, he or she often expresses a sense of wonder at their pure deliciousness of it. They quickly learn how to carefully open the dumpling and extract the juice without burning their mouths.

    Although it’s served primarily as a snack or appetizer, people often want several more once they have had the chance to try their first one. Regardless of which version of the origination of Xiao Long Bao is true, no one could have predicted how much people would continue to enjoy this culinary delight centuries later or how its popularity quickly grew outside of China.

  • Liangpi – Cold Skin Noodles Explained

    liangpi cold thick noodlesFor many people, the absolute ideal food is some sort of noodles. There are so many different styles and varieties, and noodles are extremely versatile can be delicious in a multitude of dishes.

    There is one particular noodle that seems to be rising in popularity, and that is Liangpi, the cold skin noodle. If you haven’t had the opportunity to try these yet, don’t let the word “skin” throw you. Liangpi noodles are not actually skin; they are made from wheat starch or rice flour.

    Liangpi originally hailed from a Shaanxi province of China, but it is now eaten in many other regions of the country. The northern and central parts of China are particularly fond of this specialty dish. However, foodies can order this particular noodle dish in restaurants all over the world. There is a very popular vegan version of this dish at Xi’an Famous Foods in New York City.

    Preparing Liangpi

    There are a few different ways to make these noodles, but generally, it starts with wheat flour, water, and salt. A dough is made and then rinsed repeatedly to leech the starch and turn it into a paste.

    The starch is spread onto a plate or other flat surface in a very thin layer, and then it is boiled until it becomes similar to a pancake. The “pancake” is cut into long, thin noodles and called Liangpi!

    Popular Liangpi Dishes

    There are plenty of recipes made with these wheat starch noodles, and each rendition has its own special ingredients and flavors. Here are a few of the more popular ones:

    • Hanzhong Liangpi– This spicy dish is named after a city in the southwestern part of Shaanxi. The noodles are combined with garlic and hot chili oil for a fiery treat.
    • Majiang Liangpi– This dish is named after one of the main ingredients: sesame paste. Also included in the dish are julienned cucumbers. The sauce contains salt, vinegar, black sesame paste, and hot chili oil.
    • Shan Xin Gan Mianpi– This type of Liangpi is prepared slightly differently and ends up being darker and firmer. It is served with mashed garlic, bean sprouts, Mianjin, vinegar, and chili oil.

    Typically, Liangpi dishes are served cold, even in the colder winter months.

    Other Chinese Noodles to Try

    Once you dive into a large bowl of Liangpi, you may want to explore other popular Chinese noodle styles. Who can blame you? Noodles are delicious in any state. Here are a few other dishes to explore as well:

    • Mai Fun– these are thin rice noodles that are often eaten as a dish called Singapore Noodles. This is a dish that is made with egg, vegetables, shrimp, and yellow curry.
    • Ho Fun– these rice noodles are wider and stickier. They are difficult to cook if you don’t have a really good wok, so you may want to try these out in a restaurant.
    • La Mian– Chances are, you’ve already had these noodles at least once in your life as they are the ones used in instant ramen.

    Now that you are familiar with Liangpi and several other Chinese noodles, it is time to go on a taste-testing tour. Start at Chili House SF and try our

  • Getting to Know Chinese Pancakes

    Aside from the dishes we are most known for, like our famous Peking Duck and Dim Sum, here at Chili House we strive to serve the widest range of authentic Chinese dishes. One of our personal favorites happens to be our delicious Beef Pancakes, a take on one of China’s most popular treats. Today we are going to take a look at the history of this storied delicacy and how it came to prominence.

    chinese beef pancakes

    The 3rd Century Origins of Chinese Pancakes

    The snack, similar to what is known in China as “Jianbing,” traces its roots all the way back to the Shandong Province during the Three Kingdoms Period (220 – 280 AD).  Legend has it that Zhuge Liang, the chancellor of the state of Shu Han, was struggling to find an effective way to feed his soldiers who had lost their cooking supplies during battle. As a result, Liang had cooks concoct a mixture of water and wheat flour to be cook thinly and evenly across copper-made griddles (and sometimes even using the soldiers shields as a cooking surface). The result was a light, crispy crepe that helps sustain and boost the morale of the soldiers on the battlefield.

    The dish proved popular beyond the battlefield, later getting passed down across generations. Today, Chinese pancakes can be found cooking on street corners in every major metropolitan neighborhood across China. The recipe is quite simple. Start by layering and folding the wheat and bean flour pancake fries, eggs, scallions and cilantro. Finally, add chili paste, hoisin sauce and lettuce to taste. Then fold the pastry a few more times for easy eating on the go.

