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Wednesday 29 June 2011

Old Szechuan, Edmonton AB - fire breathing spicy goodness

Rating Service 7.5/10, Food 8.5/10
It started with a craving... then when a fellow foodie had a craving for flavorful and spicy food, I had the perfect excuse to call up other like minded foodies and hit up Old Szechuan in downtown Edmonton.  I loooove spicy food, with a caveat that the food is as super flavorful as its spicy... and not just one big plate of lava.  Looking like a converted ramshackle house with a dirt/gravel parking lot, this little unpolished gem is one of the best places in Edmonton to have traditional Szechuan fare. Translation - food with lots of flavors and packing plenty of heat to boot... some dishes comprise of 50% chili peppers. For those that are faint of heart, or prefer to have your tongue unperforated at the end of the meal - fear not, as all dishes can be made from a spicy level of zero to a check sanity level 7. Just be sure to let the waitresses know or you'll be having your meal prepared at the heat level its traditionally offered at. Red table cloths and an abundance of red decor gives the interior and its occupants a ruddy glow. With a small aquarium of live crabs and fish in the front, and tantalizing smells drifting out from the kitchen, we're quickly seated and scanning the very extensive menu.


the FOOD
We order a couple of tried and true dishes, and everyone around the table picks out an additional dish or two to try, with a few spicy ones and non-spicy dishes so everyone's palate will survive intact at the end of the meal. The menu has some odd literal translations - there was a dish made with "strange sauce" that we smiled at, but one of the waitresses do speak English as well as Mandarin and is happy to describe a dish or entree for us.  She kindly also gave us a large pitcher of ice water along with the traditional hot pot of chinese tea.  I was more than happy to admit to being a wuss and having that bottomless pitcher of icewater handy throughout the meal.  Menu item numbers are included as many of the translations for the menu items are quite ambiguous, and they have over 400 items to try!

#358 Cold Szechuan noodles
One of my favorite dishes at Old Szechuan is their handmade noodles. They revamped their menu, so we had to search all the way to the back of the menu to find it. Made in house, cooked to an al dente with a wonderful bouncy-springy texture, its then tossed with a light secret sauce that's finished off with a liberal coating of fragrant chili oil and garnished with some shredded lettuce. Mmmmmmmmm. The sauce is nicely balanced with tangy lime, salty savory flavors, and oh so addictively good.  Its a good thing we ordered a few plates of the noodles, cuz they disappeared fast!

#63 Grilled cumin lamb skewers
With choices of marinated chicken, beef, pork, lamb and bunny rabbit, we opt for the lamb.  With pricing similar to Tropika, to save our wallets, everyone got a skewer as an appetizer rather than get a bunch of them as an entree.  Marvelously marinated with cumin and other savories, the skewers are grilled to a medium-rare, with some smaller pieces well done.  Each cube of meat is a tender explosion of flavor, with a residual spicy echo after you finish off the skewer.  The roasted sesame seeds adds a bit of extra texture, flavor and color to the dish.

#133 Shrimp in spice
To give our burning mouths a reprieve, the large shrimp has a light crunchy coating, stir fried in garlic and seasoned with a peppercorn seasoning salt.. with a spicy rating of amazingly... zero!  Aromatic, and lusciously crisp tender, these oversized shrimp disappeared quickly, and with good reason... they were delicious.  You can't go wrong with huge shrimp, a nearly invisible crispy seasoned batter cooked to perfection.  The bed of shredded lettuce was nice, but the shrimp is the star of this dish.  Nom!

#316 Stir fried gai-lan with garlic
Fresh bite sized (okay 2-3 bites) pieces of gai-lan (think a more crunchy crisp version of swiss chard) are simply tossed in a hot gas-powered wok with some vegetable oil, garlic and salt.  The natural gas stove super heats up the wok to give it a flavor we don't find at home.. "wok hay" which roughly translates into the "aroma of wok" - its like the extra flavoring we get from the bbq rather than shoving a piece of meat into the oven.  Carcinogens you say? Oh well... Mmmm! Makes my food tastes so good!

