One of the finest examples of true Hunanese cuisine can be found in the Chinatown Square Mall, 2109-A S. China Place, in Chicago. Spring World just underwent a major renovation. During a recent lunch hour, Linda and I stopped in to sample some of the regional specialties.
Hungry Hound: "The Hunan style, this region we're talking about, it's known for a couple of ingredients like mushrooms, lamb."
Linda Yu: "In fact, they do a whole banquet that's just all lamb, too."
Hound: "And here they put cumin which, is interesting."
Yu: "You like that, don't you?"
Hound: "I like the cumin, yeah, I do."
Another Hunan classic is the "Crossing the Bridge Noodle soup," loaded with shrimp, pork, chicken, rice noodles, and fried tofu. Linda especially loves the noodles.
Yu: "They're just sort of, they're chewy, right?"
Hound: "Yep. Now one of your favorites is right here. This is the Chairman Mao pork?"
Yu: "Chairman Mao pork. Yeah, I love this. Now, it's a little bit difficult, because it's a little bit fatty, but it's the pots. Now the Hunan is also known for this, the earthenware pot that they cook a number of things."
Mushrooms are everywhere on a Hunan menu. Spring World uses both dried and fresh varieties.
Yu: "Mushrooms are really big in this entire province, so all kinds of mushrooms. So you have a dish like this where it's basically, the mushrooms have been dried, so they are cooked with, once again, those either scallions or those garlic chives."
Linda says it's rare to find a taste of Hunan tucked among all of the Cantonese offerings.
Yu: "To have one of these restaurants here, which specializes in this -- and I know you love it because you love to learn about new things, and so people might look at it and just say, 'Oh this is Chinese food,' but it's a different cuisine of China that we don't know too much about.
Hound: "Yeah, there's no sweet and sour anything here and no General Tso's chicken. It's really different."
Yu: "No, there's the Chairman's pork."
Hound: "And I'm surprised by all the chiles. I always thought the spicy stuff was from Szechwan only, but they use a lot of chile."
Yu: "Hunan is next to Szechwan, so a part of Hunan is very much influenced by the Szechwan cooking."
Even side dishes can be exotic... or not.
Yu: "Pig ear, stomach gizzards, but then there are also vegetables too, which you liked a lot.
Hound: "Yeah the celery was great. Then there were cucumbers."
Yu: "And fresh bamboo shoots."
Hound: "So you don't have to go exotic. You can do just vegetarian also."
Yu: "Well, bon appetit or chur how."
Hound: "Chur how."
And, Steve says, if you are interested in seeing the big parade this weekend, it steps off in Chinatown on Sunday at 1 p.m.
2109-A S. China Pl.