There’s a Chai Huo Ji storm sweeping across southwest China, a storm called Fire Wood Chicken and it’s driving people from the metropolises to the countryside and the city’s fringes where they can experience this incredible ‘ALL THE FLAVORS ALL THE TIME’ meal.
As a restaurant phenomenon, ChaiHuoJi (lit translation Fire Wood Chicken) is a relatively new development, but it has its origins in tradition. The key to its flavor, success, and experiential nature is the zoatai (灶台), the traditional Chinese wood-fired stove in which the Chicken is cooked. While these still exist in rural areas in some places, they are much a relic of the past to urbanites, and in fact illegal within city limits (due to, you know, the open fire). Suburbs of the city and small towns – though a small town here can have a couple million people in it – have filled with these restaurants of late drawing hordes from the cities in search of the smokey, nostalgic full-flavored feast.
Chengduers in general, as part of their chill epicurean nature, like to get to the countryside and eat things a fresh as possible. No exception to the ‘fresh chicken’ craze, Chaihuoji’s host a chicken coop, and usually you order by the chicken, which is then killed and cleaned for you.
One of the keys to the flavor is the, usually fresh pressed, canola (or rapeseed oil), that is thrown into the perfectly seasoned wok. Next the chicken, in all its glory, (and by this we mean all the glorious parts of the chicken) is fried in the oil with some fresh Sichuan peppercorns and ginger. Then ALL THE SPICES pixian douban (local fermented broadbean paste with chilies), chili sauce, pickled chilis, garlic, ginger, and dried ground sichuan pepper, are added into the mix and fried. A bit of broth is added and it is filled with veggies (usually potatoes and green beans though anything can be added) and left to cook for a while. A few minutes before serving cornbread momos/pancakes are slapped onto the sides of the wok and grilled up.
Each table is assigned its own cook, who does all the dirty work for you. You can watch the action, or sit in the provided ‘leisure areas’ and drink to and play majiang until your feast is ready.
Then…. you enjoy the *&%$ out of it (and you will)!
Enjoy ChaiHuoJi as the main food-event on our City of Leisure tour to the hills of Lonqguan.