Szechuan House: I Wonder What They Do With So Much Leftover Chili


It had been a long while since we had Sichuan food. The last time was at Mr Zhang. It was a good meal at Mr Zhang and we enjoyed it a lot. A few people did go after I published that post but some ended up very disappointed with Mr Zhang. There you go … taste are so subjective, isn’t it?

Anyway, in that post on Mr Zhang, Alleycat left a comment recommending a Sichuan restaurant called the Szechuan House Restaurant. Alleycat, who came from Sichuan, vouched that it is authentic compared to many other Sichuan restaurants in Vancouver.

That, coming from a Sichuanese, I had to check out.

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The Szechuan House Restaurant is located on Imperial at the intersection with Sussex in Burnaby. This is on a small strip mall of seven businesses only with nothing else but residential units within that whole block.

Because of the relative quietness of this area, parking is readily available on the street.

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Szechuan House is very much a hole-in-the-wall. It is a simple no-frills setup.

As we walked past the other tables, we noticed that everyone had the Boiled Sliced Fish just like what Lissa said she had. So we already know one of the dishes we wanted to order.

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Service? Well, it did not get to a good start. I did not want to go over the menu and instead wanted to ask the waitress about the menu on the board. I mean, I am sure those dishes are worth ordering and all.

So I asked the jeh-jeh what those dishes are and if she could translate that to me explaining that I can’t read Chinese. She just said they are specials!

I know they are specials … but what is it?

I think she did not know how to translate the dishes or she was not keen to do that. So we left it at that. She does have a glum look. So, yeah, the service is not good.

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So instead, we turned our attention to their menu instead. I can’t get any help from the waitress who I don’t like already.

Grudgingly I must say that their menu is very interesting. Just look at the first page where they lists the “New To The Menu” dishes. Don’t you want to order them all? I did!

And the on the 2nd page above, there is the “Chef’s Special” … and that too we want to order them all.

I hate the service but I love the menu. Actually, I meant I don’t like the waitress.

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This is it … the dish that every table ordered. When they served this, I can immediately see why this is such a hit.

This is their specialty and it is called the Szechuan style Boiled Sliced Fish on the menu. It is not cheap at all. This one is …

$19 which is a regular sized one. The “extra larger” one which is served “in full dry chili oil” is a whopping $30.

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They served this in a way I had not come across before. It is like an action dish. It came with the oil still boiling and bubbling. Right in front of us, they then scooped the dry chili out leaving enough behind. It was a lot that was scooped out which was a large bowl.

And they took the bowl of dry chili away! On one hand I was thinking it was such a waste taking that away and then on the other hand I was wondering what they were going to do with so much chili.

Throw it away? I sure hope so!

Actually I was kind of worried that they recycle the chili. You reckon?

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That nasty thought aside, the food was terrific. The oil does keep the dish hot a lot longer. This dish you want to eat hot. When it’s cold, it’s not good.

There were quite a lot of fish and the fish was fresh tasting and springy. The lovely thing is that you can’t avoid the numbing Sichuan peppercorn. They are everywhere and sticks to the fish which makes it such a joy to eat.

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At the bottom of the bowl is a bed of soy bean sprout which was equally as good.

This dish was our favourite. Suanne, Arkensen and Nanzaro all love it. I can see why all the tables ordered this dish despite the $19 price tag.

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This was actually the first item served, ahead of the fish dish, and is considered an appetizer item. What is the proper way to eat this? Do the Sichuanese people eat this just by itself like an appetizer or do they have this with rice.

We always have this with rice. The “jhup” is just too good not to have rice.

Anyway, I don’t know if you noticed that the dish is chipped on the picture above (right side). I don’t care but Suanne said we should mention it.

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It has a noticeable saltiness to the “jhup” and so it’s better to have it with rice.

I still don’t like the waitress but this one is mouth watering.

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To the uninitiated, this dish above is shocking. Look at the all the dried chili!

This is called the House Special Deep Fried Chicken with Dried Chili ($16) and I think this is also known as the La Zi Ji.

Very fragrant. We can smell the fried chili. Suanne said she doesn’t get this dish at all because it is so expensive and there are more chili than chicken. But to the boys in the family, we all like it.

Hey you are not supposed to eat the chili but there is nothing to prevent you from doing so. Yeah, I do eat a few of the chili … and then suffer the consequence of plumbing problems the next days.

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The chicken pieces are really small. They are very very deep fried. They are so deep fried that some of the bones are so brittle and can be eaten. It is awesome. But for $16, it is not cheap, right?

Here … take a look at Nanzaro hunting for the last remaining pieces of chicken meat.

