Sichuan Cuisine Wins Food Lovers

Authors: China Daily May 27, 2017)


Pepper Twins, a restaurant serving authentic Sichuan cuisine that opened in 2015, is located amid the busy, assorted restaurants in the area west of downtown Houston.
A small group of young alumni of Rice University gathered around a table for their reunion. They came from Austin, San Antonio and Houston, respectively.
"I have been coming here ever since this was opened. When my friend from China took me here, she said it's exactly how it is in China, it's very like home-style cooking, and it reminded her of a restaurant in Chengdu," said Steven Sharifi, a data engineer at General Motors in Austin.
Sharifi said that prior to graduation, he and his friends often visited Pepper Twins. "We tried everything on the menu, and everything is delicious. Now this is where we go to eat every time we come to Houston," he said.
The group of young professionals ordered a variety of dishes: mapo tofu, pepper twins chicken, stewed fish in hot sauce, and Jumping on the Mountain – in plain English, pig feet. In short time, all plates were picked clean as if storm had swept over.
At the table next to the Rice group, I found Max Levit and his wife enjoying a night out with a few dishes and a bottle of wine.
Levit, whose family-owned Grocers Supply is on the list of Forbes America's Largest Private Companies, said he is an avid food lover. He has dined at the best restaurants in New York, Chicago and San Francisco.
"I have been to places all over the US. I don't know what they did here, but this is the best Chinese food I ever had. People here are wonderful, too," said Levit, who regularly dines at Pepper Twins and calls it the best restaurant in Houston.
I was invited to taste the dishes the two tables ordered. To me, a native Sichuanese, all the dishes retained the original Sichuan flavor with lighter touch on oil and spice. The dishes are not Americanized to compromise the authenticity of Sichuan cuisine as many other restaurants outside of Chinatown often do.
Tofu and fish were so tender they almost melted in my mouth. Chicken and pork were delicious, succulent and flavorful. The toned-down spiciness allowed more room for appreciation of other flavors and texture.
To my pleasant surprise, I found green fresh Sichuan peppercorn in the dish "Pepper Twins Fish Slices", a sight I have never seen outside of Sichuan. The fresh numbing sensation mixed with spiciness on the tongue was exquisite.
"We cook the dishes as if we are doing home cooking for ourselves. We only use the best quality of ingredients," said Yang Yunan, founder of Pepper Twins and a medical professional by training.
Pepper Twins regularly imports the spices essential and specific to Sichuan cooking — such as fresh and dried Sichuan peppercorns and pepper sauces — directly from Sichuan.
Popular with local food lovers who gave rave reviews on Yelp, Pepper Twins opened another restaurant in the affluent River Oaks area nine months ago. It soon became a favorite for many customers nearby. Now, the third Pepper Twins is under construction in the Museum District on Kirby and is scheduled to open in mid-June.
On the menu, one finds creative English names for some of the classic Sichuan dishes: "Fish Loves Tofu", "Broken Heart Jelly Noodle", "Dancing Squid" and more. The classic appetizer fuqi feipian — literally "lung of husband and wife", is called Mr and Mrs Smith, borrowed from a movie starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
"Sichuan cuisine is rich with history and culture, and we want to promote our authentic cooking and culture to the public while feeling at home through our tongues in a foreign land. This is why we only cook authentic Sichuan dishes, and when we translate the classic dishes, we try to give the names some cultural connotation when possible," Yang said.
GQ magazine's food critic Brett Martin recently named Mr and Mrs Smith "Appetizer of the Year" in its April issue. "The dish is a numbing, burning, textural masterpiece, and the kind of thing a budding empire is built on," Martin wrote.

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