As a rule I never put new, untried dishes on a food tour except when I choose to break that rule. On those rare occasions, the new item comes from a trusted vendor. Like the other day when I took my friend Giuseppe Viterale chef-owner of Astoria’s Ornella Trattoria on a culinary research tour of downtown Flushing’s Chinatown with the aim of showing him how the Chinese eat pork offal. I had blood, feet, and ears covered, but wanted a larger dish to share at the end of our gastronomic adventure. So before I met up with Giuseppe I stopped in Szechuan House to see if my friend Linda and her husband had anything that might fit the bill.
Among a baker’s dozen new dishes I hit paydirt in the form of No. 5, listed in English as “ma po brain flower.” Surely this is a mistranslation I thought to myself, but Lisa informed me otherwise. “It’s like ma po tofu, but we use pig brain instead.”
“Are you kidding?, I eat everything,” Giuseppe said with a laugh when I asked if he was up for spicy pig brains as we explored the varieties of Chinese bacon at JMart. After sampling some Sichuan pig ears and lovely orange-scented sausage at Chengdu Tian Fu, it was time for the main event.
Soon Lisa brought out a gigantic blue bowl filled with a reddish liquid that covered the brains, all of it liberally sprinkled with dried red chili. The brain itself was firm, but still creamy and the sauce had plenty of heat and lovely bits of ground pork.
“It’s like a Sichuan Bolognese,” I said to Giuseppe with a laugh. It’s certainly a dish I would try again. In some ways I like the brains better than tofu because they have a firmer texture. In case you’re wondering the Chinese name is má pó nǎo huā, or “ma po brain flower,” so it’s definitely not a mistranslation per se, but rather a poetic description of a distinctly Chinese nose to tail delicacy.
Szechuan House, 133-47 Roosevelt Ave., (718) 762-2664