Oh … yeah. I was also wondering what they did with the remaining fried chilis. There were a lot left and I wonder if they recycle this too. I mean, it is a lot to throw away isn’t it?

[shudder]

Anyway, we asked for the chili packed to go. They are great to do a quick dish at home (like Nanzaro will make fried rice with this!).

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The Mapo Tofu (Minced Pork on top) is $12. This is a small serving and is done a bit different from what we are used to see. This looked authentic in that they have powdered Sichuan peppercorn sprinkled on top.

Taste wise, it is not something we like. It is because the peppercorn leaves a distinct taste of bitterness.

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Their prices are on the high side. The waitress and I don’t get along but otherwise the food is commendable.

Since this is near my office, I could drive over easily for lunch. Anyway, this restaurant accepts only cash or debit cards.

Szechuan House Restaurant (Burnaby) on Urbanspoon BUSINESS HOURS
Mon, Tue & Sun: 11:30AM – 2:30PM and 5:00 PM – 10:00 PM
Wed & Thur: 5:00 PM – 10:00 PM (no lunch service)
Fri & Sat: 11:30AM – 2:30PM and 4:30 PM – 10:00 PM

32 thoughts on “Szechuan House: I Wonder What They Do With So Much Leftover Chili

  1. Hello, Ben & Suanne! I’m posting here for the very first time, but I have been reading it. I came to Vancouver last year and I found it such an interesting food culture (especially Chinese food culture) place. So this year I opened a blog about eating-out. I refer to your blog very much and following where you went because it’s great blog and I learn so much on it.
    My blog is in Japanese with a little bit of translation to English. (There are only a few reports because I have just started.)

    My husband and I went to Szechuan house restaurant and have done first experience of Szechuan boiled fish.I think I’m too beginner to the Szechuan cuisine to enjoy this dish from the soul. I can eat, but after a bit I had enough. Actually I liked better when I ate left over that we took back home, Because spiciness gets mild when the dish get cold.

    Anyway, I like their menu. I also noticed they have very good English translation on the menu. I have never seen the word “Sauerkraut” used on Chinese restaurant’s English menuLOL
    Also La zi ji you had is interesting. I have never had in my life the chicken so deep-fried that the bones can be eaten. Sounds so yummy!

    Because Japanese use Chinese characters, and with my beginner level Chinese, I can read menu on the wall. Says;

    Fragrant chili crab
    Fermented green beans fried with minced pork
    Fermented green cow-peas fried with beef stripes
    Szechuan fragrant garlic chive flower

    I wanna go back to try more dish, but maybe I have to understand more Szechuan cuisine first.
    Sorry for my poor..ish English..:)

    • Hi Miho: Thanks for letting know of your site. Love it! I am going to add your site to chowtimes’ blogroll. I like the type of restaurants you go to. Ben

    • Hi Eric:

      Yeah, I changed the style since a couple of weeks ago. I thought it would be better than just “Restaurant Name and Address” … more eye catching to people who comes to our site from Twitter and Facebook. Whether it is coincidental or not, ever since I changed it, I see a lot of click throughs from Twitter and Facebook. I can’t be sure about Facebook because it still has the Kumare effect. Some of our readers don’t come to chowtimes everyday to check but many of them are Facebook users. So my theory is that people will click through if they see a gist of what the post is about than a bland “Restaurant Name and Address”.

      But tell me … what is your thoughts on this? With me, you can be open and I have an open mind. You prefer it the way it was?

      Ben

      • I fully support the addition of the caption. As you said, it lets readers know beforehand about what the article is about beyond where the restaurant is and/or the possible type of cuisine there. Catchy titles get people’s attention. I often tinker with my blog titles just to get something more meaningful. And with Twitter and Facebook, to capture interest you need to do it quickly and the caption works, as you have said. Keep it up, I think it’s a good change for your blog.

        Just a question, what’s the “Kumare Effect”?

      • Hi Eric: I wrote a post about Kumare recently, and it had been on the top 10 post ever since that day. it is still on top 10. I see that ever since that post too (which coincidentally is when I changed the title style) a lot of incoming referrals came from Facebook (and Twitter). I used to get like 10 incomings a day and today I get 70-100 incomings a day from Facebook. People were telling me that Kumare has spread my post on their restaurant via Facebook and hence the “Kumare effect” but I was wondering if it really is because why am I not seeing this same effect with other restaurant posts (i.e. is Kumare smarter than everyone else leveraging on Facebook while no other restaurants even thought of it?). I still don’t have the answer. Ben

  2. Thanks for the writeup on Szechuan House — me and another Chowhound were discussing an all spicy Chowdown here. I love water boiled fish but it is a bit expensive, unless you get it at 9 Dishes :-). Incidentally that is my favourite version so far.

