Szechuan or Sichuan food is the spiciest of all Chinese cuisines. The spiciness is unlike other spices such as Thai or Indian in that the main ingredient used is the Sichuan peppercorn, or hua jiao which leaves a tingly, numbing effect on your tongue. For those unaccustomed to this, your first experience might be one which leaves you feeling high or euphoric, and this is quite a natural reaction to this very small, but pungent spice.
In Orange County, good Sichuanese restaurants are still hard to come , but Chong Qing Mei Wei can be considered one of the better ones around serving up decent enough fare to satiate those cravings for hot and spicy food.
Sichuan restaurants in southern California generally offers a cold buffet table where a lot of appetizers are laid out for your pickings. These can range from the simplest of items such as pickled cucumbers, soy flavored bamboo shoots, diced dried tofu cubes and edamame to the more exotic, namely, sliced pig’s ears, spicy beef tendon, or the famous fuqi feipian (husband and wife sliced lung) which is a mixture of tendon, beef and tripe tossed in a chili seasoning. Contrary to the name of the dish, there is no lung at all.
There are many dishes which are not spicy and if you are wary in any way, ask them to make it mild. However, the spicy dishes are what they are famous for. Mapo tofu is another traditional Sichuanese dish, however, the version here is just mediocre at best. If you are looking for a vegetarian choice, opt for the eggplant or green beans. The sauteed julienned potatoes are also lovely.
Cumin lamb is one of the best dishes here, along with the dry-pot beef, both are highly spicy and on the greasy side. Sichuanese food leans towards the greasy side probably due to the fact that in order to extract the flavors from the peppercorns, it has to be slowly cooked in oil in order for its intoxicating aromas and flavors to be fully infused in the oil.
There are some photos on the menu to guide you if it is your first time, but if you are unsure, the best thing to do is to see what other people are eating and if it looks good, let your server know and take a chance to be inspired. Otherwise, choose something like la zi chicken or shrimp or even kung pao chicken, which will be prepared closer to the authentic way rather than the American way. No matter what, if it is your first Sichuanese food experience, it will be one you won’t forget!
Chong Qing Mei Wei (**credit card accepted**)
5406 Walnut Ave
Irvine, CA 92604