Sichuan cuisine, or Chuan Cai (四川菜, 川菜) is a style of Chinese cuisine originating from from Chengdu and Chongqing in southwest China. It has bold flavours, particularly the pungency and spiciness resulting from liberal use of garlic and chilli peppers.
Sichuan cuisine combines the cuisines from Chengdu and Chongqing in southwest China. From as early as the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911), books had systematically recorded a total of 38 cooking methods like to scald, wrap, bake, mix, stew, and adhere, etc. it features pungent seasonings which were famed as 'Three Peppers' (Chinese prickly ash, pepper and hot pepper), 'three aroma' (shallot, ginger, and garlic), 'Seven Tastes' (sweet, sour, tingling, spicy, bitter, piquant, and salty), and 'eight flavors' (fish-flavored, sour with spice, pepper-tingling, odd flavor, tingling with spice, red spicy oily, ginger sauce, and home cooking).
Sichuan cuisine, or Chuan Cai (四川菜; 川菜) has bold flavours, particularly the pungency and spiciness resulting from liberal use of garlic and chilli peppers, as well as the unique flavour of the Sichuan pepper. Peanuts, sesame paste, and ginger are also prominent ingredients in Sichuan cooking. There are many local variations of Sichuan cuisine within Sichuan province and the Chongqing municipality, which was part of Sichuan until 1997. UNESCO declared Chengdu to be a city of gastronomy in 2011, due to the sophistication of its cooking.
Szechuan cuisine often contains food preserved through pickling, salting, and drying and is generally spicy due to heavy application of chili oil. The Sichuan pepper (花椒, literally "flower pepper") is commonly used. Sichuan pepper has an intensely fragrant, citrus-like flavour and produces a "tingly-numbing" (麻; pinyin: má) sensation in the mouth. Also common are garlic, chilli peppers, ginger, star anise and other spicy herbs, plants and spices. Broad bean chili paste (豆瓣酱) is also a staple seasoning in Szechuan cuisine.
History of Sichuan Cuisine
People immediately think of Sichuan food as being hot, spicy, sour, sweet, and salty; using fish sauce; or having a strange taste. Actually, these flavors were introduced only in the last 100 years, and initially were popular only in the lower strata of society. Hot pepper, an important flavoring in Sichuan cuisine, was introduced into China only 200 to 300 years ago.
During the period of the Three Kingdoms, the kingdom of Shu was located in Sichuan. According to historical research, the people in Shu liked sweet food. During the Jin Dynasty, they preferred to eat pungent food; however, pungent food at that time referred to food made with ginger, mustard, chives, or onions. As recently as 200 years ago, there were no hot dishes in Sichuan cuisine, and few were cooked with pungent and hot flavorings. Originally, its flavorings were very mild, unlike the popular dishes of today, such as pockmarked lady’s bean curd and other hot dishes, Even today, some Sichuan dishes, like velvet shark’s fin, braised bear’s paw, crisp duck roasted with camphor and tea, sea cucumber with pungent flavor, minced chicken with hollyhock, boiled pork with mashed garlic, dry – fried carp, and boiled Chinese cabbage have kept their traditional flavors.
Sichuan has been known as the land of plenty since ancient times. While it does not have seafood, it produces abundant domestic animals, poultry, and freshwater fish and crayfish. Sichuan cuisine is well known for cooking fish. As a unique style of food, Sichuan cuisine was already famous more than 800 years ago during the Southern Song Dynasty when Sichuan restaurants were opened in Lin’an, now called Hangzhou, its capital city.
The prevailing Sichuan food consists of popular dishes eaten by common people and characterized by pungent, hot, strange, and salty flavors. Although Sichuan cuisine has only a short history, it has affected and even replaced more sumptuous dishes.
