Hange Chinese Restaurant

Many theories exist as to why it was China's Sichuan Province of all places that elevated the gastronomic use of chili peppers to a whole new level. Whatever the reason may be, Sichuan's name has become synonymous with spicy and mouth-numbing flavors. Sichuan food has always had its fans outside of China, but these fiery dishes currently enjoy an unprecedented popularity around the world. In Budapest, Hange Restaurant ("Han Pavilion" in Chinese) is one of the best representatives of the genre.

In case you question the authenticity of a Sichuan restaurant deep in Central Europe, rest assured knowing that two cooks were brought over to Hange from the motherland. Accordingly, Hange serves all the classic Sichuanese dishes from dan dan noodles to shui zhu yu, and if you believe the local Chinese community, they are prepared pretty damn well. Of course most of them pack copious amounts of dried chilies, chili oil, and Sichuan peppercorns, but the spice levels in most plates are manageable (brave guests can ask that the chef turn up the heat).

My favorite was the mapo tofu (it's a vegetarian version at Hange) where soft cubes of white tofu swim in a sea of mildly spicy, creamy chili bean paste. Many local Chinese go for the laziji, another Sichuan standout of stir-fried morsels of chicken smothered in dried chilies. The Gong Bao chicken will be a special treat for local Hungarians who're used to its unrecognizably glutinous, takeout version found across Budapest.

The lunch and dinner crowds at Hange are very different. Being flanked by office buildings in District 9, it's mainly Hungarians who come for the two-course lunch prix fixe HUF2,250 (€7). The a la carte dinner menu, however, has steeper prices and draws well-off Chinese residents.