Do you love your food being spicy and hot? Try the Sichuan cuisine.
The Sichuan cuisine is best known as the colorful, spicy and flavorful cuisine. It’s associated with great colored foods with rich tastes. This is the cuisine that is welcomed across the globe.
Ask anyone familiar with the cuisine and what comes to their minds of Sichuan food is the hot and spicy cuisine with the numbing sensation.
This is a result of the different Sichuan peppers that are the only ones used in this region.
For people in the west, the cuisine describes the face-melting heat and spice. However, to understand the cuisine best you should know its history.
The History and Development of Sichuan Cuisine
During the Qin dynasty, food eaten and cooked had nothing to do with the Sichuan cuisine, it was mostly the same food eaten in the Chang’an. When the Qin dynasty took over, the immigrants from North China started to flock into the province.
With the coming of the immigrants, business began to boom and this saw the rise of the food industry. During this time the Sichuan people would eat lots of sweet food. The signature of the foodstuff was a combination of 5 flavors and delicious cuisine reserved for the royalties.
During the Song dynasty, the people’s lives and the economy improved. There was peace again and the period was characterized by travel and feast. It’s during this time that the different foods and cooking skills were invented.
By the 20th century, chili peppers from Portuguese were introduced in the province which would, therefore, enhance the hot and spicy flavors. The Sichuan peppers also gained popularity in various Sichuan meals.
Where is Sichuan province?
The Sichuan province which was best known as Shu is a province in the Southwest of China. You find it along the upper side of Yangtze River.
It is the second largest province in the country that borders Shaanxi and Gansu, the Chongqing municipal territory, Yunnan, Qinghai and Guizhou provinces as well as Tibet.
Its capital is called Chengdu which is found at the center of the province. Sichuan basin is the area that is blessed with a great climate allowing for agricultural produce. It further has the perfect soil to allow for cultivation which has made it a self-sufficient province.
We call it heaven on earth and for a reason, its climate is favorable for most. It further is another agricultural province in China. The region has 32 cities and 120 counties.
What is Szechuan style?
The Szechuan style is the cuisine that is natively from Sichuan province of China. It’s amongst the spicy kind of cuisine from China but it’s also flavorful.
The region is known to be humid and rainy for most of the year, therefore, the use of chilli peppers helps to reduce the internal body dampness. They further popularly used the method of salting, drying and smoking.
If you have noticed, Szechuan cuisine is gaining popularity in the fast food joints of the US. McDonald’s, for example, will serve you the chicken nuggets with Szechuan sauce if you wish. This is happening because of the uniqueness of the cuisine.
The meals from this region are characterized by the meat, rice, veggies and the Sichuan peppercorn. They however also use fish sometimes in the meals.
The three styles of Szechuan cooking
- Shanghe Sichuan food
This gives you a list of foodstuffs from around Chengdu which is usually less spicy. It’s further family friendly and traditional. It has several meals which include rice wine, stewed pork, shaobai, mapo tofu, chicken slices with garlic mash, kung pao chicken among others.
- Xiahe Sichuan food
These food cuisines are found in the eastern side of Sichuan. They are popularly in Chongqing and Dazhou. This food style is characterized by the ability to change every so often. Some of the food stuffs you will find from this cuisine are zhangfei beef, Mao blood pudding among others.
- Xiaohe Sichuan food
These include the foods from southern part of the Sichuan province. The food is specifically from the Liuzhou, Zigong and Yibin. The meals here are considered strange and meant for the upper-class individuals. They are mostly spicy and sour.
They utilize different styles of cooking. Some of the dishes include boiled spicy beef, stir-fried cow stomach among others.
Features of The Sichuan Menu
It’s perfect and spicy
The main ingredient that cuts across all the Szechuan style of cooking is the Sichuan peppercorn. Mind you, the peppercorn is not like the regular chili peppers that are so hot you will feel them in your mind and heart.
It’s not so hot because first, it’s not a kind of pepper rather it’s made using the dried husks of ash shrubs. They contain the citrus-like flavor and the numbing sensation. It works best when mixed with the soy sauce ginger and steamed vegetable.
They will work well when paired with hot chilis to enhance the spiciness of the food. Szechuan peppercorn is also part of the Chinese five spices. When cooked well, the food from this region has a perfect balance of hot and spicy food.
The food will always contain garlic
Another major characteristic of Sichuan cuisine is the use of garlic. Unlike most other cuisines within the country, Sichuan cuisine must use garlic for its production. For those who love garlic, you should try the cuisine.
It works as a great base for the meals like kung pao chicken making it richly flavored.
It can act as your comfort food
As part of the meals that are common in China, you have the hot pot dishes. When the weather is cold, you can set the broth that is rich with nutrients and flavors from meats, veggies, eggs, tofu among others to warm you up in the course of the day.
It contains a blend of flavors
Notice that while the Sichuan cuisine is characterized by the hot and spicy nature, those aren’t the only flavors you expect from the cuisine. The chefs of Sichuan know how to blend different ingredients to come up with the unique 24 compound flavors.
