Friday Food 176 – Five Spice Powder
Friday food is a weekly article about one of the more unusual food items to be found in Liuzhou that week. This week, we are doing some arithmetic.
Is there anything more typically Chinese than five spice powder (五香粉)? Well, yes.
Many years ago, I worked in an office overlooking London’s China town. By around 11 am, the restaurants started getting lunch ready and the smell of FSP blanketed the area for the rest of the day.
When I moved to China, I didn’t smell that. Only when I visited Hong Kong, did I find that smell again.
In fact, FSP is relatively uncommon in most of Chinese cuisine. And if I ever see another internet recipe called “Chinese” whatever, which is actually any random food, but the genius behind it has added FSP, supposedly rendering it Chinese, I’ll scream.
But what is it anyway? Which five spices?
Today, I bought four samples in four Liuzhou supermarkets. I would have would have preferred five, but couldn’t find any more.
First thing to say: none of them had five spices. All had more. That is common. Numbers in Chinese can be vague. Every time you hear a number, silently added the word ‘about’ or ‘approximately’. 100 km means “far”, 10,000 means “many”.
Second, while there are some common factors, ingredients can vary quite a bit. Here are my four.
Ingredients – 7
Star Anise, Fennel Seed, Orange Peel, Cassia Bark, Sand Ginger, Dried Ginger,Sichuan Peppercorns.
Ingredients – 6
Cassia Bark, Star Anise, Fennel Seed, Coriander, Sichuan Peppercorn, Licorice Root.
Ingredients – 15
Fennel Seeds, Sichuan Peppercorns, Coriander, Tangerine Peel, Star Anise, Chinese Haw, Cassia Bark, Lesser Galangal, Dahurian Angelica, Nutmeg, Dried Ginger, Black Pepper, Amomum Villosum, Cumin Seeds, Cloves.
Ingredients – 6
Pepper (unspecified – probably black pepper), Sichuan Peppercorns, Star Anise, Fennel Seeds, Nutmeg, Cassia.
So, take your pick. They all taste overwhelmingly of the star anise and cassia, although there are subtle differences in taste in the various mixes.
But don’t expect to find it in many dishes in local restaurants or homes. A quick, unscientific poll of friends today revealed that not one has any at home, nor have they ever used the stuff!