    To say the least, Chinese pancakes have become the quintessential snack food in China. Every afternoon, they satisfy hungry workers and students across China. In contrast to popular American street fare, Chinese pancakes are anything but fast food. Every one is cooked fresh to order, meaning there is always a line at the local vendor. In fact, many plan their commute to work around setting aside enough time to grab one!

    America’s Discovery of Chinese Pancakes

    Up until recently one would have trouble locating the snack outside of China and Taiwan. However the popularity and reach of Chinese Pancakes grows every year. Today, people across the US work to recreate the snack they fell in love with  in China. One of the most popular variations (and one that has proved quite popular with our customers as well!) are Chinese pancakes with beef . It is quite similar to the traditional recipe, the only difference being the use of slow-braised beef instead of egg. This variation is popular in Taiwan, and has found a strong following in Southern California in recent years.

    Chinese pancakes are perfect for those looking to add another Chinese culinary icon to their list of favorite dishes. We suggest searching your area for restaurants and seek out all the different variations available. Don’t forget to stop in and try the absolutely delicious Chinese beef pancakes at Chili House SF as well!

    (Originally published in July of 2016 – Updated in March of 2019)

  • The Importance of the Peking Duck Process

    The creation of the traditional Peking duck dish is something that requires a careful knowledge of an age-old skill. Prepared the same way since the Imperial era, this Chinese dish is an important cultural cornerstone.

    The crisp skin combined with the correct fat to meat ratio is something that can’t be replicated utilizing shortcuts of any kind. Far too many people have been fed an inferior product, and there’s a very telling difference between commercially prepared Peking duck and the authentically prepared dish.

    An Overview of the Traditional Method

    The traditional method of Peking duck preparation is as old as the Northern and Southern dynasties. The chef would choose a White Beijing duck, a breed heavily domesticated in China, and roast the duck to slow perfection. They did this using either a convection method, or a second method that suspended the duck above the flame.

    The second method has been continued with a great deal of success throughout traditional Chinese restaurants. The preparation of the traditional Peking duck involves the following:

    • Choosing and plucking an appropriate White Beijing duck
    • Air is pushed between its skin and flesh, and an incision is made to remove its entrails
    • The bird is cleaned and skewered with a wooden rod which allows it to be suspended above the flame
    • The duck is sometimes soaked in boiling water to tighten skin and then filled with water and sewn shut once again
    • After being thoroughly hung and dried the duck’s skin will be brushed or marinated using sugar or other traditional agents
    • The last step involves the suspension of the duck in a large oven at a temperature of around 500F for between 30-40 minutes

    The duck will be deemed ready when its skin has a beautiful reddish color and has the crisp texture that can only be achieved via traditional cooking methods. In restaurants that continue to embrace the old ways, the chef will bring the duck to the table and slice it into more than 100 thin and succulent sections.

    Why is the Traditional Method Preferred Over Modern Alternatives?

    An article by Veronica Lin highlights some of the problems with cutting corners and utilizing cheaper and faster electric ovens. In Lin’s interview with chef Lu Xiaofei, she uncovers the advantages that cooking in the traditional large fireclay oven provides over modern electric means.

    Lu notes the chef’s ability to carefully monitor the cooking duck and to make immediate changes when necessary. This close attention to detail combined with the original fruit flavors infused with the woods creates a finished product unique to this timeless method.

    How Far Chinese Chefs in California are Willing to Go to Preserve Tradition

    The practice of preparing and serving traditional Peking duck is so sacred to the Chinese culture that local California chefs and activists lobbied to have health code exceptions made in their favor. These exceptions allow the duck to be hung in the windows of traditional Chinese establishments while being dried according to ancient methods of preparation.

    Since the exception was made for Peking duck in the 1980s , chefs have continued to embrace and practice cooking methods that keep a cultural tradition alive and well for future generations.

  • Why Chinese Resturants are so Popular During the Holidays

    chinese food at christmas

    Each year, millions of Americans gather at Chinese restaurants on Christmas day. In fact, Christmas and Christmas Eve are the busiest day of the year for most American Chinese restaurants.

    The combination of Christmas and Chinese food is iconic. According to Google Trends , more people search for “Chinese food/restaurant” during the week of Christmas than any other week the year. It isn’t just internet searches either. On December 25, Chinese food orders increase by as much as 152%, according to GrubHub in 2013. This phenomenon is not new.

    Be sure to book early to take advantage of our limited Peking Duck or banquet dining options. Chili House SF experiences some of our busiest days of the year during Christmas and other holidays!