Another flavor is found where you blend Sichuan peppers and salt. This happens when you roast and grind the peppercorns then add in salt. They are popularly used in fried chicken among other meals.
The lychee flavor is another kind of flavor that has no lychee in it but it’s a blend of sweet and sour notes that you apply over the rice and fried pork dishes.
The great thing about the 24 flavors formed is that it has the umami flavors that are strong and pungent. It further doesn’t overpower the natural flavors of your meal.
It’s true that Sichuanese love spicy food so any food is expected to have chilis. The heating element of the chilis is believed to drive out the dampness within the human body.
Before the importation of the chilis, the chefs here used Sichuan peppercorn, ginger, ruby red fruit, cornel berries and cornel red plant. To date, the chefs form this region value this blend over the regular Hunan style of hotness in some meals.
Nevertheless, when the chilis were introduced in the province, they quickly embraced the system and began cultivating the chilis. Erjingtiao is the one popular kind of chili form this region that will not overpower your meal but it has a strong fragrance.
The hot pot
Notice that the hot pot is a favorite cuisine of the province which is eaten at least once a week. You will find this at home or in a restaurant. The soup features a blend of spices and chilis. This is most ideal for the climatic condition of the region.
Notice that up to date, the hot pot is still popular with over 30000 restaurants around Chongqing serving the hotpot. Other parts of China also eat this hot pot meal but it differs from the Sichuan type.
The chilli flavors and spices are in the hot pot rather than the dipping sauce in other regions of China. This is a social event for most of the Sichuanese.
The Taste and Flavors Of Sichuan Cuisine
If you have never tasted the Sichuan cuisine, you should expect nothing less than the following blend of flavors. The food is sour, sweet, aromatic, bitter, hot, spicy and salty. For all those who can taste the Sichuan cuisine, the food is characterized by hot and spicy flavors.
For some people, Sichuan cuisine is described as the Mexican food in Chinese style. They are generally rich and spicy food with the numbing sensation. You see Sichuan province is the land of plenty and this is mostly depicted in the food.
While most people believe the food is all about the oily and heavily flavored food, they do have lighter food that uses lesser oil. Like most other cuisines across China, they deliver the umami flavors.
Understand that with the Sichuan cuisine, each meal requires different ingredients to cook it which means they differ in the flavors. Generally, Sichuan cuisine is about hot and spicy flavors. Other flavors you expect in this cuisine is the sweet and sour flavors.
Like most other parts of China, you will find the five-spice powder in the Sichuanese homes as a must-have ingredient.
The Chinese Cooking Method
Remember, there are many Chinese cooking methods but the following are employed in the Sichuan cooking style.
This is by far the most common method of Chinese cooking as most foodstuffs in the country are cooked fast. With health times, people are called upon to control the amount of oil they use in the cooking.
The other feature of stir-frying is the use of high heat to cook the food. You should toss your food quickly as it cooks rapidly.
For boiling, it’s done just the same way you do it when boiling foodstuffs in other cuisines. It’s also one of the few healthy options you have when cooking your food. It further retains the food color and flavors.
- Deep frying
These ones use more oil to fry your food with the aim of producing the crispy exterior of your food. It also has the interior being tender and the food becomes flavorful.
Steaming is another healthier choice of cooking that is common among the Chinese. You simply put your food in the steaming basket then place it in a wok with water to boil. The method retains your food flavor and nutrients.
- Slow red cooking
This is where you stew your ingredients in the deeply flavored sauce. You then add the different kinds of ingredients to your stew so that your ingredients can easily absorb the flavors.
Here you use lower heat to cook your food. Also, you use minimal oil for the process. You can turn your ingredients to allow the food to cook perfectly. You will sauté your fish and dumplings.
This is a great process whenever you intend to cook the soups or sauces. The ingredients are cooked for long hours and the food slowly infused with flavors.
- Roasting method
Like most other regions roasting, smoking and grilling are popularly used when you are to cook the different kinds of meats. The best option to use in the roasting or grilling is to use the charcoal grill.
Famous Szechuan Dishes
- Ants climbing tree
This is one of the popular Sichuan dishes but it doesn’t involve the ants crawling on the tree as its name suggests. Its name is a replica of the ground pork that usually sticks to the bean thread noodles.
This is a comfy dish that is mostly made using minimal spices with comfort. As you all probably know, the cuisine is mostly about spices. If you are looking for less spiced food then this is going to serve you better.
For the Sichuan cuisine, this is the mother of it all and a favorite for many. This is a dish that is not only loved in the country but also across the globe.
It features the simple ingredients which include the soft tofu cubes, ground meat, the fermented chili bean pastes and the Sichuan peppercorns. You also have the red chili oil.
Its color is bright red with traces of white and green color. The tofu dish entirely provides the numbing sensation of the Sichuan cuisine.
- Twice cooked pork slices
The pork dish is originally from the rural side of Sichuan area. It comes in a rich and shiny red color yet it delivers a strong aroma. For the local Sichuanese, this is among the best cuisines in the region.
This dish includes the pork that’s sliced, simmered and stir-fried alongside veggies like cabbage, bell peppers, onions and scallions. The sauces used to make it include the Shaoxing wine, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, chili bean paste and ginger.
