The Dancing Dragon Chinese Restaurant, specialising in dishes from Chongqing, up at Canning Circus is another one of the City’s restaurants serving up authentic Sichuan food. I have walked past this place on a few occasions on my way back from some of those excellent pubs in the circus and had also been curious to see what lay on the table behind the doors. I was even more curious when I could find virtually no significant web footprint, perhaps this visit will change that?
So what about this place then and that Chongqing cuisine? This type of cooking is another one of the renowned Sichuan cooking styles which they say is noted for its ‘distinctive spicy and pungent flavours’. I am in the mood for this sort of fare at the moment, last week I was over in Hockley in Shanghai Shanghai enjoying some Sichuan dishes from Chengdu so this week I had to find some more.
Apparently the main difference from Chengdu cuisine, is that Chongqing dishes are said to be spicier and stronger in taste. I was to be finding out if that was true then pretty quickly.
One of the clues for the possibility of some decent regional Chinese food is the chalk board outside advertising an ‘Authentic Chinese Food Hotpot’. It is said that Chongqing is the birth place of the hot pot in China. This is a great dish to order if there are a group of you around the table. For the Westerner, I imagine that the closest thing to compare is like sitting around a fondue pot. I have only had the Hotpot once in China and we had a pot of boiling spicy broth which we filled with all sorts of random bits of meat (lots of offal and leftover bits) and vegetables (most of which I did not recognise). It was a lot of fun but murder on the Western stomach. Sadly I was on my own this visit so I was to forgo the opportunity for a hot pot and took a look at the menu to see if I could find some other food memories to revive and perhaps a new one to share.
It was pretty clear early on that this was a locals place, I was basing that on the fact that the dining area was packed out with families from the local Chinese community when I dined here this week and that most of the signs and menus were in Chinese. As I pushed open and my way in through the solid wooden door and peered into the dining room I could sniff out the chance of a good authentic meal somewhere in my near future. I was greeted warmly but shuffled past all the families dining to a nice quiet table in the corner by the TV and the big red Chinese Flag.
I spent ages looking through the menu, as I was left to my own devices with a bowl of free prawn crackers, I spotted loads that I could have ordered but I will spare you that story just for a moment and tell you about what it was that I did choose to eat.
Checking the menu out
I didn’t recognise the name of this dish from the translation ‘Poached sliced pork in hot chilli sauce’ but I did recognise the dish when I saw the picture so I ordered it. I was asked tentatively by the young enthusiastic waitress if I wanted the chilli spice to be less, but I politely declined and said no I would have it as the chef normally did it. To be fair she didn’t really understand but got the idea I was happy to take on the Sichuan Spice Levels. Lets see if that was a mistake?
‘Poached sliced pork in hot chilli sauce’
‘Man Alive’ it was quite a spicy beast! It wasn’t so hot though that it became unpleasant. One of the beauties of Sichuan cooking is their ability to marry up mouth numbing chillies with other flavours and sensations so that you can still enjoy eating the dish. The bowlful that they provided could have easily fed several people and if combined with a few more dishes it would have been plenty for the table.
There was a lot of that poached sliced pork in the bowl all surrounded by a lot of red chilli and a lot of Sichuan peppercorns. As you dug down into the depths of the bowl you found a mound of submerged beansprouts and some other Chinese vegetables. The beansprouts added a nice little bit of crunch and a little bit of respite from the chilli heat.
I thoroughly enjoyed this dish and it was every bit as flavoursome and spicy as many a dish I ate in that region of China. It is perhaps not one for the faint hearted but certainly one to try out if you like it hot or are feeling adventurous.
Pak Choi with Garlic
I added a plate of Sauteed baby pak choi with chopped garlic as I had thought that having some greens would help with that spice. To be honest this choice was a bit of a mistake. I had forgotten how astringent the pak choi can be, so I was not enjoying eating a whole plateful (I didn’t I left most of it), it was the right idea though, but the wrong choice this time
So the other stuff that I wanted to eat
Chongqing deep fried chicken with dry hot chilli
Chongqing deep fried chicken with dry hot chilli or lazi ji as the call it when it is at home was a dish that I ‘almost’ ordered ahead of the pork dish that I did order. It was really really close! This is a great dish to eat if you have decent chopstick skills as you can just pluck out the pieces of chicken from the plate avoiding too much chilli. If you try and eat this with a fork, be warned you will be doomed with a massive mouthful fo chilli fire. A gamble worth taking? Hell yes!
Dancing Dragon Boiling Fish Fillets in Hot Chilli Oil
This was another dish that I have been hunting for quite some while.
Sometimes you just have to take the English Translation at Face Value More traditionally known as Shuizhu Yu this is a quite amazing dish of tender fish fillets that have been marinated and brined, coated in cornstarch, and bathed in a bowl of hot broth upon which floats a thick layer of chili oil flavored with dried chilies and sichuan peppercorns. I have heard this described as a volcano of a dish. I know that the picture might look a little scary but, as I hinted at on the previous dish, the way to eat this is just to pick out the pieces of fish with your chopsticks and let that little layer of sauce coating them be your hit of spice.
All in all I liked my first visit to the Dancing Dragon, I can honestly say that she was breathing fire through her food onto my plate and there was enough left on the menu that would bring me back. Next time I would bring company so that I could get to try more of their dishes.
If you want to find this place, just head up Derby Road towards Canning Circus and you will find it at number 101.