Saturday, July 18, 2009

Addictive Hot Numbing Food at Chung King

There are places you just go to again and again. There are places that just call to you. Chung King has that hold over me.

This wasn't the first place where I encountered the real flavor of Sichuan, but it's the one that I've kept coming back to for about 3 years now.

Chung King lies just South of Garvey Ave on Garfield with ample parking in back. You walk into a very humble looking establishment. With the glass covered refrigeration unit in the front it could almost be mistaken for an ice cream parlor. But inside that unit isn't ice cream It's your first big introduction to Sichuan cooking. In Sichuan they begin a meal with cold appetizers. This is a shock to anyone who's used to egg rolls or even dim sum before the meal. The cold dishes at Chung King are some of the best and a selection of 3 can be had for under $6. There are thin slices of pig's ear, roasted peanuts with tiny salted fish, marinated vegetables, but the real stars are the meats slathered in hot numbing sauce. Sichuan is famous for the sichuan peppercorn which doesn't produce heat. Instead it provides a numbing effect on the mouth and tongue. When mixed with fiery hot sauce and red pepper, the effect is amazing. You can feel the burn build in your mouth, but just as it seems steam will come rushing out your ears the sichuan peppercorns take effect and numb out the mouth. It's an addictive sensation of pain and pleasure. The cold hot numbing dishes at Chung King include tripe, pork, chicken, and thin slices of dried jerky like meat.

Next, the entrees. I always order one of the "boiled in hot sauce" dishes when I'm there. These are also known as "water boiled" dishes (they have a sick sense of humor in Sichuan.) At Chung King you can get a variety of meats including Pacific snapper along with wilted lettuce and water celery. It comes to you swimming in a bright red chili sauce. It looks like instant death if you try to eat it. But not to fear it's sprinkled with sichuan peppercorns (and red chili flakes) so you get the hot numbing effect with every bite.

A little less friendly to the stomach are the pickled pepper dishes. These comes with a generous helping pickled and dried peppers with no sichuan peppercorns to soften the blow. These do a number on the taste buds. I usually order the stir fried eels with pickled peppers. These aren't the sweet unagi you're used to in sushi bars. These are small strips of fish. They have a briney flavor that goes well with the burn of the chilies.

Finally there's another dish to try, the fired chicken with chilies. This is a good "dare" dish because it's cubes of deep fried chicken tossed in a wok with oil, sichuan peppercorns and a ton of whole chili peppers. It comes to your table with as many chilies as pieces of chicken. But don't let the wait staff fool you, you're only supposed to eat the chicken pieces, which have absorbed the oil. Of course if you're insane and want to eat the chilies as well that's up to you.

Chung King
206 S Garfield Ave
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 280-7430
Price range: under 6$ for the appetizers, entrees no more than $15, cash only

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