The hot pepper was introduced into China from South America around the end of the 17th century. Once it came to Sichuan, it became a favored food flavoring. Sichuan has high humidity and many rainy or overcast days. Hot pepper helps reduce internal dampness, so hot pepper was used frequently in dishes, and hot dishes became the norm in Sichuan cuisine. Sichuan food has become the common food for most people in the area, especially since the dishes go well with rice. In this respect, Sichuan cuisine differs from Beijing cuisine, which was mainly for officials and nobility; Huaiyang cuisine, which was mainly for rich, important traders; and Zhejiang cuisine, which was mainly for literati. Typical, modern Sichuan dishes like twice – cooked pork with chili sauce, shredded pork with chili sauce and fish flavor, Crucian carp with thick broad – bean sauce, and boiled mat slices are common dishes eaten by every family.
Features of Sichuan food
Sichuan food is famous for its many flavors, and almost every dish has its own unique taste. This is because many flavorings and seasonings are produced in Sichuan Province. These include soy sauce from Zhongba, cooking vinegar from Baoning, special vinegar from Sanhui, fermented soy beans from Tongchuan, hot pickled mustard tubers from Fuling, chili sauce from Chongqing, thick, broad – bean sauce from Pixian, and well salt from Zigong.
Sichuan pickles have an appealing smell, and are crisp, tender, salty, sour, hot, and sweet. If pickled elsewhere, even if made the same way using the same raw materials, they still would taste different. This is because the salt, which comes from wells in Zigong, has a unique flavor. In other places, sea salt is often used, which tastes slightly bitter. This example demonstrates that the flavoring materials are very important, apart from the skill of the cooks. In Sichuan food, a single flavor is rarely used, compound flavors are most common. By blending different seasonings, skilled cooks can make dozens of different sauces each with its own flavor, including creamy, salty, sweet and sour, litchi, sour with chili, hot with chili, spicy and hot, mashed garlic, distiller’s grain, fish sauce with chili, ginger juice, and soy sauce. The same sauce may be used differently in different dishes. For example, the flavor of the hot with chile sauce for boiled sliced pork is different from the flavor of the hot with chile sauce for pockmarked lady’s bean curd.
When flavoring foods, sometimes two or more flavorings are combined, and sometimes a hot fire is used to concentrate the extract from the dish to increase the intensity of the flavor, preserve the primary taste of the dish, remove unpleasant flavors, and increase pleasant flavors. Sichuan cuisine tends to use quick – frying, quick stir – frying, dry – braising, and dry – stewing. In quick – frying and quick stir – frying, the food is fried over a hot fire and stirred quickly without using another pan. For example, it takes about one minute to stir – fry liver and kidney to keep it tender, soft, delicious, and fresh.
The raw materials for dry – braising are mostly fibrous foods like beef, radish, balsam, and kidney beans. These foods are cut into slivers, heated in an iron pot and stirred continuously. Flavorings are added when there is only oil left and the water has disappeared. When the dish is ready, it is dry, fragrant, crisp, and soft.
Dry – stewing is similar to stewing in the Beijing cuisine, but the primary soup or extract in the dish must be condensed over a low fire before the thick broad – bean sauce or hot red pepper is added. No starch is used. When the dish is ready, it looks faddish, oily, and shiny and tastes delicious, crisp and soft. Typical dishes are dry – stewed fish and dry – stewed bamboo shoots.
Sichuan cuisine also has many delicious snacks and desserts, such as Bangbang chicken, chicken with sesame paste, lantern shadow beef, husband and wife’s pork lung slices, steamed beef, noodles with chili sauce, and rice dumplings stuffed with sesame paste.
Delicious Sichuan cuisine dishes menu:
Stir-fried Tofu with Minced Beef in Spicy Bean Sauce - A real feast of tender bean curd, minced beef, pepper and bean sauce. It is said that it was made by a pock-marked but ingenious woman, thus the name Ma Po Tofu (pock-marked woman's bean curd).
Lamp-shadow Beef - with larruping techniques, the beef is cut in very thin sheet. When a piece is carried, it looks like translucent paper, slippery and reddish. When put under the lamp or light, a red shadow will appear.
Lung Pieces by Couple - a quite popular in Chengdu. It got the name because the dish was ever sold be a couple and today it remains the original savor, tender meat, tingling and spicy.
Gong Bao Ji Ding - in Chinese it is called Gong Bao Ji Ding. This is a tender chicken dish, tender as the meat is quickly fried. Flavored with peanuts, this is tasty and very popular.