    The video of the chicken picker is fun. But did I hear a belch in there???

      • Hi Joyluckclub: Hehehe … I take joy in organizing chowdown. I can definitely do it if more people are interested. I want to get a couple of things out of the way first (Mamak Cafe and 8GTCC) and we can talk business. Ben

    • LOL! Was there a belch there somewhere. It’s certainly not me. Not Nanzaro … not Arkensen either. It must be Suanne’s. Oh where is the discussion on the all spicy chowdown? After so many HK Style Cafes’ I am yearning for more spicy food. Someone recommended me to try Beijing Garden … have you heard of them before? Ben

      • Hey Ben, are you talking about Beijing Garden at Cambie & 18th in Vancouver? They advertise themselves as “specialized in Cantonese & Szechuan style.” Most of the dishes seem Cantonese to my uneducated eye, but they do have a bunch of Szechuan dishes, including the spicy boiled fish and the deep fried chicken. I have to say that, to my taste, they overdo the Szechuan peppercorns — so much so that it is the only thing I can taste and then the food is too one-dimensional and lacking in depth of flavour — and as many people can attest, I’m not too shy about piling on the spices. If you and Suanne do decide to check it out, I’d love to know what you think.

      • Hi A la carte: Yeah, that’s the one. Some one told me that their water boiled fish is very good. In the absence of any other Sichuan restaurant to try (this is the only one I have on my list left), we’ll give it go. Oh … Cantonese and Sichuan is an odd mix. One is bland and the other is fiery … like night and day, ice and fire, sugar and salt kind of thing. 🙂 Ben

      • Beijing Garden is now occupying the location of what used to be the other (second) location of Szechuan House Restaurant. At least I believe they were affiliated – same logo, name, but not quite the same menu. The Burnaby location served more authentic Sichuan food than that former Cambie location.

        I have been to the Sichuan House (in Burnaby) a couple of times….but it is hard to resist S&W Pepperhouse just around the corner when I have a hankering for Sichuan food.

      • I’ve only been to the previous incarnation, Szechuan House Restaurant, which was quite good despite that we rarely order anything too spicy & hot. The current Beijing Garden is trying to be all things to all people, and IMHO is actually not excelling in either cuisine (Cantonese, Szechuan, even northern and Shanghai flavours, darn silly when Shanghai Village is 2 blocks away !)

      • So Beijing Garden is not that good, huh? Hmmm … I’ll go and I think it will be interesting to write about places like this (trying to be everything to everyone). Ben

      • I agree with LR, I’ve tried the non-Szechuan food at Beijing Garden as well and, again, it wasn’t that good — I haven’t found any reason to go back, particularly with such great alternatives relatively close by. I haven’t tried the water boiled fish though — at $18.95 + HST it was a bit much for my solo dining forays. On the plus side Ben, I think you’ll like the service there — the wait staff are very friendly!

      • Ben, you made me remember how much I miss Szechuan House at Cambie and 19th! 😦

        I second the intel that the Szechuan House in Cambie Village used to be an affiliate of the Szechuan House in Burnaby. It was really very good. The menu was the same (or almost the same) as the one photographed in your post.

        Based on my experience with the Cambie location, a couple dishes I might recommend include the #8 Stir Fry Shredded Pork Kidney With Green Onion and Bamboo (火爆腰花), and #78 Stir-Fried Duck Tongues with Szechuan Flavour Pickled Pepper (泡椒鴨舌).

        Come to think of it, you know, I think one of the first times I contacted you might have been to recommend the Cambie Szechuan House. I was looking for a way to help give them some exposure because I was sad to see they did not have as many customers as they deserved! 🙂

        But they are gone now, which brings me to Beijing Garden. Well, first off, the fact that someplace specializing in Cantonese and Szechuan dishes chose the name “Beijing Garden” made me a little bit… uncertain what to expect.

        On our first visit, we chatted with the new owner a bit. It sounded like they had kept at least one chef from Szechuan House, and added a Cantonese chef. The water-boiled fish was pretty good, if maybe a little bit weaker than under the old management. (Actually, to tell the truth this was on the way home from the 8GTCC Jiangsu dinner, so we assumed we were just too full to be fair! 😮 )

        We’ve tried Beijing Garden a few times since then, always ordering from the Szechuan section at the back of the menu (the pages are colour-coded), trying to relive our memories of Szechuan House. Although I’m sure they are trying hard, the Szechuan food has definitely declined. We kind of suspect that maybe they lost their main Szechuan chef, or had only contracted them for a training period, or… ?

