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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, and starting in the 16th century its list of major crops was 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 pepper (huajiao). Other newcomer from the New World included maize (corn), which largely replace millet; white potatoes introduced by Catholic missions, and sweet potatoes. The population was cut by perhaps three quarters in the wars from the Ming to the Qing dynasty and 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."[5] Most Szechuan dishes are spicy, although a typical meal includes non-spicy dishes to cool the palate. Szechuan cuisine is composed of seven basic flavours: sour, pungent, hot, sweet, bitter, aromatic, and salty. Szechuan 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 Szechuan cuisine

Sichuan's geography of mountains and plains and location in the western part of the country has shaped food customs. The Sichuan Basin is a fertile producer of rice and vegetables, while a wide variety of plants and herbs prosper in the upland regions, as well as mushrooms and other fungi. Yoghurt, which probably spread from India through Tibet in medieval times, is consumed among the Han Chinese, a custom which is unusual in other parts of the country. Unlike sea salt, the salt produced from Sichuan salt springs and wells does not contain iodine, leading to goiter problems before the 20th century.[4]

Szechuan cuisine often contains food preserved through pickling, salting, and drying and is generally spicy owing to heavy application of chili oil. The Sichuan pepper (Chinese: 花椒; pinyin: huājiāo; literally: "flower pepper") is commonly used. Sichuan pepper has an intensely fragrant, citrus-like flavour and produces a "tingly-numbing" (Chinese: ; pinyin: ) sensation in the mouth. Also common are garlic, chili peppers, ginger, star anise, and other spicy herbs, plants and spices. Broad bean chili paste (simplified Chinese: 豆瓣酱; traditional Chinese: 豆瓣醬; pinyin: dòubànjiàng) is also a staple seasoning.[4] The region's cuisine has also been the source of several prominent sauces widely used in Chinese cuisine in general today, including yuxiang (魚香), mala (麻辣), and guaiwei (怪味).

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

Pork is overwhelmingly the major meat.[4] Beef is somewhat more common in Szechuan cuisine than it is in other Chinese cuisines, perhaps due to the prevalence of oxen in the region.[6] Stir-fried beef is often cooked until chewy, while steamed beef is sometimes coated with rice flour to produce a very rich gravy. Szechuan cuisine also utilizes various bovine and porcine organs as ingredients, such as intestine, arteries, the head, tongue, skin, and liver, in addition to other commonly utilised portions of the meat.

Rabbit meat is also much more popular in Sichuan than elsewhere in China, with the Sichuan Basin and Chongqing estimated to consume some 70 percent of China's rabbit meat consumption.[7]

Notable dishes

File:Chengdu Hotpot.jpg
A Chengdu-style, Sichuan hot pot stew

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 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
Twice-cooked pork 回鍋肉 回锅肉 huíguōròu
Mapo tofu 麻婆豆腐 麻婆豆腐 mápó dòufǔ
Yuxiangrousi ("sliced pork with fish aroma") 魚香肉絲 鱼香肉丝 yuxiang rousi
Sichuan hotpot 四川火鍋 四川火锅 Sìchuān huǒguō
Fuqi feipian 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. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Anderson, Eugene (2003), "Sichuan (Szechuan) Cuisine", Encyclopedia of Food and Culture, NY: Scribner's`, pp. 393–395 
  5. 5.0 5.1 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

  • Fuchsia Dunlop. Land of Plenty : A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003. ISBN 0393051773.
  • Fuchsia Dunlop. Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China. (New York: Norton, 2008). ISBN 9780393066579. The author's experience and observations, especially in Sichuan.
  • Jung-Feng Chiang, Ellen Schrecker and John E. Schrecker. Mrs. Chiang's Szechwan Cookbook : Szechwan Home Cooking. New York: Harper & Row, 1987. ISBN 006015828X.
  • Eugene Anderson. "Sichuan (Szechuan) Cuisine," in Solomon H. Weaver William Woys Katz. Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. (New York: Scribner, 2003; ISBN 0684805685). Vol I pp. 393–395.

External links