Forget everything you know about the eerily orange tubs of sweet and sour sauce your local Chinese takeaway delivers – the Ten Acres Sweet & Sour crisps in March's Gin of the Month box take their cues from one of traditional Chinese cuisine’s most widespread and beloved flavour combinations. Let’s go on a journey through China’s most celebrated regional Sweet and Sour serves.
1. Ten Acres Crisps
'The Day Sweet and Sour Became Friends'
In Chinese cooking, there are five primary flavours: salty, spicy, sour, sweet and bitter. The art of this cuisine is finely balancing those five key components – a task that the widespread popularity of sweet and sour sauces assures us is completely possible (though challenging at times).
According to traditional Chinese medicine, the sweet flavour can tone the body, improve your mood and alleviate illness; meanwhile, the sour flavour can aid digestion, whet the appetite and quench thirst. The Ten Acres Sweet and Sour crisps in March's Gin of the Month box won’t make any of those claims, but they can proudly say that they’re ‘free from plus’: gluten- and dairy-free, vegan-friendly and without any common food allergens.
“Sweet and Sour is a great blend of Chinese flavours,” says Russell Howe of Ten Acres. “It’s one of my favourites and won a Great Taste Award in 2015. It’s definitely a customer favourite, as well!”
With its touches of vinegar and honey – sour and sweet, respectively – these crisps echo the beguiling combination that has become one of Chinese cuisine’s most famous exports. But while sweet and sour flavour pairings are widespread, regions across the country have developed their own particular dishes over thousands of years.
2. Sweet and Sour Mandarin Fish
The cuisine of the north-eastern region of Jiangu is characterised by light and fresh flavours. The most famous dish from the area is Sweet and Sour Mandarin Fish, or Jiangsu Squirrel Fish. In this striking dish, a mandarin fish is sliced and splayed out so that it looks like a squirrel’s tail before being fried and covered in a deliciously unctuous combination of honey or ketchup, rice vinegar, soy sauce and brown sugar.
3. Sweet and Sour Carp
Neighbouring Shangdong is a fishing hub on the famous Yellow River. Chefs here specialise in Sweet and Sour Carp, which to be truly authentic must be fished directly from China’s most famous waterway. To replicate the shape of the fish as it leaps out of the river, the carp is coated with flour and starch and then deep fried until the tail curls upwards, before it’s served with a sweet and sour sauce.
4. Hot and Sour Soup
The home of super-spicy Sichuan peppers, this central region is more ‘hot and sour’ than ‘sweet and sour’. Hot and Sour Soup is the region’s most famous export, and can be made with either chicken or pork. The non-negotiables are white vinegar and chilli paste, plus a bit of soy sauce.
5. Sweet and Sour Pork
This southern region on the sea is dominated by the massive trading port of Hong Kong, and traditionally has been awash with fresh ingredients and a bounty of meat and fish. As such, cooking methods in this region are complex. This style of food tends to be the one most commonly in the West. In this region, sweet and sour pork is made with vinegar, preserved plums and hawthorn candy for an unforgettable flavour.