Sichuan cuisine

Sichuan cuisine
Chinese 四川菜
Chuan cuisine
Chinese 川菜

Sichuan cuisine, Szechwan cuisine, or Szechuan cuisine (/ˈsɛʃwɒn/ or /ˈsɛwɒn/[1]) is a style of Chinese cuisine originating from Sichuan Province. It has bold flavours, particularly the pungency and spiciness resulting from liberal use of garlic and chili peppers, as well as the unique flavour of Sichuan pepper. There are many local variations within Sichuan Province and the neighbouring Chongqing Municipality, which was part of Sichuan Province until 1997. Four sub-styles of Sichuan cuisine include Chongqing, Chengdu, Zigong and Buddhist vegetarian style.[2]

UNESCO declared Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, to be a city of gastronomy in 2011 to recognise the sophistication of its cooking.[3]


Sichuan in the Middle Ages welcomed Middle 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, complementing the traditional Sichuan peppercorn (花椒; huājiāo). 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 dynasty to the Qing dynasty. Settlers from the adjacent 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 flavour, 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 snacks. Milder versions of Sichuan dishes remain a staple of American Chinese cuisine.[5]


The complex topography of Sichuan Province, including its mountains, hills, plains, plateaus and the Sichuan Basin, has shaped its food customs 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 most common type of meat consumed.[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 uses various bovine and porcine organs as ingredients, such as intestine, arteries, head, tongue, skin and liver, in addition to other commonly used 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 an unusual custom in other parts of the country. The salt produced from Sichuan salt springs and wells, unlike sea salt, does not contain Iodine, which lead 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 (花椒; huājiāo; "flower pepper"). Sichuan peppercorn has an intense fragrant, citrus-like flavour and produces a "tingly-numbing" (; ) sensation in the mouth. Other commonly used spices in Sichuan cuisine are garlic, chili peppers, ginger and star anise.

Broad bean chili paste (豆瓣酱; 豆瓣醬; 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/flavours widely used in modern Chinese cuisine, including:

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 is a large percentage of recipes that use little to no hot spices at all, including dishes such as tea-smoked duck.

EnglishImageTraditional ChineseSimplified ChinesePinyinNotes
Ants climbing a tree螞蟻上樹蚂蚁上树mǎyǐ shàng shù
Bon bon chicken棒棒雞棒棒鸡bàngbàng jī
Braised pork ribs with konjac魔芋燒排骨魔芋烧排骨móyù shāo páigǔ
Dandan noodles擔擔麵担担面dàndàn miàn
Twice cooked pork回鍋肉回锅肉huíguōròuLiterally "meat returning to the pot"
Fish with pickled mustard greens酸菜魚酸菜鱼suān cài yú
Fragrant and spicy fish slices香辣魚片香辣鱼片xiāng là yú piàn
Hot & Sour Noodles酸辣麵酸辣面suān là miànTypically a vegetarian noddle dish primarily made with brassica juncea, vinegar, hot oil, and soy sauce. It has different flavors such as sour, sweet, fragrant, spicy and salty. Commonly is for breakfast but also a popular street snack in Sichuan, Yunnan, and Hubei.
Hot & Sour Noodle Soup酸辣肉絲湯麵酸辣肉丝汤面suān là ròu sī tāngmiànA noodle soup dish primarily made with the ingredients of brassica juncea, stir-fried shredded meat, noodle, and broth.
Kung Pao beef tendon宮保牛筋宫保牛筋gōngbǎo niú jīn
Kung Pao chicken宮保雞丁宫保鸡丁gōngbǎo jīdīng
Mao xue wang毛血旺毛血旺máo xuě wàngA traditional dish from Chongqing made from pig's blood, tripe, duck's blood, ham and chicken gizzard. Beansprouts, chili, Sichuan peppercorn, sesame and other spices are often added as seasoning.
Mapo doufu麻婆豆腐麻婆豆腐mápó dòufǔLiterally "pockmarked granny's tofu"
Chili Oil Wontons紅油抄手红油抄手hóng yóu chāoshǒu
Shredded chicken cold noodles雞絲涼麵鸡丝凉面jī sī liáng miàn
Shredded pork in garlic sauce魚香肉絲鱼香肉丝yuxiang rousiLiterally "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 fèipiànLiterally "husband and wife lung pieces"
Spicy deep-fried chicken辣子雞辣子鸡làzǐjī
Tea-smoked duck樟茶鴨樟茶鸭zhāngchá yā
Three pepper chicken三椒煸雞三椒煸鸡sān jiāo biān jī
Water-cooked meat水煮肉水煮肉shuǐzhǔ ròu

See also


  1. "Szechuan." at Merriam-Webster Online.
  2. Dunlop, Fuchsia (2003). Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking. New York: W.W. Norton. 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. Fu, Peimei (傅培梅) (2005). Peimei's Selection of Famous Dishes: Special Edition on Sichuan and Zhejiang Cuisine (培梅名菜精選:川浙菜專輯) (in Chinese). Tangerine Culture Enterprise Co., Ltd. (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. Geng, Olivia (June 13, 2014). "French Rabbit Heads: The Newest Delicacy in Chinese Cuisine". The Wall Street Journal Blog.

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.
  • Lu Yi, Du li. China Sichuan Cuisine (Chinese and English) Bilingual . Sichuan Publishing House of Science and Technology, 2010. ISBN 9787536469648.
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