On Heritage and Hunan Xiao Chao

I stumbled on an article from the NYTimes on my Facebook feed the other day titled, My Father, the YouTube Star by Kevin Pang that made me to take a moment and reflect on my own culinary journey and relationship with my parents. In a world where electronic communication has really taken over actual conversation, I find myself communicating with my entire family mostly through a series of group text conversations punctuated by weekly emails from my mother sharing some of her favorite Chinese cooking YouTube videos (thanks Mom!).

I grew up primarily eating my mother and my grandmother’s cooking. Despite the effort they put into their delicious creations, I clearly remember some point during my childhood where I began feeling embarrassed at the “oriental” food that I would routinely bring for lunch. So, like the little shit that I sometimes was, I reacted by asking for Lunchables, Squeeze-Its, and bologna sandwiches which, in retrospect, were clearly inferior to anything made at home.

Now that I’d like to think I’ve matured a little, I find myself utilizing cooking as a way to reflect and pay homage to my family, my culture, and my upbringing and to make sure that none of it gets lost with time. As Kevin Pang puts it:

Your mom’s great-grandmother used to cook amazing Shanghainese food for her. She would dream about it. But when your mother was finally old enough to ask for the recipes, her great-grandmother had already developed dementia…The only thing your mom had left was the memory of her taste. We’re afraid that if you wanted to eat your childhood dishes, and one day we’re both no longer around, you wouldn’t know how to cook it.” 

Hunan Xiao Chao (湖南小炒)


I first had this dish with my family at a now defunct restaurant in downtown Mountain View. Traditionally made with strips of pork and assorted chilies, I remember it as one of the most vibrant yet painfully spicy dishes that I’ve ever eaten. The colors and flavors were so amazing that I kept going back for more despite having to gulp down glass after glass of ice water with my nose running profusely and beads of sweat dripping down my brow. I’ve modified this recipe from the original so that is less exquisitely painful and substituted tofu for the pork.


  • Pressed firm tofu                                 0.5 lb, sliced thinly
  • Bell peppers                                           3, seeded and julienned
  • Jalapeno                                                   1, seeded and julienned
  • Garlic                                                        3 cloves, minced
  • Ginger                                                       1 T, minced
  • Black bean chili paste                          2 T
  • White pepper                                          1/2 T

Heat up 1.5 T of oil in a large pan/wok on high heat. Add garlic, ginger, jalapeno, and bell peppers. You want the peppers to cook fast so they retain a little bit of their crunch. Add tofu, black bean chili paste, and white pepper. Stir fry for an additional 3-5 minutes. Serve over rice.




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