        It’s too bad, though. We live in the area and we were really hoping they would manage to pull it off. Instead, we’re looking for a new primary source of Szechuan food. 😦

      • I’d love to try the Sichuan part of the menu at Beijing if you decide to do a meal there Ben and need extra bellies :-). I’m turning into a water boiled fish fanatic and will try it anywhere, anytime.

        Re New Chonqing, we’ve been a few times now and had takeout once, all quite successful if a bit pricier than other better known Sichuan joints in lower rent areas. I don’t think it’ll win any awards but it’s a solid choice in that ‘hood for sure, especially if you order carefully and earnestly convince them you want the “real” spicing.

      • Hi Grayelf: Great! For places like these the more people the more we can order. Alright … I’ll check with you when we want to go try Beijing. Ben

      • “New Chongquing in Kerrisdale (under Golden Ocean) is decent:”
        which I cannot agree on as I had a dinner with a lady friend there and the place was freezing cold, they did not bother to turn on the heat, from the time I sat down around 7pm till I finished around 8:30pm- as you have to leave because it was so bloody cold even after you ate the fiery hot dishes. I had the classic water boiled fish and they use the grounded pepper corn so the peppery taste was different and it was not the same.
        One more thing upset was that I was trying to pay with my credit card, the bill was around $50 and they told me my card was no good. It was embarrassing in front of my friend and it turns out my card was fine as I pump some gas with the same card because i want to find card rejection was true or not. If they don’t want to take credit card say so on the front door and don’t play the non-working card scheme. I wouldn’t go back there.

        .

      • DonaldD, sorry your experience at New Chonqing wasn’t satisfactory. You are quite right that they use ground hua jiao on the water boiled fish but I don’t mind that so I guess it’s a matter of taste.

        We did experience the lack of heat once but it was when we went with a really big group and were seated in the separate backroom area (there are no big big tables in the front). I frequently find myself keeping my jacket on for entire meals in Van restos — Ningtu is another culprit for this.

        Just to be clear, I think New Chonqing is decent for the food, not stellar. I tend not to pay much attention to the non-food goings on when I dine out :-).

      • Hi Shmoo: Do you read and write Chinese? I am totally impressed if you do! Anyway, did you say that you went to Beijing Garden after the 8GTCC Jiangsu dinner? How could anyone eat anything else after 17 dishes?!? You amazes me. Ben

      • Hey Ben,

        I can read a reasonable amount of chinese, except that I haven’t been practicing much in recent years, so lately only my food-related vocabulary seems to be increasing. 🙂

        Also, I don’t speak very well at all, because I am too easily embarrassed to practice much. My listening skills used to be pretty bad, but they are getting a lot better.

        Like many english speakers, tones are my nemesis. Because of how english works, I can remember the tonality of an entire sentence much easier than I can memorize the tones for a single word. (Although I can usually differentiate words based on tone, if someone else is speaking.)

        But enough about language. 🙂

        Regarding having some water-boiled fish on the way home from the Jiangsu 8GTCC, let me just say it was… not my idea. One member of our party suggested that Jiangsu or Shanghai cuisine always makes them crave Sichuan cuisine, and the next thing I knew we were stopping in to check out the then-new Beijing Garden on the way home…

        I’m not sure how we found the space in our tummies after the jiangsu feast. Maybe we are skilled at pacing ourselves through banquets… or maybe we are just crazy. Probably a little of both. 🙂

  3. I like Sichuan food, maybe I will try on this restaurant one day. I only tried 3 Sichuan food here in vancouver, 1 on Kingsway I think it was in front of the Scotiabank, not nice… the froggie was frozen one unlike those nice one I tried in Shanghai. The other 2 are in Crystal Mall, they are quite good too. Only remember one of the name is 西南风.

  4. Be honest I don’t think you can “recycle” those leftover chili simple because once cooked the chili favour is gone, second time cooking will not give you the same taste. you can experiment it at home. I had the same dish in Sichuan China but in a much bigger bowl, I had shrimp instead of fish fillet. They salted the shrimp and it gives you different layer of taste on each bite. You will be hooked on this kind of dishes after you tried it. I know I did.

    • Hi DonaldD: Now that you mention it, shrimp is definitely an interesting replacement for the water boiled fish. Hmmm … I am also thinking that it could also be interesting to see how it will taste like substituting the chicken in la zi ji with deep fried prawns. Could be a winner. Ben

  5. It’s funny that you went here and I went to lunch at Alvin Garden on Tuesday 🙂 I liked the chicken more than the fish dish though.

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