Thursday, 16 May 2013

Spice 9 Girl (Chinese Cafe)

103D/604 Swanston St, Carlton, VIC 3053

Spice 9 Girl on Urbanspoon
A Szechuan Restaurant in Carlton is not out of place at all given the number of Chinese international students in the area. It does brisk business attracting not just international students, but also workers from the area. I am always surprised by the range of clientale. Perhaps, this is not surprising, since Melbournians are probably more familiar with Szechuan cuisine than they are with other regional Chinese cuisine such as Yunan, Shandong, and Xinjiang.  

The Place
Right across from Lincoln Square, this is an easy to find restaurant, with some parking along Pelham Street. It's an eatery with floor to ceiling windows all around, letting in lots of natural light during the day, and it means you can pretty much see what people are eating just by walking around the restaurant. It doesn't have great ventilation or sound insulation, and has a bustling feel to it, since the tables are placed quite close to each other. They don't need a lot of deco, since it feels like you are part of the outside - watching passerbys rush to their next destination. However, the deco they do have actually consists of wise words to the students who dine here about piety, studying hard, progress, integrity etc.  It's a relatively child-friendly place, though I suggest that you'd want to be very careful what you order for them - just saying.  

Things to do Nearby: After a meal here - you might want to walk to Lygon Street for gelato to cool yourself (and your tongue down).  

The Food
Beef Brisket in Szechuan Spicy Sauce (with dried chillies)
This place is unapologetically Szechuan, which means it is spicy and chilli hot. My favourite dishes here are the Twice Cooked Pork in Spicy Szechuan Sauce and the Beef Brisket in Spicy Szechuan Sauce. If they ask you how spicy you want it... and you say "Really hot", you better mean it. I have learned my lesson and for me, it will always be mild here at Spice 9 Girl. Even then, I come out sweating.

They also do a range of hotpots that you can share, soups and noodles. On one visit, I actually ordered their Sour and Chilli soup. You have to understand - sour and spice is my favourite combination. However, knowing the chilli levels here, I actually asked them just how hot this is. The waitress very nicely said, "It is quite a mild one. Should be ok". So, let me share a photo of the soup with you below... so - needless to say, I didn't finish it. The issue is not so much the chilli, to be honest, but the mouth numbing Szechuan peppercorn which is in abundance.

Really should be called "Billy Don't Be a Hero" Soup because you will be going to war.
The Service
Relatively friendly service here. The relatively quiet wait staff are very efficient and never rude. Their English is not great so you might have to be patient. So, nothing to rave about but nothing to complain about. In case, you were wondering - no, I didn't get a refund for the soup I ordered but couldn't see through. The waitress just giggled at me "Can't handle it?"  

Overall
If you go in with your eyes wide open, you should be fine. This in unadulterated spicy and hot Szechuan food. Know the items and your own limitations and you will likely enjoy this.

Cultural Moment
Szechian cuisine is characterised by the use of chillies (dried and fresh), strong garlic, Szechuan peppercorn (completely tongue numbing), ginger and peanuts. Some of the most famous Szechuan dishes characterise the use of these ingredients really well. They include;

Szechuan Hot and Sour Soup - one of my favourite soups in the world if done right, with a balance of sour, hot and spiciness. Not the Sour and Chilli soup above with an overdose of Szechuan peppercorn though.

Kung Pao Chicken - one of the most famous Szechuan dishes which is a stir fry chicken with dried chillies, peanuts, and a spicy sauce - most of the ones all around the world are somewhat less spicy, of course.

Mapo Beancurd (Tofu) - the other famous Szechuan dish, that has been adapted by the Cantonese in Chinese restaurants all over the world. The original includes a spicy bean paste sauce with generous lashings of chilli, as well as water chestnuts and wood ear fungus for texture.

Twice Cooked Pork - less common but possibly because it can be pretty greasy. Thinly sliced pork that first boiled (with ginger and salt) and stir fried in a fiery sauce, usually with vinegar and also dried chilli.

Dan Dan Noodles - Szechuan 'spaghetti bolognaise' with minced pork, a fiery sauce/soup with a chilli oil and Szechuan pepper base. It's pretty much swimming in chilli oil sauce. Most of the onces served in the rest of the world are less liberal with the chilli oil and they might even use a bean paste sauce, adapting to other tastebuds, less robust than Szechuanese ones.

Hot Pot - That chilli oil obsession continues here where you have a soup with lots of chilli oil. It's like a steamboat with chilli soup.

So, just by looking at the list of dishes, you get the idea that you need a pretty strong stomach and tastebud to cope with authentic Szechuan dishes. The irony is that it is believed that chillies were only introduced to Szechuan cuisine only in the last 300 or so years by South Americans but they have clearly taken it on in a big way (this needs more research - I am intrigued!)

2 comments:

  1. Geez - talk about a killer soup!

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  2. I know right? I had about 10 mouthfuls and 3 big slurps of the noodles and that was about all I could do.

    ReplyDelete