Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Dede’s Teajuice City (San Diego)

Getting Schooled on Szechuan

I had to admit, I got a little nervous when I heard we were having cold, pigs' ears. All I could picture was gnawing on a chewy piece of cartilage and looking for the closest napkin to discreetly spit it out in. But to my surprise, when the ear appeared in a pickled pile of mismatched meats and greens, it ended up becoming my favorite plate of the night.

My culinary guides knew exactly what to order at Dede's, including this concoction from "the cold box", a refrigerated display case, flaunting its wares and offering an assortment of paper thin slices of pigs’ ears, tripe, spiced brisket, and housemade pickles, along with some sort of chopped greens that were snappish, stemmed and leafy (but not bok choy). It was all tossed together in a meaty salad of vinegar and greens, a Szechuan specialty that immediately became my favorite.

This life-changing appetizer was followed with a hot pot of seasoned beef, scallion pancakes, leek dumplings, and dan dan noodles (squat noodles covered in a thick, fiery paste with a texture similar to peanut butter). Every selection was a success, and somewhat unexpected coming out of this nondescript kitchen planted in a square plot of strip mall; its dining room wallpapered in plastic menus and outfitted with uncomfortable, metal-framed chairs.

Our meal ended with a complimentary plate of melon and it was a gesture that matched the mood of the meal - a refreshing surprise. Especially when it came to that cold, meat plate. I never imagined that pigs’ ears and pickles could have such a symbiotic relationship (now I knew why pickled pigs' feet were so popular!). 

Besides performing phenomenal food feats, the tangible enthusiasm of the staff transmitted like radio waves through the kitchen to its dining room, and Dede's taught me two very important lessons:

1) Pigs' ears were perfection at any temperature.
2) Never judge a Szechuan by its strip mall.

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