Sichuan cuisine

Sichuan cuisine, Szechwan cuisine, or Szechuan cuisine (/ˈsɛʃwɒn/ or /ˈsɛwɒn/;[1] Chinese: 四川菜; pinyin: Sìchuān cài or Chinese: 川菜; pinyin: Chuān cài) is a style of Chinese cuisine originating from Sichuan province in southwestern China. It has bold flavours, particularly the pungency and spiciness resulting from liberal use of garlic and chili peppers, as well as the unique flavor of the Sichuan pepper. There are many local variations within Sichuan province and the Chongqing municipality, which was part of Sichuan until 1997. Four sub-styles include Chongqing, Chengdu, Zigong, and Buddhist vegetarian style.[2]

UNESCO declared Chengdu to be a city of gastronomy in 2011 in order to recognize the sophistication of its cooking.[3]


Sichuan in the Middle Ages welcomed Near Eastern crops, such as broad beans, sesame, and walnuts. Since the 16th century, the list of major crops in Sichuan has even been lengthened by New World newcomers. The characteristic chili pepper came from Mexico, but probably overland from India or by river from Macao, replacing the spicy peppers of ancient times and complementing the Sichuan peppercone (huajiao). Other newcomers from the New World included maize (corn), which largely replaced millet; white potatoes introduced by Catholic missions; and sweet potatoes. The population of Sichuan was cut by perhaps three quarters in the wars from the Ming to the Qing dynasty. Settlers from nearby Hunan province brought their cooking styles with them.[4]

Sichuan is colloquially known as the "heavenly country" due to its abundance of food and natural resources. One ancient Chinese account declared that the "people of Sichuan uphold good flavor, and they are fond of hot and spicy taste." Most Sichuan dishes are spicy, although a typical meal includes non-spicy dishes to cool the palate. Sichuan cuisine is composed of seven basic flavours: sour, pungent, hot, sweet, bitter, aromatic, and salty. Sichuan food is divided into five different types: sumptuous banquet, ordinary banquet, popularised food, household-style food, and food snacks. Milder versions of Sichuan dishes remain a staple of American Chinese cuisine.[5]


A chili hot pot characteristic of Sichuan cuisine

The complex topography of Sichuan including mountains, hills, plains, plateaus, and basin has shaped food customs in Sichuan with versatile and distinct ingredients.

Abundant rice and vegetables are produced from the fertile Sichuan Basin, whereas a wide variety of herbs, mushrooms and other fungi prosper in the highland regions. Pork is overwhelmingly the major meat.[4] Beef is somewhat more common in Sichuan cuisine than it is in other Chinese cuisines, perhaps due to the prevalence of oxen in the region.[6] Sichuan cuisine also utilizes various bovine and porcine organs as ingredients, such as intestine, arteries, head, tongue, skin, and liver, in addition to other commonly utilized portions of the meat. Rabbit meat is also much more popular in Sichuan than elsewhere in China. It is estimated that the Sichuan Basin and Chongqing area consume about 70 percent of China's rabbit meat consumption.[7] Yoghurt, which probably spread from India through Tibet in medieval times, is consumed among the Han Chinese. This is a custom unusual in other parts of the country. The salt produced from Sichuan salt springs and wells, unlike the sea salt, does not contain iodine, leading to goiter problems before the 20th century.[4]

Sichuan cuisine often contains food preserved through pickling, salting, and drying. Preserved dishes are generally served as spicy dishes with heavy application of chili oil.

The most unique and important spice in Sichuan cuisine is the Sichuan pepper (Chinese: 花椒; pinyin: huājiāo; literally: "flower pepper"). Sichuan peppercorn has an intense fragrant, citrus-like flavour and produces a "tingly-numbing" (Chinese: ; pinyin: ) sensation in the mouth. Other commonly used spices in Sichuan cuisine are garlic, chili peppers, ginger, and star anise, etc.

Broad bean chili paste (simplified Chinese: 豆瓣酱; traditional Chinese: 豆瓣醬; pinyin: dòubànjiàng) is one of the most important seasonings.[4] It is an essential component to famous dishes such as Mapo tofu and double-cooked pork slices. Sichuan cuisine is the origin of several prominent sauces/flavors widely used in modern Chinese cuisine, including the garlic sauce/yuxiang (魚香), mala (麻辣), and guaiwei (怪味).

Common preparation techniques in Sichuan cuisine include stir frying, steaming and braising, but a complete list would include more than 20 distinct techniques.

Notable dishes

Although many dishes live up to their spicy reputation, there are a large percentage of recipes that use little or no hot spices at all, including dishes such as tea-smoked duck.

English Image Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Pinyin Notes
Kung Pao chicken 宮保雞丁 宫保鸡丁 gōngbǎo jīdīng
Tea-smoked duck 樟茶鴨 樟茶鸭 zhāngchá yā
Double-cooked pork 回鍋肉 回锅肉 huíguōròu
Mapo tofu 麻婆豆腐 麻婆豆腐 mápó dòufǔ
Shredded pork in garlic sauce 魚香肉絲 鱼香肉丝 yuxiang rousi "sliced pork with fish aroma"
Sichuan hotpot 四川火鍋 四川火锅 Sìchuān huǒguō
Sliced beef/beef tripe/ox tongue in chili sauce 夫妻肺片 夫妻肺片 fūqī fèipiàn Cold beef tripe
Spicy deep-fried chicken 辣子雞 辣子鸡 làzǐjī
Water-cooked dishes 水煮 水煮 shuǐzhǔ
Dan dan noodles 擔擔麵 担担面 dàndàn miàn
Bon bon chicken 棒棒雞 棒棒鸡 bàngbàng jī

See also


  1. "Szechuan." at Merriam-Webster Online.
  2. Fuchsia Dunlop. Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking. (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003; ISBN 0393051773).
  3. UNESCO (2011). "Chengdu: UNESCO City of Gastronomy". UNESCO. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Anderson, Eugene (2003), "Sichuan (Szechuan) Cuisine", Encyclopedia of Food and Culture, New York: Scribner's`, pp. 393–395
  5. 傅培梅 (2005). Mei Pei Featured Dishes (CH: 培梅名菜精選: 川浙菜專輯). 橘子文化事業有限公司. p. 9.
  6. Tropp, Barbara (1982). The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking. New York: Hearst Books. p. 183. ISBN 0-688-14611-2.
  7. Olivia Geng, French Rabbit Heads: The Newest Delicacy in Chinese Cuisine. The Wall Street Journal Blog, June 13, 2014

Further reading

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