Huo Gong Dian–火宫殿 (the “Fire Palace”)–in Changsha 长沙, the capital of Hunan province, was a restaurant that Chairman Mao frequented. Some of its most famous dishes include charcoal-colored stinky tofu, pineapple bread, lamb kebabs, and Changsha doupi (豆皮, or dried beancurd). The charcoal stinky tofu tasted just as you would expect something called “charcoal” stinky tofu to taste. It was interesting. We also had a variety of dim sum-like mochi dishes, a spicy 河粉 [‘he fen’, or flat rice noodle] dish, ba-wan (a translucent glutinous rice ball stuffed with mushrooms and bamboo shoot), and my favorite of them all: pickled cabbage stir-fried in 4 different chilis. It was spicy to the point of tears and incapable of being eaten without rice. But it was mind-boggling-ly delicious. Jalapeno, something like red thai chilis, and different peppercorns. I’ve tried to remake it on my own on several occasions, but I can never get the sour, pickled cabbage taste.
Culturally, Huo Gong Dian is a temple fair that hosted folk shows, booths of local delicacies, and music. The tradition of Huo Gong Dian began in 26-21 B.C. by Emperor Ku (嚳) as a way to control fire disasters. Each character of 火宫殿 represents the Huxiang and Chuwu cultures, which are centered around the God of Fire. They also appropriately describe the unique spiciness of Hunan cuisine and the heat and humidity of Hunan’s climate.
Our journey through China concluded in Changsha, with a visit to their historical museum, and a garden where scholars used to frequent (though I may be completely wrong about that part). Honestly can’t remember too much about that part.
I do remember some of the most amazing 饅頭 ‘man tou’, or steamed buns. Reason one: they were really pretty. Reason two: they were so pillowy and soft, but still had the “bounce”/elasticity [彈性 ‘tan xing’ in Chinese] of a Tempurpedic mattress. Omnom.