A recent visit to Sichuan Home in San Francisco sent me into spicy food shock, then ecstasy.
by Rebecca Holland
Is there anything better than feasting on a truly amazing meal, especially when it involves trying a new cuisine? The delight of a foreign flavor saturating your taste buds. The initial surprise of a new texture. A moment of savoring, processing. Then it hits you. Your eyes open wide, then close in bliss. You take another bite. Just as good, better even than the last, now that you know what to expect. Focus on the flavor. Full appreciation. Guttural groans of content. “This. Is. Amazing,” you finally say to your dining partners who, if they’re showing you one of their favorite foods are now beaming with pride having elicited just the reaction they were hoping for.
Such was the case a month ago in San Francisco, when my friend Brianna and her husband Vince took me to their favorite Sichuan place. I thought I had had Sichuan before, and I thought it was good, but it was not like this.
Sichuan Home sits unpretentiously on Geary Blvd in the Richmond District, where all of San Francisco’s best Asian food is, according to Vince. “Chinatown is for tourists, but Chinese people eat in Richmond,” he said, shortly before informing me I’ve been holding chopsticks wrong for the better part of my life. (He gave me a tutorial, and also a lesson on how to actually pronounce Sichuan. I’m still practicing both).
Brianna and Vince had been talking about Sichuan Home all day, and with the anticipation plus a long afternoon hike on Angel Island, I was starving and excited to dive in. We ordered what any sane human would have deemed far too much food, yet managed to devour it in an embarrassingly short period of time.
The salt and pepper calamari had a batter I could not stop exclaiming over. It will be my life’s mission to recreate something so light and addicting. Simple string beans fried with chili, garlic, and pork were seared and snappy, not oily or deep fried like I’ve had them before, and the onion pancakes were soft and perfectly flaky. Then there were the Shanghai dumplings–juicy, steaming buns of broth that pop open in your mouth. An explosive treat that calms to a mouthful of spicy meat. That’s the dish you close your eyes in bliss for.
Finally, we had the Chef’s Special Fish Stew with spicy fish. There’s something about watching your food prepared, whether sitting at a sushi bar or peeking into a restaurant’s open kitchen. At Sichuan Home, you watch your soup boil in front of you until the broth becomes slick and the fish turns white. Don’t let the pale color fool you–the spice is real, and if you have a weak tolerance you’ll want to avoid the floating peppercorns that have the ability to literally numb your mouth. If you can handle it though, you’re in for a treat.
Sichuan cuisine comes from the southwestern Chinese province of the same name, and is characterized by saturated, spicy flavors thanks to liberal use of chili peppers. I love spice of all kinds, but appreciated that each dish was complex, made up of fragrant herbs, garlic, and building spices. Much better than pure heat. The more you travel, or I guess the more you live in general, the harder it becomes to have experiences that amaze you. New foods are one way I continuously peak my curiosity, and luckily for me there are thousands of regional specialities across the world I’ve yet to try. One day I’ll get to Sichuan (also home to giant pandas!) but for now I’ll live off the memories of this incredible meal shared with adventurous and enlightening friends.
Sichuan Home: 5037 Geary Blvd, San Francisco (between 14th & 15th Ave). 415-221-3288
Bonus: If you can fit in dessert (there’s always room), walk down the street for Japanese crepes at Genki Crepes & Mini Mart.