Today, things are going to get heated.
I’m not upset with anyone, but my chili-eating ability was seriously tested last night at Bushuair Restaurant. When I called to make the reservation, the woman asked “You like spicy food?” to which I nervously replied “YES! Yes I do!” We were asked the same question by our server once we arrived, and they still looked at us warily.
I was joined by my friends Richard, Carolyn, and Alan, all of whom have much higher spice tolerance than me, and Carolyn and Alan had both been to Bushuair before. The restaurant specializes in Hunan cuisine which, because it’s known to be spicy, is often confused with the food of Szechuan. Hunan cuisine, however, more often utilizes fresh chilies (as opposed to chili bean paste as in Szechuan cooking), and other staples include garlic, shallots, and rice. Meats, smoked meats, and fish/shellfish (from Hunan’s lakes, including turtles) are popular, and the cuisine is known for its long and elaborate preparations.
Hunan is also the birthplace of Mao Zedong, which is why his portrait greets customers at the front entrance of Bushuair!
We settled ourselves into a booth, and had a look at the hilariously-large menus. They were essentially picture books – so enormous we could barely fit two at the table. It IS handy to be able to see images of the dishes, however, and almost everything looked incredibly appetizing.
Save for this brain, perhaps.
There were a few mis-translations we enjoyed. Take Mr. Designated Duck here, the spotting of whom was quickly followed by “So I guess he’ll driving home tonight.” Then I saw his eyeball staring at me from the picture, and I could tell he was entirely unimpressed.
There is very little English spoken at Bushuair, but we managed to communicate with our server just fine. Once we’d convinced her we DID in fact want spicy food, she told us what some of her favourite dishes are, and we went with most of those.
We had smoked bacon with chilis and sautéed lettuce root in hot pot ($16.95), which everyone loved. The slices of pork belly were rich and salty, especially tasty with the thick slices of garlic. We were all quite enamoured with lettuce root, which had the crunchy texture of sliced broccoli stalks, and tasted rather like them, too. The dish was full of sliced red chilis, but as long as I picked my food out carefully, I was ok. Sweating, but ok.
We ordered the fern root noodles ($11.95) simply because we’d never seen them before. They were dark, wiry, and quite firm, served cold in chili oil with fresh garlic, green onion, and cilantro.
We couldn’t figure out what they were last night, but the internet has since told me they’re made from starch extracted from the common bracken fern. While I can’t guarantee it, I believe they’re gluten-free.
Another cold dish we liked was the black fungus with garlic and chilies ($12.95). Don’t let the name put you off – this type of fungus is very nutritious (especially rich in iron) and have a great, chewy texture.
The “Mao’s pork in brown sauce” ($11.95) was similar to what we had at Shiang Garden, but not quite as tender. Still, it was rich and tasty (I even liked the thick layers of fat!), and came with fat cloves of braised garlic. This sweet/savoury dish was a welcome respite from the spicier plates on the table.
This next dish (Duojiaozhengyu fish, $49.95) went beyond spicy – this thing was laden with what I believe to be approximately 1,486,295 red chilies. If it looks monstrous in comparison to everything else, that’s because IT WAS.
The platter held a fish of prehistoric-sized proportions, with fins so large I think they may have actually served as wings.
It rested in a pond of spicy oil, and was covered in a blanket of red chilies. Looking at the photos has me dumbfounded all over again. It was just so immense.
Once we’d properly documented the beast, our server separated the head and various parts of the body, then doused the flesh in more chili oil before leaving us to it. The fish’s ‘rib’ cage looked like that of a small mammal, and reminded me of the elephant graveyard scenes from The Lion King. Intense, man.
Richard loves spicy food more than anyone else I know, and this was his dream dish. The fish was perfectly cooked, and infused from tip to tail with the spicy flavour of the chilies. I ate it in small bits, and liked it too, though I certainly ate it more cautiously than he.
To keep everyone’s palates from spontaneously combusting, we also ordered steamed rice ($6) and steamed and fried buns ($6.95).
What a meal! The flavours, preparation, and presentation were phenomenal. If you’re chili-crazy, you should certainly give Bushuair a try, and even if you’re like me (and has never bought a bottle of hot sauce in her life), you’ll still really enjoy it. Just choose your bites carefully, pad them with something starchy, go slow, and you’ll be fine. The hardest part may just be convincing the Bushuair staff that you’re up for it.
A huge thanks to Carolyn, Alan, Richard, and each of their spice-tolerant palates for joining me last night!
Cash and cards accepted
Vegetarian options available