    History of Chinese Food on Christmas Day

    Chinese food became a traditional go-to within non-Christian immigrant communities. The tradition seems to have originated in New York City as far back as the late 1800s. Immigrants from cultures that don’t typically celebrate Christmas found they had time off to spend with family, but no traditions of their own. Chinese restaurants were open on Christmas day and offered an inclusive, welcoming environment. So a century-long love affair was born!

    Chinese cuisine symbolized the urban, cosmopolitan lifestyle in the early 1900s. For many new Americans, enjoying Chinese food was a way to celebrate the great American cultural melting pot.

    Since Chinese restaurants come in a range of prices, it is an affordable treat for budget-conscious families. Many Chinese restaurants offer family-style meals that promote sharing and camaraderie. Some San Franciscans who celebrate Christmas also opt to enjoy a Chinese meal on Christmas Eve or even Christmas day. They prefer the low-stress, relaxing experience.

    Chinese Food as a Holiday Alternative

    Lifehacker lists “eating Chinese food” as one of the top alternative activities for Christmas day. Other classic alternatives include going to the cinema as many new films release on Christmas day. Also, they suggest visiting parks and open spaces or spending time enjoying a favorite hobby. If you are feeling social, you will find plenty of company at a popular Chinese restaurant.

    Other cuisines also see a boost on December 25, according to GrubHub. Muslim halal, Indian, dim sum, kosher, Thai, and Vietnamese food also saw an increase in takeaway or dine-in orders. Though these others have not yet reached the same level of popularity as Chinese food.

    Ten Most Popular Chinese Dishes For December 25

    Just in case you are looking for ideas of what to order, GrubHub told CNN the most popular Chinese dishes on December 25, 2014, were:

    1. General Tso’s chicken
    2. Crab Rangoon
    3. Egg Rolls
    4. Sesame Chicken
    5. Wonton Soup
    6. Fried Rice
    7. Sweet & Sour Chicken
    8. Orange Chicken
    9. Hot and Sour Soup
    10. Pot Stickers

    (List source ” It’s true. Everyone eats Chinese food on Christmas ,” CNN.)

    Enjoy a Worldly, Modern Tradition

    While this tradition originated in immigrant communities in New York City, it soon spread across the nation. It quickly reached San Francisco, due to the thriving Chinese community.

    Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, continue a modern tradition by booking your Christmas Eve, Christmas, or Boxing Day meal at your favorite Chinese Restaurant. Don’t be surprised if your favorite restaurant is fully booked, reserve your table early to avoid disappointment.

  • How to Serve & Eat Peking Duck

    At Chili House SF, we take a huge amount of pride in our Peking Duck. Our duck is always made fresh for patrons and never re-heated or pre-cooked. Our servers carve the duck, crispy and fresh, right out of the oven when it comes to your table. We only serve a maximum of twenty Peking Ducks per day and reservations are required because we insist on maintaining the highest standards in our preparation.

    Patrons from local San Franciscans to visitors from around the world appreciate the care and precision with which our Peking Duck is made. From your seat at one of our tables, here’s how the spread will look when ready to serve:

    At this stage, there are 5 components of the Peking Duck dish ready to assemble:

    • The duck meat
    • Steamed pancakes
    • Sweet bean sauce
    • Spring onions
    • Cucumber

    Here is the proper way to then put together these components for a mouth-watering treat!

    1. Lay one pancake flat on your plate, and spread a small amount of the sweet bean sauce around the top-middle section of the wrap.
    2. Next, place a few pieces of duckon the top-middle section over where the sauce has been spread.
    3. Next, lay a small number of cucumbers and spring onions over the top of the duck meat. The goal is to have the duck be the juicy outer layer of the bite that first hits your mouth, followed by the more crunchy, textured cucumber and onion in the center of the bite.
    4. Fold the bottom half of the pancake over the meat, sauce and vegetables at the middle of the wrap.
    5. Pull the right and then left edges over the middle of the wrap, then flip over the assembled wrap.
    6. Pick up your delicious treat with your chopticks and enjoy!

    Although it surprises many, the way in which you assemble the components of the Peking Duck wrap greatly influence the taste. Experimenting with more or less sauce, and changing the order of the assembly between meat and vegetables has a noticeable affect on the flavors of subsequent bites.

    Finally, be sure to enjoy any leftover pieces of Peking duck meat as part of a delicious soup following the main course!

  • How to Throw a Chinese-Inspired Dinner Party

    Dinner parties are popular all over the world, because they perfectly combine the pleasure of great friends and food with the comfort of your own home. If you’re looking for a new angle for your next dinner party, try making it a themed affair. A Chinese-inspired dinner party–complete with decorations, food, and entertainment–is a great way to stand out as the best and most creative host around!

