Spicy Food and Revolutionaries in Hunan

“Spicy Food and Revolutionaries in Hunan,” published in Vagabond Journey on May 28, 2013

In Chengdu, I had just experienced the most delicious week of my life. I had tasted Sichuan delicacies like tiger skin peppers, scorching hot hot pot, and authentic ma po tofu. When I stepped off the overnight train to Hunan and was greeted by Tan Chao in Zhuzhou city, I said, “Hunan food has a lot to live up to.”

Not a good way to great a Chinese friend. Chinese people are ardent that everything from their hometown is the best, and Hunanese people are especially fiery in defending their interests.

Throughout its history, Hunan has produced fierce nationalists and revolutionaries, the most famous of whom was Mao Zedong, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party who founded the People’s Republic of China. Mao told journalist Edgar Snow that people who consume diets heavy in hot peppers are natural revolutionaries.

Needless to say, Tan Chao wasn’t happy to hear my comments. Hunan and Sichuan cuisines are the two spiciest styles in China, so there’s a little rivalry between the two provinces as to whose food is the best. Chao and her friend, Kerry, were ready to set me straight.

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