Quick Look: Sichuan Spiciness At Yan Bang Cai
Sichuan cuisine is known for its tongue-numbing spiciness. And in Chicago’s Chinatown, a number of places are advertising dishes from this region. However, only a couple of them do it right, and one of those is Yan Bang Cai, a restaurant on Cermak whose name indicates they feature spicy, rich and salty Sichuan dishes specifically from the region around the Zigong salt mines. These salt mines made the area one of the richest in China, and the cuisine certainly reflects this ancient prosperity.
As we sat down, our waitress handed us extensive menus that cover a slew of Sichuan dishes. It was difficult to decide for the two of us, so we opted for some of the most popular goodies just to test out the food.
And we were very impressed. Our favorite dish of the evening was fuqi feipian, a cold appetizer of spicy beef tripe with Sichuan peppercorns. Unlike most other places, Yan Bang Cai has the perfect proportion of tongue-numbing spice paired with rich flavors that still stand out in taste. It’s rare to find a chef who can make this starter open up your stomach for even more spicy dishes.
The main dishes were also impressive. The mapo tofu, my all-time favorite Sichuan dish, was flawless in texture and flavor. One bite of that silky tofu suspended in a viscous, savory stew, and you will be transported across the world.
I would also highly recommend the cumin lamb if you are interested in a more meat-focused dish or the yuxiang eggplant if you’d like to try eggplants prepared in a mesmerizing way that will leave you trying to pinpoint the exact flavors. To save you the trouble, the sauce is described in the name as “fish fragrance”, which imparts flavors similar to fish sauce. Thankfully, it’s not actually fishy, but enormously well-balanced instead.
If you are looking for a quick, authentic Sichuan restaurant, Yan Bang Cai will blow your taste buds away! Plus, your meal won’t cost you an arm and a leg so you’ll have some pocket change left over for some Chinese pastries at Saint Anna Bakery!
Yan Bang Cai is located at 228 W Cermak Rd.
By Lu Yao