    Flair

    To help your guests get into the theme, decorate the room with Chinese objects, such as a flag, decorative hand fans, and paper lanterns. Use a dragon statue as the centerpiece on your table and hang a Chinese-inspired tapestry on the wall. Ask your guests to wear embroidered robes, silk dresses, or loose pants. They can also carry fans and style their hair with chopsticks. Research how to write each guest’s name in Chinese characters and then write the names on thick card to use as place markers. You can use a calligraphy pen and add a few water color flowers, so your guests have a nice keepsake from the night.

    Menu

    Rather than dealing with preparation and clean-up time associated with cooking, try catering from Chili House SF in you’re hosting your party in San Francisco. Our award-winning chefs have decades of professional training in both Sichuan and Beijing-style cuisine.

    For the appetizers, serve up egg rolls, pot stickers, beef pancakes and more. Popular choices for entrees include our House Special Fresh Filet Boiled in House Spicy Sauce, and Hand Pulled Noodle, Creamy Prawns with Honey Walnut, Mu-Shu Pork and Steam Chinese Cabbages.

    For an authentic experience, encourage everyone to try eating with chopsticks–just be sure to also have forks on hand for those who are less dexterously advanced! Finish the meal with the perfect dessert: “Nian Gao” (traditional Chinese New Year cake) accompanied by steamed pears.

    Entertainment

    After dinner, keep your guests entertained with traditional Chinese games. You can set up a Mahjongg game with little Chinese trinkets as prizes or have everyone have their fortune told using Kau Cim sticks. The more adventurous members of the group can see how they fare with Chinese finger traps. You can also buy a Chinese puzzle box and place a small prize in it. Hide the instructions and have your friends take turns trying to figure out how to open it.

    A Chinese-inspired dinner party is sure to impress your guests. The decorations, outfits, foods, and games will guarantee that everyone has a fantastic time. Your guests will get to enjoy great food and entertainment and will even get to learn about Chinese culture. Once you’ve experienced the taste of success, you’ll be eager to start planning your next themed dinner party.

  • Tips for Bringing Children to a Chinese Restaurant

    Even children who are normally well-behaved can feel stressed in the unfamiliar environment of a Chinese restaurant. Not only is the food dramatically different than anything they have tried before, their parents’ expectations of them are as well. While it can be unrealistic to expect patience on top of quiet, respectful behavior, parents can engage in several activities while waiting for the food to help pass the time.

    Distraction is the Name of the Game

    Going to a Chinese restaurant for the first time is a novelty for most children. This is something that parents can use to their advantage. For example, they can explain that chopsticks in China serve the same purpose as silverware in the United States. If this catches the child’s attention, mom or dad can teach them how to hold chopsticks the right way. Many kids are already familiar with how to hold a pencil, which is a great way to start the demonstration. Placing a rubber band at the top of the chopsticks makes them easier for kids to use.

    kids using chopsticks for the 1st time

    Asking for a few fortune cookies before the food arrives is one time when it would be good to eat dessert first. Finding a message inside of their cookie is a special experience for kids, even if they don’t know how to read yet. Parents can read the fortune and use it to play a game of make-believe with their children. Placemats with Chinese zodiac signs on them provide another opportunity to pass time by reading the appropriate one for each member of the family.

    Kid-Friendly Chinese Dishes

    Children who aren’t used to hot or spicy food may be startled by a traditional Chinese dish. It is better to start with milder flavors to get them accustomed to different flavors and textures first. Eggs rolls and dumplings are easy to cut up and kids will enjoy the novelty of dunking them into sauce. They may not even notice they’re eating vegetables at all. For kids who normally like soup, they should enjoy the taste of egg drop or wonton soup. These both tend to be more colorful than regular soup, which can appeal to a child’s sense of novelty as well.

    Lo mein or cold noodles in sesame sauce will be just like eating spaghetti for kids. Vegetables and chicken in a light sauce, called Mo Goo Gai Pain, is easy for children to chew and tasty as well. Parents may want to avoid sweet and sour dishes due to the high sugar content.

    Some Etiquette Tips to Keep in Mind

    It can be hard for adults to know proper etiquette in a Chinese restaurant, let alone children. Nevertheless, parents should make it a point to impart the following:

    • Avoid placing chopsticks straight up in a bowl of rice. This may remind the servers of burning incense for the dead and is considered bad manners.
    • Use chopsticks to pick up food but not to spear it.
    • Don’t use the chopsticks as drumsticks to make sounds that may annoy other diners.
    • Plan to take some leftovers home or the host may assume the children are still hungry.

