Kitchen & Cooking

This chili crisp has a cult following—is it actually good?

We tried Fly By Jing Sichuan Chili Crisp and here's what happened.

Fly By Jing review Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

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You may have heard of Sichuan because of these adorable giant pandas, or Tejal Rao’s quarantine goddess who lives in the remote mountains outside of its capital city Chengdu—but it’s the chili crisp that has been making rounds on the internet of late.

Having been to Chengdu only once and spending most of my time there eating nonstop (literally), I screamed when I saw Fly By Jing Sichuan Chili Crisp, the condiment that’s made by Chengdu-born Jing Gao, available in the U.S. I tried it out and here's what I thought.

What is a chili crisp sauce?

What is chili crisp
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

These sauces are made with all natural ingredients and no food additives.

This insanely popular sauce has a humble origin: Chinese migrant workers, who travel thousands of miles to find work in big cities, often won’t return home for an entire year because of the costly and time-consuming journey. Overwhelmed by homesickness, these workers would take jars of homemade chili crisp with them, either eating it on top of white rice or cooking it with meat and vegetables. Later this sauce was taken abroad, potentially by Chinese students who also miss home cooking, which eventually led the chili crisp to attract global fanbase.

The original chili crisp mentioned is the Guizhou-style chili crisp called Lao Gan Ma, or “godmother sauce." Its founder, a legendary woman named Tao Huabi, pivoted from her noodle shop business after her chili crisp became more famous than the bowls of noodles she was selling.

Adjacent to the Guizhou province, Chengdu produced the rival Sichuan chili crisp using different ingredients and preparation methods, giving both sauces distinctive flavors and textures. Just like North and South Carolina differ in their barbecue sauce preferences, these chili crisps taste very different one from the other.

What is Fly By Jing?

Founded by Jing Gao, who was born in Chengdu but grew up in Europe and the United States, Fly By Jing strives to bring the authentic flavor of Sichuan-style chili crisp and other pantry staples to the world.

When traveling to a new country or city, it’s recommended to bring a local guide who can give you all the insights into what the locals eat and do—Fly By Jing is that local guide. From sourcing to production, all Fly By Jing chili crisp is made in the traditional method, which is a lengthy process that involves weeks of intense labor. Their flagship sauce, the Sichuan Chili Crisp, is tingly, crunchy, mildly spicy, and savory. There’s also the sweeter cousin, the Zhong Sauce, which imparts fragrance and umami.

For people who are new to spicy foods, Fly By Jing won’t be too spicy for you. When you open a jar of their chili crisp, you’ll immediately be blown away by the aromatic smell. Taste a small spoonful of the sauce and you'll discover it's mostly savory with just a little bit of spice. Plus, all Fly By Jing sauces are vegan and GMO-free.

What can you do with Fly By Jing chili crisp?

What can you make with chili crisp
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

My favorite thing about chili crisp is it can go well with everything.

Because it’s a Chinese condiment, this chili crisp is good on most Chinese dishes. I’ve grown to learn that it’s actually pretty good on almost everything if you’re creative (and open-minded). Disclaimer: This is by no means claiming to be the authentic way to eat chili crisp—if you’re curious about Sichuanese cooking, please go buy Fuchsia Dunlop’s award-winning cookbook. I’m not a Sichuan expert, so this is only my personal interpretation of the chili crisp.

Pizza: My husband, the champion of chili crisp, “discovered” this while eating a slice of cold pizza. We think it works pretty well on four cheese and vegetable pizzas because they’re less oily than pepperoni pizzas. Top it with more fresh cheese for additional umami.

Ice cream: Whoever came up with this deserves a lifetime supply of free chili crisp. I think Fly By Jing’s Sichuan style chili crisp is suitable for ice cream because of its extra fragrant characteristics. Will I do it again? Absolutely.

Pasta: Or any kind of noodles may work pretty well with chili crisp. Cook the pasta the way you’d like and add a spoonful of chili crisp. Stir, then serve.

Grilled cheese: You’ve probably heard of kimchi in grilled cheese, so why not add chili crisp as well? Grab any bread and cheese you have on hand, slather it with mayo and butter, brush on some chili crisp and add the cheese. Let everything melt together.

Salad dressing: Whether it’s blanched broccoli or smashed cucumber, the addition of chili crisp makes everything taste better. I personally like to add a teaspoon of balsamic or black vinegar to my salad dressing to spice things up a bit (pun intended).

Over plain white rice: My husband likes this simple dish when we forget to do grocery shopping. You can also mix up the sauce with rice, and fold the mixture into seaweed to make onigiri rice balls. It can be served as is or with a light soy sauce for dipping.

Dip: Mix two tablespoons of chili oil with mayonnaise, and season it with a pinch of salt (to taste) and maybe garnish with fresh herbs (cilantro), and voilà! You've got gourmet dipping sauce for chips

Can I make chili crisp myself?

Peppers
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

You may be able to mimic the flavors with domestic ingredients but not the real deal.

Surely you can. However, due to sourcing difficulties, you may not be able to make either Guizhou or Sichuan style chili crisp because their main ingredient is virgin rapeseed oil, which can’t be produced in North America. Plus, both sauces are particular about the types of chili peppers used, and it’s unlikely you’ll find Erjingtiao and Heaven Facing chilis easily. However, Fly By Jing sells both types of chilis in limited quantities, as well as fermented black bean, which is also a popular condiment essential in Sichuan cooking.

Is Fly By Jing worth it?

Peppers
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

You can also find the Sichuan peppers at Fly By Jing.

Fly By Jing sources top quality, natural ingredients, hence the price being higher than the average Lao Gan Ma that you can buy from a grocery store. But a jar of Fly By Jing goes a long way—ours lasted an entire month and we used the sauce on lots of meals.

If you’re shopping for someone who’s obsessed with spicy food, they’ll absolutely love this condiment. This year they also launched wearable merch for their diehard fans—the Flyest Duo comes with a sweatshirt and a jar of chili crisp, which is the perfect pair for the winter ahead.

Get Fly By Jing Sichuan Chili Crisp, 6-Ounce for $15

Get Lao Gan Ma Fried Chili Oil, Pack of 2 for $10.99 on Amazon

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