The Xiang Cuisine

May 21st, 2008 · 3 Comments

Xiang Front
The Xiang Cuisine
(Xiang yuan Hunan shifu)
(604) 437-0828
Address: 4850 Imperial Street, Burnaby

Menu: Page 1; Page 2; Page 3; Page 4; Page 5

Tastes of Hunan Heat
A Quick Bite

By Desmond Cheung
Eat Vancouver writer

I hadn’t been fired up by any Hunan heat in Vancouver since the closing of Hu Nan Chinese Restaurant (see Eat Vancouver review ‘South of the Lake, North of the River’) over a year ago. So when our ever-attentive editor told me that some fellow foodies had recommended the Xiang near Metrotown, we didn’t hesitate to gather a group of friends to try it out. I’d never been to Burnaby either, so this seemed as good a reason as any to head that way.

‘Xiang’ is a literary-geographic name for the region of Hunan Province (named after a major river there) and commonly used to designate its regional cuisine. Many claim that it is the fieriest food in China, surpassing the ‘hot and numbing’ (ma la) sensations of Sichuan fare, with its intense ‘dry hot’ (gan la) flavours powered by a more devoted use of chilli peppers, typically accompanied with lots of garlic and shallots. At Hunanese restaurants in China, you might find a bin full of frogs for the diners’ delectation, but these jumping delights were not to be seen on Xiang’s menu. I didn’t leap in anticipation of this, but I had been looking forward to some smoked meat (another secret ingredient of Hunan food). Disappointingly we were told by the waitress that they were out for two months, awaiting supplies from China. (I’m not sure if this was because of its overwhelming popularity, poor stock planning, or Canadian food restrictions.)

Xiang Boiled Fish with Chili Still, we were in for a flaming feast. First to arrive was the Boiled Fish with Chilli (shui zhu yu) – also a regular feature of Sichuan tables. The bowl of sliced white fish swimming in bright red chillies brought a look of concern from some at the table who had not experienced the dish before, though it proved to be less spicy than it looked and the fish and vegetables revisited several plates. For a cold dish appetizer, we ordered the Spicy Celery Salad (liang ban qin cai) which had been recommended to us. The celery crunched with the vinegary flavours of the chilli peppers and hints of sesame oil.

I particularly enjoyed the Beef with Pickled Green Chilli (ye shan jiao chao niurou) and the Double Salted Pork with Garlic and Chilli (hui guo rou). The tender slices of beef picked up the tart bite of the pickled peppers and the nicely constrasting cilantro. As for the pork, it’s a dish I regularly order at Sichuan restaurants. Xiang’s version was distinctive for its bold but not-too-spicy flavour, the slices of dried tofu, and pork which wasn’t the bacon-like cuts commonly used, but delicate slices curled up by the wok’s heat almost melting on the tongue. We also ordered the Pickled Hot and Sour Long Beans with Minced Pork (suan dou jiao rou mo) and asked for it to be very spicy (da la), while for most of the other dishes we requested medium spice (zhong la). Although it didn’t have a fiery appearance, its flaming morsels were abated only by a combination of rice and beer, and brought beads of sweat to numerous brows.

Xiang Steamed Dried Hunan Style Tofu We ordered a few meat-free dishes too, including the Steamed Dried Hunan Style Tofu with Special Chilli (doushi lajiao zheng xiang gan). There was some concern on its arrival, as we had requested it to be mildly spicy (xiao la) but the jalapenos and chillies almost hid the tofu from sight. Nonetheless, it proved to be one of the milder dishes and was tartly tasty. I did wonder what the black beans were doing though, as they seemed to add more colour than flavour. (Granted, that might be down to my Cantonese bias – too often do ‘black bean sauces’ smother out all other flavours. Old favourites included the Pan Fried Green Beans (gan bian si ji dou) and the Spicy and Sour Potato Shreds (suan la tu dou si). The green beans dish is commonly made with minced pork, and when we requested it to be made as a vegetarian dish, we were told that it wouldn’t be so tasty. Our undeterred resolve paid off as the pickled dried vegetables which were used as a meat substitute worked wonders. The shredded potato is usually a simple winner, but while Xiang’s version was quite acceptable with its vinegary spice, I missed the juniper with which it is often speckled, a la Sichuan.

At the end of the meal, all seem satisfied, some for having discovered a quality Hunanese restaurant, others for having taken up the chilli challenge. I also left feeling that I should get out of Vancouver more and discover the delectable delights cooked up outside the city.

Tags: Chinese · Quick Bites

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 [eatingclub] vancouver \\ _ts // May 26, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    Sounds good! I don’t really know much about the different types of Chinese food. I’ve never eaten Hunan food except for one time in Beijing (the irony) a while back, and I only remember the potato slivers dish (which I love) and a “big fish head” dish.

    Will definitely try this. I like hot food!


  • 2 Desmond // May 27, 2008 at 2:36 am

    Thanks for your comment, TS. I hope you like Xiang. And if you have any recommendations in and around Vancouver, please let us know.

  • 3 Knightafter // Jun 1, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    I love the Xiang , I love the big plastic peppers on the walls , the duck hot pot is fantastic but must be eaten carefully due to all the little bone shards , and it’s in Burnaby , guaranteeing interesting people to look at 🙂

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