    By taking children to Chinese restaurants regularly, it will soon become second nature and etiquette will barely register as a concern.

  • Getting to Know Dongpo Pork

    If you have a passion for Asian cuisine and have visited a high-end Zhejiang restaurant, you may have heard of or tasted Dong Po pork. This is not a dish on every menu, as its complexity and richness make it a culinary treat only found in homes and authentic eateries in some regions.

    dong po pork

    Some interesting things to know about flavorful Dong Po pork include the following:

    Unique origin. This dish has an interesting and ancient origin, discovered purely by culinary accident, by poet and scholar Su Dongpo . Legend is that he was preparing pork when he got caught up in a game of chess with a guest, leaving his meal simmering away for a long period of time. It has evolved from the early 1000’s to be a delectable dish found in contemporary Zhejiang cuisine .

    Proper pork. If you plan on making your own dish, you first need a proper Dong Po pork belly recipe. Authentic, often hard-to-find ingredients are key for achieving the right flavor that distinguishes the tender pork, sweet sauce, and savory fat from other preparations. Perhaps the most difficult-to-find item is the Shaoxing hua tiao wine, which you should be able to order from a specialty Asian market or grocer; this wine brings depth of flavor and complexity to the rich pork belly during simmering.

    Serving tips. Dong Po pork is a true culinary treat- not something that should be eaten every day. Per Eastern medicine, this dish should never be paired with certain foods to maintain accordance with the theory of medicine diet. Some foods warned about include:

    • Smoked plums
    • Licorice
    • Shrimp and shellfish
    • Squab, quail, or pigeon
    • Almonds
    • Lamb, beef, and donkey
    • Caraway
    • Turtle
    • Water chestnuts

    The next time you dine at Chili House in San Francisco, be sure to check out our Dong Po pork. If you are fortunate enough to have access to the authentic ingredients, make your own! Dong Po pork is a rich, savory treat that promises to melt in your mouth and tickle your taste buds.

  • Dan Dan Noodles – A Sichaun Speciality

    Some people love Chinese food based on their Americanized perception of the cuisine. Favorites might include Chop suey, General Tso’s chicken, and Mongolian beef. Yet, those who crave authentic Chinese fare understand that the real dishes coming from mainland China often are both simpler in composition and have a much more powerful kick. One such dish that is incredibly popular is called Dan Dan Noodles.

    Dan Dan Noodles History

    If you enjoy Chinese Sichuan cuisine, you won’t want to miss Dan Dan Noodles. These famous spicy noodles received their name from the way in which they have been cooked and served in China.

    “Dan Dan” refers to the type of carrying pole that street vendors would use to sell the dishes to pedestrians. The pole was carried on the shoulders of the vendor with two baskets on either side, one carrying the noodles and the other with the sauce. The name translates to “noodles carried on a pole.”

    The most famous Dan Dan noodles are probably from a peddler named Chen Baobao in Zigong . His noodles gained notoriety because he carried them everywhere so that people could try them, and he used a two-celled pot to cook the dish. Today, they continue to be known as both tasty and spicy traditional Chinese cuisine.

    dan dan noodles

    What Are Dan Dan Noodles?

    Dan Dan noodles themselves are made by rolling dough into noodles, although many recipes allow you to purchase and use dried Chinese egg noodles for the dish. While the noodles are an important ingredient, it’s the sauce and the remainder of the toppings that gives the dish its authentic spicy flavor.

    Common ingredients of a Dan Dan noodles recipe include Ya-cai (preserved mustard greens), minced pork, soy beans, and chili powder. Often ingredients such as scallions, ginger, garlic, bok choy, and pickles are stir fried and combined with chili oil.

    If you order Dan Dan noodles in the United States, it’s possible that you could get an Americanized version of this classic dish. In some restaurants, the spice is removed and replaced with sweetness. In others, sesame paste or peanut butter is sometimes added to the recipe.

    Serving Dan Dan Noodles

    Traditionally, Dan Dan noodles were considered a popular snack, so they weren’t served up as meal-sized dishes. In most places, they still aren’t. Most authentic Chinese chefs recommend that you serve Dan Dan noodles in smaller bowls. This is because the dish is best enjoyed hot, both spicy and at a higher temperature. Smaller servings allow diners to enjoy this special dish while the steam floats off of the surface and the topping remain crispy.

    Come visit Chili House to try San Francisco’s best Dan Dan noodles. Check out this review on Yelp:

    “Absolutely must get: Dan dan mien. The main reason I keep coming back here is for this dish. It’s hands down the best version of these noodles I’ve ever had and something I’ve introduced many friends to.” Jonathan Y., San Francisco