Some of my favourite meals of last year were the home-cooked feasts in my grandparent’s Guanghan apartment. I really do need to start posting my recent meals in Spain and Singapore, but I keep coming back to this.) After trapaising across Asia looking for the perfect meal, I have to say it came pretty close in that tiny fluorescent-lit kitchen. It was the simplicity of ingredients- local and seasonal, flavours – all home-made and artisanal condiments, and skillfulness in execution- recipes passed down over generations. Among the bountiful feast, the most memorable dish had to be 麻辣兔丁, spicy shredded rabbit. In celebration of my birth year, I thought it’d be an auspicious post for the occasion.
First, a bit on the rabbit’s place in Sichuan cuisine. Rabbits have long been a staple food for Sichuanese, and is widely found in takeout form. I’m not sure why, I suppose there are bands of wild bunnies reproducing fervently in rural fields somewhere. Travellers to Chengdu have inevitably come across the little heads, braised and slathered in red chilli oil, ready to be devoured by late night revellers. As morbid as the dish may sound or look, I’ve never met a visitor daring enough to try it, who did not love it and ask for seconds. It is rumoured that Chengdu consumes tens of millions of rabbit heads every year, and you gotta wonder where the rest of the meat goes.
Enter 兔丁, literally chunks of rabbit meat, sold by vendors and restaurants all over Chengdu. There are endless ways to prepare it, and every part of the animal is served.It can be stewed or fried, seasoned with everything from five spice to pickled cabbage to Sichuan peppercorns. The longer it is stewed, the more the flavour seeps into the meat. This takes the kind of time and effort that most just don’t bother with at home, so its only natural that takeout rabbit joints are practically on every street corner. The one near our apartment in Guanghan is called?, and it is something of an institution. You choose how many kilos you want and the pre-cooked meat is chopped and bagged in front of you. That simple. It’s a requirement for visitors to take home at least half a suitcase of vacuum-wrapped rabbit in addition to larou and other smoked sausages.
The first time I tried it, I didn’t stop until the bag was almost empty. The meat is both tender and chewy, full of five-spice flavour with a hint of smokiness. Since I was so obviously keen about rabbit, we had it almost every day for the rest of my stay. (I’m terribly spoiled as you can see) My aunt showed me her recipe for shredded rabbit and bamboo salad, and it became the mainstay appetizer every meal.
A simple dish, but one with such depth of flavour and textures. The shrink-wrapped packages of rabbit I brought back have long been devoured, but I know I’ll be going back for more.
Wishing you a wonderful year of the rabbit, and delicious adventures abound!