#320 Mapo tofu
Mapo tofu is named as a dish an elderly lady could eat - and this lady likes spice!  Mapo or "mah por" = my grandma.  Cubes of tofu are bathed in a spicy red glaze with bits of garlic and chopped Szechuan peppers.  The homestyle version of this dish has some ground pork or diced pork to add in some savoriness, but this vegetarian version holds wells on its own, with the tofu having a surprising amount of flavor from just the aromatic chili's alone.  The chilis almost have a citrus note to it... my tongue goes numb before I can confirm that LOL!  That's okay though, Szechuan peppers are known for tongue numbing, red face and sweating, coughing and automatic reaching out for that glorious pitcher of ice water.

#359 Minced pork and vegetable with sweet bean sauce over noodles
A mouthful for the name, and a tasty mouthful when the bowl of homemade noodles came out. The pork and vegetables are minced so finely, you'll have a hard time finding the vegetables (perfect for kids or nit picky big kids) and sauteed in a rich dark brown broad bean sauce. No hint of beaniness here - rather, it adds in a creamy richness that works well with the pork, and with no chili's in this dish, it was a hearty warm dish that everyone enjoyed and was sad to see an empty plate far too soon.

#337 Kelp and pork spareribs soup
To help slake our thirst, a pork bone broth opaque from hours of simmering has a few long strands of kelp intertwined with small chunks of salted spareribs.  Savory and light, it was a nice comforting bowl of soup.  The kelp was left as long strands, making it a bit tricky to serve the soup without splashing or dropping the kelp on the table.  Cutting it down into bite sized pieces would make it much eater to eat, and look a little less like a tangle of seaweed in the serving tureen.

#178 Diced chicken with chili sauce
A traditional Szechuan meal isn't complete without at least one dish comprised of at least 50% of the peppers the culture is known for. Small cubes of boneless chicken is sauteed with green onions and a ridiculous amount of Szechuan peppers, giving the dish not only a spicy kick, but imparting the citrusy sweet and aromatic notes only found with these peppers.    Oh, and a tongue numbing searing burn. Not to be confused with #176 - a fried and in-bone version of this dish and also very tasty too (Szechuan style chicken with Szechuan peppers).  Delicious and fiery... bite into a pepper and you'll be breathing fire like a dragon in no time. Pfffhoooooo!

#113 Fried fish with hot and spicy sauce
A bit of a misnomer, as this fish was not fried, but a favorite none the less amongst customers.  The fish is fresh - one of the ones you see swimming in the aquarium when you walk in, and its gently poached in a seductively intensely flavorful broth.  The broth has oodles of depth and flavor with the help of the namesake Szechuan peppers, Szechuan peppercorns, roasted gingerroot, cumin seeds, coriander/fennel seeds, garlic, cilantro, onions and a whole host of herbs and spices in it to gently saturate the white fish meat with subtle and intense flavors.  The sweetness of the fresh fish somehow remains intact despite the aromatic broth, and the pieces of lettuce in the broth is amazing - absorbing both the savoriness of the fish and the flavors of the broth... nom!  Traditionally served at a 5-7 spicy level, we wussed out and had it made medium around 2-3 spicy level... and it still arrived with a radioactive red coating of chili oil. Mmmmm... and pfffhooooo!


Overall, an excellent panorama of Szechuan cuisine with many of the dishes created faithful to its traditional roots. Just be prepared to sweat, flush, sputter and guzzle ice cold water if you don't keep things below a spicy level of 3. Or are you game for a dish at the ultimate 7?

Old Szechuan
Address  10703 - 103 St, Edmonton, AB
Phone (780) 428-5468
Hours Open daily for dinner only 5-10pm, closed tuesdays 
Old Szechaun on Urbanspoon


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Elsie said...

ooh wow! It looks good! I'll be sure to try this place since I never know what to eat when I'm in Edmonton!! :) Thanks for the great review!

aquarium lighting edmonton said...

Thanks for a great post, i will keep visiting here.

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