Its best eaten in the company of plain white rice.
- Kung pao chicken
This dish is popular in both the Cantonese region and the Sichuan area as well. you prepare the meal using the diced chicken, peanuts and dry red peppers. The three ingredients are then fried.
The kung pao chicken is quite popular across the globe and I could say it’s because of its minimal spices use.
- Numbing and hot hotpot
We can’t finish our list without talking about the hotpot as it’s a Sichuan favorite meal. With this, you simply sit around the table and cook your hotpot as you go on with your stories. It will serve you as a dinner meal.
This is originally from the Chongqing people and was first prepared by the laborers who were at the Yangtze River. The ingredients in the hot pot normally include beef tripe, offal, tofu and different veggies.
You will have the hotpot in sections of spicy sides and mildly spiced sides. This allows those who don’t like the spicy options to enjoy it as well.
- Lazi Ji
This one you get when you marinate your chicken cuts with strong soy sauce then you deep fry them. You let them dry out completely before you begin the stir-frying process. For the stir-frying process, you use the garlic, chilis and Sichuan peppercorn.
In the end, you have the crispy and chewy chicken. If you like, you may add the desired veggies to make it colorful and sweeter.
- Water boiled fish with sizzling chilli oil
If you remember, the time when Sichuanese cuisine had taken China by storm, this dish was one of the most popular ones. It’s simple to make as it has the poached fish in the great sizzling oil. It appears too thick and it also has the Sichuan peppercorn and chilis.
When eating the meal, you pick the fish pieces from the aromatic oil using a chopstick. Remember, you shouldn’t eat the oil. The fish is sometimes smoked after the poaching and immersed in the spicy and aromatic oil.
- Dan Dan Mian (wheat noodles with pork chili garlic and vinegar)
We all know the dan dan noodles from our western world shops. However, there is a difference with the kind served back home. It’s impossible for us to finish this list without talking of noodles that’s why we feature the dan dan noodles.
It’s common to see vendors selling noodles in the streets. They will even sell you the condiments like vinegar, soy sauce, MSG, ground Sichuan peppercorn among others. They will also make the ground pork and cook it to become spicy or to your desired level.
This dish is more about the noodles than any other thing. Therefore, when you place your meal order, you will be given a spoonful of each of the other condiments to enhance the noodles flavor.
These are uniquely different noodles as they are fresh and never mushy like most other noodles are.
- Chicken with orange peel
Poultry was one of the most popular meat that was used in the cuisine. If you will properly blend the chilis and peppercorn to produce a numbing sensation the Sichuanese will thank you. Notice that this meal is a standard dish in the western region of China.
The Asians like to use dried orange peel in their meals and this is one of them. It’s easy to make and it will remain flavorful yet spicy with a numbing sensation.
- The cold noodle salad
When summer comes, all our bodies ask for are cold foods. The cold noodle salad is a must have during such times. The salad is ideal when you decide to serve it alongside porridge and other drinks.
It’s great street food that you will find across the province. Its also known as Liang Mian.
Sichuan Food Globalised
With the influence of trade and globalisation different traditional cuisine have received a few alterations here and there. A good example of such is the Sichuan cuisine which has received massive acceptance across the globe.
Although the Sichuan cuisine uses more rice for the starch of the food, today the province has embraced the use of wheat noodles and dumplings. Locally though, the dan dan noodles are popular because it was sold at Chengdu.
As China opened its doors to the outside world so did the cuisine gain popularity as one of the two unique Chinese cuisines. The other one was the Cantonese cuisine. For this century there’s no doubt that most people love this cuisine.
The Sichuan Food Recipe
It’s important for us to note that the cuisine is unique and it has several recipes. I will mention 2 of my favorite recipes.
This chicken will render you hooked. It requires the use of fresh ingredients. I can guarantee you that if you love the spicy food, Sichuan chicken will soon be your favorite.
This is another of the favorite dish that belongs to the Sichuanese. It’s characterized by the spiciness and deliciousness.
Sichuan cuisine cookbook
Sichuan cuisine is one of the oldest yet loved cuisines in the country and outside. By the 20th century there were hundreds of recipes already documented. Today you can cook these meals from your home wherever you are because there are hundreds of books to help you.
In this book, Stevens gives you 50 of the most famous recipes that you can use throughout your day. it features the appetizers, main course meals and desserts. They are easy to make with enough images to show you how the meals are expected to come out.
Sichuan Cuisine Restaurants
South beauty restaurant
Whenever you are looking for all the best flavors of the cuisine, you should visit this restaurant when in Shanghai. For this restaurant it’s not only about the meal but also the ambient environment.
Address: 881 Yan’an Zhong Lu, Jing An, Shanghai, China (Jing’an)
New Chuanban restaurant
Whenever you are in Beijing and you are craving for the Sichuan cuisine, visit this top Sichuan cuisine restaurant. It’s the most recommended by many and It’s said to give you the best saliva chicken.
Address: No.312, Xiaohongmen Road, Chaoyang District