General Characteristics of Sichuan Cuisine
1. Flavors: Bold and Distinct
Sichuan cuisine is the most distinctive cuisine in China, characterized by its bold, yet distinct flavors with the pungence and spiciness from a liberal use of strong pepper, chilies, garlic, thick broad-bean sauce and other uniquely Sichuan ingredients such as ginger, mustard, etc., which cannot be duplicated elsewhere.
Only in Sichuan can one find “one hundred dishes, each with one flavor and one dish containing all one hundred flavors”. The secret to the latter is in cooking and flavoring each ingredient separately, or in small groupings, then combining them, which is roughly the opposite of what is termed “crockpot” cooking in the U.S.
2. Ingredients: Freshwater Food
Sichuan cuisine is known for its freshwater fish, crayfish and other aquatic foods, and for its curing methods such as salting, smoking, air-drying and pickling.
The tradition of curing meats especially stems from the fact that the province is hot and humid, and in ancient times, refrigeration was not available.
Do you want to learn how to cook authentic Sichuan cuisines? Plan your China tour with us and we can customize a private cooking class for you.
3. Cooking Methods: Quick and Dry
Sichuan cuisine typically makes use of fewer cooking methods than do the other cuisine schools, but it excels in the cooking methods it embraces, such as quick-frying, stir-frying, dry-braising and dry-stewing, the latter two are techniques special to Sichuan cuisine.
For example, dry-stewing is a method reserved for soup-based sauces, where a soup or broth is first reduced over low heat, then the “condiment” sauce that has been made in advance - typically broad-bean or chili sauce - is added and heated up. This sauce is typically slightly oilier - and correspondingly heartier in flavor - than other, thinner sauces, or sauces made with milk or corn starch.
6 Famous Sichuan Dishes You Should Try
1. Kung Pao Chicken
Kung Pao Chicken is a traditional Sichuan cuisine, which is made from diced chicken, dried chilies and peanuts. Its tenderness of chicken, crispness of peanuts, and moderate spiciness are widely welcomed by the public. In the Western countries, Kung Pao Chicken is widespread and has become the representative sample of “Chinese food”, just like what pasta is for Italian cuisine.
Sichuan Cuisine Museum, about 1.5 hour’s drive from Chengdu city, is the only interactive museum in the world displaying Sichuan culinary culture. Feel free to contact us and create your Sichuan cuisine cooking experience there.
2. Mapo Tofu
Mapo Tofu is actually sautéed tofu in hot and spicy sauce. It is named after the lady Chen Mapo, who created its cooking method. The ingredients of Mapo Tofu include tofu, minced beef or pork, chilies and Sichuan pepper, which highlight the characteristics of Sichuan cuisine - hot and spicy.
3. Husband and Wife Lung Pieces
Husband and Wife Lung Pieces
Husband and Wife Lung Pieces contains no lung. Named by the couple who created it in 1930s, it is actually sliced beef and ox organs in chili sauce. An interesting thing is that in some menus it is called “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”.
The main ingredients of Husband and Wife Lung Pieces are sliced beef and ox’s cowhide, tongue, tripe, heart, etc., which have been marinated. Seasonings including Sichuan’s local spicy oil, peppers, sesame seeds, cassia, and other spices.
4. Sichuan Hotpot
Sichuan is nationally famous for its hotpot. Hotpot is a stew of meat and vegetables cooked in a simmering pot of soup stock and can be roughly divided into two types, spicy and clear (not spicy). But with dozens of condiments, it also has hundreds of different flavors.
In fact, Sichuan people believe hotpot should be “the spicier, the better”, so the spices of Sichuan hotpot feature all kinds of chilies and peppers.
5. Water-Cooked Meat
Water-Cooked Meat is a dish originating in 1930s. It usually involves dry chilies and some meat slices (pork, beef or fish) that have been starched with egg white, as well as a large amount of vegetables placed at the bottom of the serving bowl.
What makes it special is that the dish is finally completed by pouring the boiling oil over the prepared meat and vegetables, making the meat fragrant, tender and chewy.
6. Fish-Flavored Pork
Fish-Flavored Pork is a dish of shredded pork sautéed in spicy garlic sauce, mixed with ginger, sugar, soy sauce, broad-bean sauce and other condiments.
Legend has it that in ancient times, there was a family in Sichuan who loved to eat fish and had a special seasoning mixture. One night, there was no fish to cook so the hostess took the left-over sauce from the fish to flavor meat, which turned out to be unique and delicious.
This kind of dish later got its name “Yuxiang”, literally meaning “fish fragrance”, which refers to a dish containing no seafood but which smells and tastes like fish. And this is the origin of Shredded Pork with Fish Flavor.