Everything about Sichuan Cuisine 四川菜 – 八大名菜之一

Sichuan Cuisine in depth – History, Features & Characteristic

I have always thought that Sichuan dishes are only about spicy and oily until I begin travelling to China, only to surprise myself that Sichuan cuisine produce such intense and complex flavors that entirely renew my perspective about this cuisine. Back in the year of 2014, when I begin to work at China, I developed more understanding about China’s 8 major cuisine and henceforth embarked upon my journey to learn more in-depth about them. To begin with, here is an article dedicated for Sichuan Cuisine which I have compiled from numerous resources for my fellow readers!
Sichuan Cuisine Kao Yu

Sichuan Mala Grilled Fish at A Qiang Restaurant 阿强麻辣烤鱼

Sichuan Cuisine (四川菜) is originated from Sichuan Province, China. Alternatively known as Szechwan cuisine, Szechuan cuisine or Chuan cuisine. Today’s Sichuan cuisine is well known for their numb, spicy, salty, pungent and sour. However, the early developing period of Sichuan cuisine are in total contrast which could be trace back to the period of Qin Dynasty.

How it all begins…

During the Qin Era (220 BC), the local Sichuan folks cook similarly to the cooking of Chang’An. When the Shu Kingdom was captured, northern people traveled to the northern region of Sichuan province and begin influencing the flavors of Sichuan. 5 major flavors were developed. Uses of freshwater fish and goat were luxury ingredients during those days made only available to the royalties and elites. Following the period of Three Kingdom, the citizens of Shu kingdom (currently is Chengdu, Sichuan) loves sweet food, hence sweet flavors were developed. Then Jin Dynasty is when pungent flavors were greatly emphasizes.  Pungency during those days were aromatic fragrance from ginger, onion, chives and mustard. “Strange” flavor were develop during the reign of Song Dynasty, the infamous Kung Pao Chicken were also created during the period of time by Ding Baozhen. Until the 16th – 17th century, chili peppers were brought over from South America and the usage of Sichuan Peppercorn begin to flourish. Due to the humidity in the region, chili peppers become their most favored ingredients, as it is believe that chili peppers could reduce the internal dampness of a person.

Characteristic & Features – What makes Sichuan Cuisine so special?

Sichuan cuisine, as we all known is famous for its hot and numbing dishes. The taste criteria is compose of 7 criteria – hot, salty, sweet, bitter, numb, sour and aromatic. Usage of spices is common in Sichuan dishes which gives some of their dishes a distinctive complex flavor. In general, a typical Sichuan dish consist of compounded flavors. A skillful Sichuan chef are able to use the same sauce but produces a differing flavors, a good example would be the Twice Cooked Pork (回锅肉) and Mapo Tofu (麻婆豆腐).

The most authentic Sichuan cuisine has to be indulged in Sichuan province itself. Why? The secret lies within the salt – well salt from Zigong’s well. Even if the same cooking techniques, procedures and chef were applied in elsewhere, the flavor would be different.

douban sauce

Source : gochengdu.cn

Drying, salting and pickling are common preserving method in Sichuan Cuisine. Some preserved food are served as condiments or as it is as one dish. Their most notable preserved food are broad-bean chili paste (dou ban sauce), Sichuan pickle, soy sauce, vinegar, fermented soy beans, pickled mustard and chili sauce.

Sichuan spice market

Source : nytimes.com

Sichuan peppercorn are the most important spice in a Sichuan cuisine, it delivers an intense citrus like flavor and a numbing sensation to our mouth. Others also commonly used spices are fennel, pepper, aniseed, cinnamon, and clove.

sichuan hua jiao

Sichuan Peppercorn (Source : npr.org)

Yuxiang, Mala and Guaiwei

3 prominent flavorings are originated from Sichuan Cuisine, they are Yuxiang, Mala and Guaiwei. Yuxiang literally means fish fragrance but it has no seafood at all. It was said that before this sauce got its name, this sauce was only used by a family to cook fish on a regular basis. Until one day, there was no fish in the house, however the left over sauce were used to cooked other dishes and they developed a liking to the sauce. Eventually the news spread to the community and hence it is called Yuxiang sauce. Mala sauce is a popular sauce in China – literally means spicy and numbing, consist of Sichuan peppercorn, chili pepper and a mixture of spices simmered in oil. Guaiwei translated as strange flavor. It is somewhat a combination of both Yuxiang and Mala with black vinegar, delivering a distinctive sour characteristic.

Sichuan Dishes on Ethan’s Recipe list

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