I recently went to a Hunanese feast with some friends at Spicy Beauty restaurant which I loved even before we got there because of the awesome name (an enthusiasm that has diminished somewhat after a google search…sigh). Hunan cuisine is similar to Sichuan in that it is still pretty spicy but has a few other elements in there as well – notably sweet and sour flavours. In each dish there was something surprising, but also a balance. Mild fish soup is kicked up with sour vinegar, a pickled cabbage is sprinkled liberally with dried chilies. OK, that is maybe a poor example since most everything here is doused in chilies but you get the idea.
We had battered frog stir-fried with peppers, cumin scented lamb and onion (a dish I’ve also had at Lucky Noodle, another Hunanese restaurant), chicken with chilies and cracker twists, the aforementioned basa fish soup with glass noodles and pickled cabbage with chilies. There was a lot of heat to be had in some of the dishes but because of the balance of flavours it never felt over-powering. For dessert we ordered a dish from Northern China – fried and steamed mantou doughnuts with condensed milk that made everyone pretty happy.
Spicy Beauty is at 1707 Kingsway, in Vancouver.