Three “Spicy” Provinces in China (Part II) – Hunan

红辣椒(hóng làjiāo) hot peppers

In China, “辣椒(làjiāo) chili” has rich cultural connotations. The fire-red chilies, connected with feelings of joy and celebration, symbolize colorful and thriving lives. What’s more, the character “交(jiāo) make friends or associate with someone” is a homophone of “椒(jiāo)”, suggesting that making good friends with others can help you make a good fortune, get a lucky break, and achieve good things.

It is known throughout all of China that Hunan people are fond of eating chilies. They love them so much that they can’t have a meal without red, hot peppers; to them, a feast is not complete without chilies ! So, for Hunan cuisine, chilies play an all-important role in cooking, no matter whether the food is cooked by stir frying, braising, steaming, pan frying, stewing, boiling, simmering, deep frying, or simply served raw as a cold dish in sauce.

More interestingly, it is said that Hunan girls, who may look sweet and delicate at first glance, get fired up, outspoken, and fearless when eating spicy food. Men, you better stand aside when a Hunan girl is fueled with spicy food! Thanks to this reputation, they have earned the name “辣妹子(làmèizi) Spicy Girls”, indicating that these girls are as enthusiastic as fire, independent, and bold. In Chinese, there is a popular song called 辣妹子(làmèizi), sung by the famous Chinese singer Song Zuying. The song praises the Hunan “辣妹子(làmèizi)”, fearing no spicy food.

辣妹子(làmèizi) Spicy Girls

Hunan Province is called “湘(xiāng)” for short, so we can also call Hunan cuisine “湘菜(xiāngcài)”, which is one of the Eight Famous Chinese Cuisines. “湘菜(xiāngcài)” is known for its fresh spiciness. To Hunan people, the spicy flavor within the five flavors (sweet, sour, bitter, spicy, and salty) is something more than a kind of flavor. It is the zingy piquant, prickling feeling when it touches the tip of your tongue. This feeling is said to increase the eater’s appetite, which is an enjoyment that spice-lovers look for when dining.

剁椒鱼头(duòjiāo yútóu) Fish head steamed with chopped chili

Do you drool at the mention of “麻辣火锅(málà huǒguō) spicy hotpot” which was introduced in our last issue? This week we will get to know more about a Hunan specialty which also deserves your full attention — “剁椒鱼头(duòjiāo yútóu) Fish head steamed with chopped chili”!

Let’s start from the beginning and take a look at how “剁辣椒(duòlàjiāo)”, a specialty condiment of Hunan, is made. Preparation of “剁辣椒(duòlàjiāo)” is not difficult: chop up red chilies, put them into earthen jars and preserve them for a few days. This chopped chili tastes spicy, fresh and salty, and of course, the flavor is a little bit heavy.


Now for the main course! “剁椒鱼头(duòjiāo yútóu)” is also called “鸿运当头(hóngyùn dāngtóu) good luck strikes one’s head” and “开门红(kāiménhóng) good start” since “鸿(hóng)” and “红(hóng) red”, the color of the chopped chilies, are homophones and the “头(tóu) head” here refers to the fish head, which also symbolizes a new start.

Making this famous Hunan delicacy is also easy, so you can give it a try at home — put enough “剁辣椒(duòlàjiāo)” on the fish head and steam it in a pot for a few minutes until fully cooked. That’s it! This dish successfully combines the freshness of fish heads and the spiciness of chopped chilies, plus it packs in a truly unique flavor. You can find this special dish in almost any restaurants and hotels, and it is also a typical home-style dish for Hunan people. If you’re not accustomed to eating fish head you should really give this a taste anyway. You never know, you might really enjoy it! Plus, it is said that you haven’t really eaten Hunan cuisine until you have had a taste of “剁椒鱼头(duòjiāo yútóu)”!

Hunan cuisine tastes fresh and spicy, while Hunan people are friendly and kind. If you get an opportunity to visit Hunan, do not forget to taste this special “剁椒鱼头(duòjiāo yútóu)”!

HSK 3 quiz

1. Which of the following is not a cultural connotation of “辣椒(làjiāo)” in China?
A. Its fired-red color symbolizes colorful and thriving lives.
B. The spicy flavor of the chili symbolizes health and energy.
C. “交(jiāo),” having the same pronunciation as “椒(jiāo),” suggests making good friends with others.
2. What is the personality of “辣妹子(làmèizi)”?
A. Delicate
B. Shy
C. Enthusiastic
3. What is the cooking method for making “剁椒鱼头(duòjiāo yútóu)”?
A. Stir-fry
B. Stew
C. Steam

Related Post:

Three “Spicy” Provinces in China (Part I) – Sichuan
Chinese Culture
HSK Test
General Chinese (Beginner Level) 
General Chinese (Intermediate Level) 

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