Local Eats: Gourmet Kingdom

Sichuan Pickles
Once in a while a little torture on your tongue isn't such a bad thing. Especially when the torture comes from numbing hot Sichuan peppers. Sichuan (or Szechuan, or Szechwan) cuisine is a type of Chinese food from the Sichuan province. The peppers that come from this region are known for their specific tingly/numbing sensation that comes along with them.

I was kind of spoiled when I learned that the chef from a nearby by restaurant failure had moved to this restaurant and was preparing Sichuan style food. Before my cousins found this spot we'd have to drive at least 30-45 minutes to Raleigh to find this kind of food, or even fly up to NYC just to eat this type of food. Lucky for us the Gourmet Kingdom in Carrboro, NC brought in new management and was offering a Chinese menu fit with sichuan cuisine. A word to the wise, don't go in expecting to be able to read this menu. We had our server translate and recommend most of the dishes to us. He was also very willing to steer us away from dishes as well.

Kungpao Lotus Root
When eating Sichuan cuisine it is noted that you should experience the "cool" dishes along side the "hot" dishes. The dish above is prepared in several different ways as a "cool" dish. If you've never had lotus root before it is very crunchy and has a light flavor to it. Eating is a bit more enjoyable when you've got these cool dishes to eat between the spicy dishes.

Sichuan Fish Hot Pot
I first fell in love with this dish at Grand Sichuan in the upper east side of NYC. Another cousin of mine introduced me to this style of cooking and since then I've been looking for this soup in NC. I think we've found it. The fish chunks in this soup are very light and flakey but you really wouldn't know it because you're too busy trying not to cry or poking your tongue to make sure it's still there.

I realize I'm not really making you want to try this type of cuisine, but trust me, it's worth every bit of pain!

Imperial Tofu with Shiitake Mushrooms and Baby Bok Choy
I often wonder who names these dishes. Something tells me a bit of it is lost in translation as well. In any case, this dish has many different styles to it, but in general it's a stuff and deep fried tofu ball in a salty sauce. It's very tasty and very hot (temperature hot). Please be careful before popping one into your mouth or you really may leave the restaurant scarred.

Beef Tendon with Leek and Sichuan peppers
I know it doesn't SOUND like it'd be good but the fact of the matter is, it's mostly texture and the sauce that it's prepared in. Beef tendon is widely eaten in asian culture. I remember growing up fighting over the cartilage left over from some stew. It's not as awful as it sounds though so please don't be scared and give this dish a try. It's a beautiful dish and has so much to offer!

Lamb and Cilantro
This dish doesn't really seem chinese to me. I didn't even know Chinese food even used lamb, but then I thought to myself "why wouldn't they use lamb." I mean food culture is derived from peoples experimentation during trying times. Back in the day when you had nothing to eat, but you had a herd of lamb, I'm sure they started to look mighty tastey. BAM! Lamb kabobs! Anyways, lamb and cilantro are so well paired in this dish you wonder why you've never thought to combine them before.

Well I hope you'll grow a wild hair tonight and check out this restaurant. If you have ulcers or can't really handle spicy food, I'd pretty much stay about 50 feet away from the restaurant. The exhaust coming out of the place could make your eyes water.

Cheers,
--Joe Kwon

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