Here is the long-awaited recipe for Papi Picante’s “Spicy Father” sort-of-Sichuan-style noodle soup. I forgot to take pictures of the actual food, so you’ll just have to make it to see how it looks.

The food

You will need…

… To go to the Chinese supermarket. And get…

  • Fresh coriander, spring onions, garlic

  • Ginger (I just use ginger paste out of a jar)

  • Toasted sesame oil

  • Tofu. I use firm tofu but anything would work. The best would be the porous spongy type but I don’t know what this is called and I haven’t found it in shops.

  • Noodles. I think any kind would work, but I like these bog-standard wheat noodles:

    Wheat noodles

  • Chinese Chilli oil. There are lots of different things that would work here, basically as long as it lists Sichuan pepper in the ingredients and is super bright red, it’s probably great. Here’s what I usually get:

    Laoganma chilli oil

    That brand does a version with Kohlrabi that I really like, although it isn’t very spicy.

  • Doubanjiang. This is spicy fermented soybean paste:


  • Ya Cai and/or Zha Cai and/or general Chinese pickled vegetable business. There are lots of tasty pickled mustard-root and other stuff available in Chinese supermarkets. Here’s what I used last time:

    Pickled mustard

    Pickled mustard

  • Shaoxing rice wine (you’ll find this next to the sauces, not in the drinks aisle).

    Shoaxing rice wine

  • Light soy sauce

    Soy sauce

  • Chinkiang vinegar. This is a very sweet black rice vinegar:

    Chinkiang vinegar

  • Optional: raw, unsalted, shelled peanuts with the skin on.

  • Optional: sesame seeds (although you probably don’t want both peanuts and sesame seeds)

When you get home, drain and press the tofu then put it in the freezer. You can always skip this step, but I think the ice crystals create cavities that make the tofu absorb more flavour when you cook.

Optional step: roasting the peanuts

If you bought the raw peanuts, put them in a baking dish and roast them in the oven. I’ve always done this in a low heat for two or three hours, but some people on the internet seem to think you can just blast them for 20 minutes, so it probably doesn’t matter.

Anyway, the important thing is for the skins to take on a darker red colour. It gives them a bitter flavour that goes really well with the aggressively salty, acidic broth. For this reason I think it’s actually better to burn the peanuts slightly than to under-roast them. Be gentle while stirring them, you don’t want to lose the skin.

Making it

First, boil the tofu gently for 5 minutes or so in salted water (if you froze it, this is when it defrosts). Strain it, then try to press out as much water as possible. Now chop it into roughly 2-3cm cubes.

Chop up the garlic and fry it briefly in some sesame oil in a pot.

Now it’s basically just a matter of putting everything in the pot and heating it up. Here’s a very rough guideline for quantities for 5 or 6 portions:

  • 1tbsp. sesame oil

  • 6 cloves of garlic. Or more. Go wild.

  • 1/2tbsp. ginger or ginger paste

  • 3 or 4 tbsp. zha cai and/or ya cai and/or other pickled vegetable bits.

  • 1.5tbsp. doubanjiang

  • 2tbsp. shaoxing wine

  • 2tbsp. soy sauce

  • 4tbps. chinkiang vinegar

  • 1.5tbsp. chilli oil. Get the bits in, not just the oil itself.

  • Enough water to make it look like enough broth. Take some of this water from the noodle pot as you’re cooking them. The starch will help the broth stick to the noodles.

Add the tofu and bring to the boil. It just needs to cook long enough for the tofu to absorb the flavour, 15 minutes is fine. Once it’s underway you can start cooking the noodles.

Soup in pot

Chop up loads of coriander and one spring onion per person.

Once it’s all cooked, put each portion of noodles in a bowl, and ladle the broth & tofu over the top. Throw some coriander, spring onions, and optionally peanuts or sesame seeds on top. Grind some black pepper on top too if you feel like it. Put the vinegar on the table so people can add more to their bowl if they want. Yum.

Some other ideas

I sometimes add ground Sichuan pepper, but it doesn’t seem to make much difference. I suspect that, like with black pepper, pre-ground Sichuan pepper is pretty useless. Probably if I bought the whole peppercorns and added them freshly toasted and ground, it would be much better. Edit: I got curious and tasted my “ground Sichuan peppercorns” (straight out of its packaging from the shop, which is marked in English)… turns out it was cinnamon! However, I’ve since tried actual ground Suchian peppercorns from another shop and I still think it’s pretty useless.

I also haven’t tried adding other spices. I bet star anise would go well. If you wanted to get freaky you could try adding a few cloves. I dunno. Edit: star anise is indeed great. One and a half stars seems to be about the right amount for the quantities above.

Anyway, enjoy!