A bowl of bright red chili oil.

If you’re ever in North Cambridge, make a point of stopping by my old apartment.

It was, by any measure, an awful place to live. I didn’t cook back then, not least of all because of the time flames spewed out from beneath the oven when it kicked on. I mostly survived on runs to the convenience store on the next block—the one I could bring my dog into, not the other one.

With the exception of my apartment and the Applebees knockoff below it, I loved the hell out of that block. We had a little Korean market, respectable tattoo place, a sushi restaurant that provided me with my first exposure to korokke. The apartment itself was unlivable—I cannot stress this enough. I miss it, in an “I wouldn’t do it again for all the money in the world” kind of way.

The old block is also home to Qingdao Garden, the finest of all restaurants. It was basically my cafeteria. If you’re in Cambridge, make the trip; if Wen is there, tell him that Mat and Zero sent you. Their chili oil is one of my favorite things in this whole dumb world. They specialize in northern-style food, but their chili oil had that Sichuan málà thing going, for sure.

My chili oil isn’t theirs, I don’t mind admitting—but it is pretty damn good. Once you’re done, leave it in the fridge for a couple of days before you start using it—it gets better with time.



  1. Soak the peppercorns in the oil for at least a few hours; ideally, overnight.

  2. Fry the garlic, star anise, bay leaves, cinnamon stick (broken in half), black cardamom pod, and Sichuan chili peppers at roughly 300 degrees (f). Once the garlic cloves are a deep caramel brown, fish them out.

  3. Maintain at ~300 degrees for twenty minutes. Meanwhile, place sesame seeds and chili flakes in a heat-safe dish.

  4. Strain out solids and pour infused oil over chili flakes/sesame seeds; leave uncovered to cool.